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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

My child? A bully?!! Part 2

July 12, 2010

Things are going to different... better for all of us.

Last week I stuck it to parents who, wittingly or un, permit bullying at home. If I weren’t such an uncompromising child advocate this might be where I apologize for offending. Sorry. No regrets about what I wrote. It was the truth. It was helpful. And it’s totally necessary for us to understand that love for our kids can’t ever be so blind that it keeps us from giving them a needed course correction.

For the record, more people read, tweeted  and commented on that blog than anything I’ve cranked out in the past 2 years. Lots of thumbs up and to my knowledge, not a single parent bent out of shape.  In fact one mom asked when I’d be serving my tips on “What to do if my kid is a bully?” Thanks for asking. I’m getting there.

Before I do I’ve gotta say I’m not keen on labels. There’s a huge difference between “My kid’s behavior is sometime/often aggressive, controlling and insensitive to the feelings of others” and “My kid’s a bully.” It may seem like PC BS semantics but it’s more than that. When you label a child you add a mantra to that kid’s internal monologue. Tell him he’s “bad,” tell her she’s a “bitch,” tell them they’re “worthless” and their young psyches start agreeing. Without meaning to you’re pushing them down the path you were trying to yank them off.  You also provide them with excuses to continue misbehaving. “I can’t help it. I’m just a bad kid.”

So please don’t label your kid with “bully” or any other insult, even if (s)he’s acting that way.

Tips for changing bullying behavior.

1. Acknowledge the truth — When your child engages in behavior that’s meant to degrade or intimidate anyone (including you), see it for what it is. Name it. “My child is acting like a bully”.

2.  Jump on it — Tell your kid exactly why what (s)he did is not OK. “Cruel’s not cool! Not at school. Not online. Not in this family. Not ever. Consider this a warning. The next time you talk to us that way, there will be a consequence.” And when “next time” happens follow up with the consequence. Don’t apologize. Don’t negotiate. And do not feel guilty! Threatening empty action is not only ineffective parenting, it also undermines your leadership and accountability. On top of that, it makes you look like a wimp in your child’s eyes. No way to earn the respect you say you want.

3. Get it on the record — At a family meeting discuss the ways each person shows respect and disrespect.  Talk about a need for change in the direction of more respect & cooperation from everyone. Together create a set of agreements. The first one should be: In this family, we will always treat each other with respect. Parents and children are not equals in the family. Obviously we don’t share the same rights and privileges. But when it comes to following the Respect Rule, we are all equal.

Agree on consequences for not keeping the #1 rule. NOTE: Consequences need to matter to the child. “No TV” is meaningless if the kid’s got 10 other ways to entertain herself, including a laptop where she can download the show you told her she can’t watch.

4. Hold yourself accountable — Children repeatedly engage in unacceptable behavior (whining, cursing, silent treatment, hitting, door-slamming, screaming, non-cooperation, etc.) because parents let them get away with it and there is a payoff. If your son or daughter consistently acts like a bully at home, it is because you’ve allowed it. What you permit you promote.

NOTE: Hold yourself and your partner accountable for acting like a bully to each other and/or to the kids. Commit yourself to making changes in your own behavior.

5. Explore  your typical response to your child’s most uncooperative behavior — If what you usually do hasn’t corrected the behavior yet, it’s not going to. If you need help regaining your leadership role in the family, read a parenting book, listen to a parenting podcast, take a parenting class, invest in a session with a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist or a Parenting Coach. In other words, if you need help, get it.

6. Be prepared for serious push-back — Kids who’ve been getting their own way for years are not suddenly going to become model team players just because you’ve gotten a backbone transplant. They will test to see if you mean business. Hang tough and show them you do.



  1. Annie,
    This is a great post! As a parent, it’s a great reminder that if we’re addressing a certain behavior in a certain way and the behavior is continuing–then what we’re doing isn’t working. Gosh have I learned this too many times to count! Ugh.
    I totally believe that children learn what they live and live what they learn so if we allow it at home of course they will do learn to live it everywhere.
    Thanks for the great reminder.

