Friday, April 24, 2015

Bully proofing your child

When do you let your children try to solve a conflict on their own? When do you step in? Parenting expert Anita Kulick talks about teaching your child how to handle every day conflicts, and stepping in when you find out about a bullying situation.

Bully proofing your child


The hottest news lately seems to be a football story that has very little to do with the game. It’s about a Miami Dolphins player bullying a teammate or is it? That’s certainly how it’s being presented in the media. Whatever the real story is, it’s a great conversation starter generating lots of controversy and pseudo psychological analyses.  

Following the news coverage, I’ve began wondering if it’s really a case of bullying, or just the culture of sports. This type of behavior seems to be acceptable, even encouraged, on nearly every team – from township to professional leagues – especially sports that covet athletes who have brute strength combined with competitiveness and aggression.

Beyond the story of these two troubled men, does this situation have any relevancy for the public at large? It does. It’s stirring up anxiety for parents who are already concerned about the rampant bullying occurring in schools, on playgrounds, in cyberspace, and almost everywhere else. As a parent, you might be thinking if a physically powerful, intelligent, grown man can be brought down by a bully, how can I protect my child from suffering a similar fate?

Being a bully yourself is definitely not the answer. Driven by their frustration, parents from North Penn, Pa. were arrested a few weeks ago when they stormed their child’s school bus and began threatening youngsters, who allegedly bullied their son, with physical force if the bullying didn’t stop. Their actions made a bad situation worse and set a terrible example for their son.

More coverage
Where to get support when your child has a mental illness
What is Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder?
Is there an overdiagnosis of ADHD?
Teen depression: Not just a phase they will outgrow

If your child is a victim of bullying or your child is a bully, it’s extremely important that you take action to inform the proper authorities and if necessary seek professional help. Neither you nor your child should act out in anger or violently like the parents on the school bus.

The hard fact is that you can’t always be there to protect your child. Even if you could, should you? The answer is no! Most times, it’s best for you to allow your child the chance to manage the situation. And believe me, I know this is excruciatingly difficult. It may be one of the hardest lessons for a parent to learn; especially when we have concerns about bullying.  

In order for you to know just what actions you should take and when - you need to understand the difference between true bullying, which can cause serious lifelong damage to both the victim and the perpetrator, and more common normal conflicts that occur nearly every time children get together.


  • is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity.
  • is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated over time.
  • includes threats, spreading rumors, and physical or verbal attacks

Children who bully are far more likely to come from homes with “Brick Wall” parents; those who enforce strict rigid rules; use harsh physical punishment; and provide little or no opportunities for children to make decisions or choices on their own. It’s not at all surprising that recent articles describe Richie Incognito, the NFL lineman accused of bullying, as having that type of father.  

How can you help your children manage those far more common and perfectly normal conflicts and disagreements with their friends and siblings?  First, teach them the skills they need. Then step back and give them the space to practice and refine those new skills. Soon you’ll be feeling less worried about bullying and feeling more confident in their ability to resolve conflicts satisfactorily and peacefully all on their own.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Model compassionate, respectful relationships from the time your child is small
  • Stay connected to your child and keep the lines of communication open and honest.
  • Model confident behavior in your interactions with others 
  • Teach your child the words to speak up for herself:  "It's my turn now," “You can play with it when I’m finished,” “Stop pushing me," "I don't like being called that."
  • Teach your child that there is no shame in being frightened by aggressive behavior, in walking away, or in telling an adult and asking for help. 
  • Encourage your child to share his concerns and worries with you.
  • Show your child how to plan a course of action and work out solutions

And as always, set a good example in your home, with your family, with your friends, and even in the market when someone pushes ahead of you in line at the deli line.

Most of all, let your child know you love him, believe in him, respect him, have confidence in his abilities, and that you’re behind him 100 percent!   

Have a question for the Healthy Kids panel? Ask it here.

Read more from the Healthy Kids blog »

President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
About this blog
The Healthy Kids blog is your window into the latest news, research and advice around children's health. Learn more about our growing list of contributors here.

If you have questions about your child's health, ask them here.

Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Sarah Levin Allen, Ph.D., CBIS Assistant Professor of Psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Temple University Hospital
Peter Bidey, D.O. Medical Director of Family Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Christopher C. Chang, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAAAI, FACAAI Associate Professor of Medicine in division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology at UC Davis
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist of The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Gary A. Emmett, M.D., F.A.A.P Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Magee DeFelice, M.D. Division Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Chief of Pediatric Emergency Services at Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Adolescent Medicine Specialist at Crozer-Keystone Health System
Jessica Kendorski, PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D Associate Professor in School Psychology/Applied Behavior Analysis at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, R.D. Registered Dietitian at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Emiliano Tatar, M.D. Pediatrician at Einstein Healthcare Network Roxborough Plaza
Jeanette Trella, Pharm.D Managing Director at The Poison Control Center at CHOP
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D., ABPP Director of Integrated Health Care for American Psychological Association
Flaura Koplin Winston, M.D., Ph.D. Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
Latest Videos
Also on
Stay Connected