    Comment by Lisa Merlo-Booth — July 12, 2010 @ 5:54 pm

  2. I think it is really important that you addressed not labeling. After all it makes no sense to label your child while telling them they shouldn’t label others. I think we label, and judge others way too frequently, and instead we should work on seeing the positive things in others.

    Sometimes it is easier to get through to someone, especially children if you say, something like “I really like the way you do….but I am concerned when you are doing this.” These things aren’t always easy in the heat of the moment and changing ourselves is the hardest part of parenting, but examples are usually better than directives in my experience.

    A lot of what children do, especially to others, is visible in our unconscious actions as I believe you mentioned before.

    Labeling is a big part of that.

    Kudos for another job well done.

    Comment by Beth — July 12, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

  3. This article and the one you write last week are something that should be handed out to parents across America.

    My son has an aide at school due to learning issues, and even in the presence of the aide, he is consistently teased and bullied by other kids. When he was in special ed classes he was so sweet and kind, but since coming into general ed he’s been bullying his younger brother at home. We are quick to point it out, and there are consequences, but when things get bad at school, he acts out again, so we really have to stay on top of it.

    It’s just not appropriate that as a country we have come to accept that kids have to “work through” their bullying experiences. Parents don’t take responsibility for raising bratty kids, they just say “kids are like that”. I’ve had so many parents tell me that it will make my son a stronger kid. That’s not what I see when he is crying and frustrated because he has a hard time at school. I see it turning him into a mean kid. My son has so many more challenges that other kids don’t have to deal with, why should he be burdened with one more?

    An obviously frustrated mom.

    Comment by Mom of kid with CAPD — July 12, 2010 @ 7:48 pm

  4. Great post! I’m sure this is a hard one for a lot of people to read, but certainly an important one. Vital message and well said.

    Comment by Fayette — July 13, 2010 @ 8:09 am

  5. This is true, Annie. We all need to be honest with ourselves; raising our children is too critical a job to put our parental heads in the sand!

    Comment by Paula Kiger — July 13, 2010 @ 8:12 am

  6. Great stuff, Annie! I really appreciate it. We’ve untangled part of this (and perhaps its another article in and of itself!) and feel it may stem from sibling stuff for us – and our reaction to it. We’ve discussed how to resolve disagreements (considering feelings, etc.) but have allowed our kids to “work it out” themselves as often as possible which isn’t always pretty.

    Started out when they were little with wrestling around but they haven’t “grown out of it” as I’d expected. Now they’re teens and we’ve forbidden it, but we allowed it earlier on – which really is sort of like allowing bullying. AUG! I never saw it that way before.

    Now to look at the tougher stuff and yank out any of those “bullying” taproots under the ground that we’re not even seeing yet!

    You’re a dear, Annie! Thanks for this. Part of parenting is looking at those areas we don’t always want to bring out into the light and this article really gets to the heart of things.

    Comment by Julia — July 13, 2010 @ 8:54 am

  7. Annie, I may not be a parent yet, but I know this is great advice!

    In my years of teaching I have seen too many parents making excuses for their child, have it blow up in their faces, and then cry about what’s happening to their family.

    While I can understand wanting to treat your children fairly and give them the benefit of the doubt, there is a big difference between that and enabling them. You said it best: “Don’t apologize. Don’t negotiate. And do not feel guilty!”

    Pity and guilt are our own worst enemies. Parents should brace themselves to have their kids “hate” them for a little while. Just think of the payoff: years of healthy relationships with family and peers.

    Aside from parents who feel too guilty to act, there are also the parents who are already bullies, like you’ve mentioned before. Some may or may not recognize that they are bullies. Does a bully even see him/herself as a “bad” person, or a person who needs to change for the better? What about the bully parents who are proud of the way they are?

    I’ve seen many bully parents who are proud of their children’s bullying under the guise of “standing up for themselves”. In turn, these children push their chests out and seem to have high self-esteem. How do we begin to tackle this? Any thoughts?

    Comment by Prisca — July 15, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

  8. Prisca, you’ve brought a really interesting point which i overlooked. How naive of me to assume that all parents would recognize bullying behavior in themselves and/or in their kids as something that needs changing! Thanks very much for posting this comment. You’re absolutely right, many children who bully others do have high self-esteem and yes, their parents applaud them for “standing up for themselves.” Guess the challenge for the rest of the village is to indicate that there’s a HUGE difference between being assertive and stomping on the rights and feelings of others.

    Rosalind Wiseman has an excellent book called Queen Bee Moms & King Pin Dads – Dealing With the Dificult Parents in Your Child’s Life. I highly recommend it as a starting place.

    Comment by Annie — July 15, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

  9. Prisca’s comment is spot on, and ironically, echoes a question I was about to put forth about ‘modeling’ behavior…In my case, it’s a rather awkward personal situation where my daughter is claiming I’m ‘being bullied’ by an extended family relative who is behaving beyond badly w/sophomoric stunts like ‘unfriending’ on FB etc. to wound w/words and antics.

    I refuse to be dragged into bullying muck, so have expressed positive thoughts w/candor and communication, kept the doors open for the immaturity to ‘blow over’ & disengaged…Problem?

    My OWN teen is frustrated beyond belief that I won’t ‘stick up for myself’ and sees ME as meriting a massive mea culpa from the bully. (I, however, feel I’ve been forthright/bold in confronting the hurt, but am just not interested in tit-for-tat/theatrics or throwing ’25+ years under the bus’ because someone’s got their nose out of joint. That’s beyond absurd to me)

    I’d like to convey a ‘hard stop’ on the bullying message without fanning the flames w/retaliation—How can I accomplish this without being perceived by my own child as a Pollyanna doormat?

    Advice, ‘dear Abbey, er…Annie?’ heh 😉

    Comment by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth — July 17, 2010 @ 10:44 pm

  10. […] Annie Fox (, an educator and child development expert in the US, has identified some telling and plain-speaking signs of a bully. Take a read, think about your own children and make the assessment. And if you then want to consider how best to go about tackling the situation, check out Annie’s later blog here (   […]

    Pingback by Is your child an online bully? « Family Blog – Martyn Wild — July 26, 2010 @ 7:08 pm

  11. You are so right on. Aggressive kids bully because 1-it works 2-they get away with it. Parents (and other adults in charge) don’t have the backbone or patience or character to enforce rules consistently.

    Comment by Bully-Proof — July 28, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

  12. […] to you to provide a course correction. When each parent does their job… bullying problem solved. Next week: What to do if you now realize that you’ve been contributing to a bully-in-the-making? How can […]

    Pingback by My Child? A Bully?!! Part 1 By Annie Fox | Cyber Safe Family — July 28, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

  13. I came here from twitter and really appreciate this post.

    NOTE: Hold yourself and your partner accountable for acting like a bully to each other and/or to the kids. Commit yourself to making changes in your own behavior.

    I see this so often…esp. parents bullying each other. This is a great post and a great way to help address an all too frequent problem. Thanks.

    Comment by robin — October 19, 2010 @ 5:57 pm

  14. Your post is so important as we begin to more consciously parent our children to be kinder and to step in to prevent bullying. And while there are out-and-out bullying behaviors out there that need an immediate reaction, most meanness (especially in the elementary school years, but even into middle and high school) is done with an underlying more innocent motive: to feel important, to be popular, to avoid being a target, the list goes on. And while that in NO way excuses the behavior, it does open the discussion for more positive possibilities. Setting up expectations and limits is vital, but so is recognizing what our child is trying to accomplish and connecting with her over that. Thus, one of the most important ways to respond if our child has been the mean one is to become her ally in meeting those really natural and even appropriate underlying desires in more appropriate ways.

    How do you do this? Follow the framework we describe in our book “Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-proof Girls in the Early Grades!”
    1) OBSERVE the behaviors that have you alarmed (e.g., “I notice that…”).
    2) Before you step in and try and fix them, CONNECT over what your child is seeking, feeling, or experiencing (e.g., “I can see that it’s really important for you to stay Sasha’s friend, even though that means you have to ignore and exclude other girls. What about that friendship is so important to you?”).
    3) GUIDE your child by coming up with a list (together) of alternative choices that will allow her to meet those natural developmental drives. You as the parent still have a voice in giving your child an understanding of your limits and what is acceptable, but you also have the opportunity to better understand what she is experiencing and therefore guiding her more effectively only in this situation, but also future ones, where you may not be as present.
    4) SUPPORT HER TO ACT on one or two items of her choosing. They might be private (doing a role play for how to interface with Sasha) or public (writing an apology note to a child she has wronged). Either way, the process allows the two of you to remain a team, and for you to be a source of support, knowledge, and guidance in helping your child move towards kinder, more appropriate actions.

    Comment by Dr Michelle Anthony — October 20, 2010 @ 3:56 am

  15. What you said is a very good set of recommendations. But can I just say that there are parents out there (and I’d wager none have commented here for fear of being labeled a bad parent) who are raising children with behavior and mood disorders or traumatic backgrounds (like mine, adopted from foster care, dx bipolar/ADHD/RAD). We do everything you recommend – every day, every week, every year. After thousands of hours of attachment therapy, we’re still at the mercy of mood swings.

    It isn’t what we’re doing or not doing that elicits “whining, cursing, silent treatment, hitting, door-slamming, screaming, non-cooperation, etc.” It’s how they are wired. I consistently consequence my kids many times a day and they still rip doors off hinges. It SUCKS parenting a child like this… much of the time. And GOOD PARENTS are getting proverbially beat up by school personnel and people on the street when they would give their right arm for a day of raising a normal child who actually responds to behavior modification.

    Shall I just turn myself in after all this time? Shall we just sequester the growing number of foster kids in institutions?

    If not, what can we do to support and resource families who live in homes where their own kids are abusive (and the kids don’t even remember once they are out of the tourette’s-like rage)?

    Comment by Laurie @mylivingpower — October 20, 2010 @ 11:35 pm

  16. Dear Laurie,

    thank you very much for posting your comment. Thank you for reminding me that what can appear to an outsider to be a child exhibiting “bad” behavior may, in fact, a child dealing with a whole host of challenging issues including ADD, bipolar, and/or having come from “hard” places and carry the emotional scars. Those conditions and circumstances can cause the child to “act out” and, as you say, make others fault YOU unjustly for your parenting “failures.” In my post I was exclusively referring to the behavior of neuro-typical children, who have, in many case, learned to get their way with manipulative and aggressive behavior.

    Clearly you are a GOOD, loving and devoted parent. Your kids are so very fortunate to have you on their side. I have several resources to recommend for you in your parenting journey. Dr. Karyn Purvis runs Institute of Child Development Her site is filled with parenting resources. Please check it out! Also she has written a wonderful book called “The Connected Child: For parents who have welcomed children from other countries and cultures, from troubled backgrounds, and/or with special behavioral or emotional needs” I have a copy of this book which I’d be more than happy to give you, as a gift.

    Comment by Annie — October 21, 2010 @ 9:35 am

  17. Great article…some families need #7. ‘I made a mistake and didn’t let you know how much your behavior was upsetting me’. It is never to late to let a child know that they did something that is not at the high standards you have set for them. Of course, we all work best when things are dealt with in a timely manner but sometimes parents make mistakes. I see so many parents say ‘I missed my chance or I blew it by not saying something’. I always tell them, go ahead. Acknowledge that you made a mistake and then say what you need to say. Children need us more than ever and as parents we can’t take a passive role.

    Comment by Julia Simens — October 30, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

  18. Annie, I believe kids who are bullies become so through being bullied themselves, not through being allowed to control their parents. Either way, having too much freedom is very scary for kids/teens/tweens, because there is nothing for them to hang on to for safety and too much rides on their own judgment, which they no isn’t perfect.

    While we’re at it, I’ve started a series of posts on bullying you may be interested in (see

    Comment by Family Matters — October 31, 2010 @ 10:44 pm

  19. Outstanding and specific suggestions. After decades of teaching I can guarantee that if this happened in every home, schools would operate with much more mutual respect. Just one suggestion… In this context, as in many regarding raising/teaching kids, the word “consequence” sounds exclusively negative. When asked, most kids define consequence as a punishment. Let’s all try to build in a more conscious discussion of everything having consequences- positive behaviors lead to positive consequences and negative behaviors result in negative consequences. These are not only “imposed” or awarded, but occur naturally- being thought of by peers as a trusted friend or as a bully, etc.

    Comment by Sandy B. — March 18, 2011 @ 5:43 pm

  20. Has anyone tried these recommendations? Have they actually worked? I am watching an intolerable situation in a family and am very frightened at what is unfolding and none of these suggestions would have the slightest effect that I can see.

    Both of the parents are intelligent, kind people. Neither of them bully but this is the second marriage for them both. They each came into to the marriage with a child. The man’s daughter has been the precious princess for 7 years. The woman’s son is five. The daughter bullies the son, without mercy and the man tells the son to “toughen up” and that “a girl can’t hurt you”. He then tells his daughter to “be sweet”. And that’s it. The daughter has few friends, mostly those that will do her bidding without question. She is a beautiful. intelligent, girl but with very few social skills. She is rude, shoves adults aside to get a head of them in the store, rarely says thank-you.

    Both parents say the daughter is “adjusting” to the “new” family situation. What about the son’s adjustment? Nothing. It is appalling. So what does someone say when confronted with it. When it plays out right in front of you? The little boy has said he wants to run away from home. A five year old wants to run away from home. Sickening.

    Comment by Geri — May 30, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

  21. Geri, like you, I’m upset by the family situation you described. You don’t say how you happen to be privy to this insider information, but if you have a close relationship to either of these parents, you’d be doing both of these kids a huge favor by speaking to Mom or Dad and sharing your astute observations with them. (Sometimes it takes an outsider to shine a light on what’s really going on and get people moving in the direction of positive changes.)

    You don’t need me to tell you that what’s happening in this family is very unhealthy. The messages the parents are giving the kids are not helpful and are damaging both of them. The little boy needs an advocate before he becomes depressed or starts lashing out at other, more vulnerable kids (often the case with children who are bullied at home). The little girl needs boundaries and clear direction from her parent that let’s her know that her behavior toward her step-brother (and her peers) is intolerable and unacceptable.

    Even if you don’t have a close relationship with either of these adults, perhaps your child is a classmate in which case you might turn to the teacher or the school counselor with your concerns. I encourage you to do so, it could make all the difference for these kids and this family.

    Comment by Annie — May 30, 2011 @ 9:27 pm

  22. […] Annie Fox and were looking for some follow up solutions, check out Annie Fox’s second blog post My Child? A Bully? Part II. You will find 6 suggestions for addressing the bullying […]

    Pingback by Are you raising a bully? Part II | Vicki Hoefle — October 3, 2013 @ 11:35 am

  23. […] to the feelings of others” and “My kid’s a bully,” says author/educator Annie Fox in Part 2 of “My child? A bully?!!” She’s not into labels, she says, because, when you label a child you add a mantra to that […]

    Pingback by Signs that your child's cyberbullying - | — February 27, 2014 @ 12:39 am

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