Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Creating a Bully Free Home

The statistics about bullying at school are readily available.  Over 160,000 children stay home from school every day in the U.S. because they are afraid of being bullied at school.  Bullies are four times more likely to engage in criminal behavior in adulthood.  Being a bully or a victim increases the likelihood of depression and suicidal thoughts.  Certainly we need to advocate for clear and consistent policies at school, but what can we do at home?

As the leaders in our family we have a responsibility to set the tone and culture within our family.  How we respond to conflict and tension is contagious.  Our kids will watch what we do and pass it on. Both bullies and victims need social skills coaching to break the cycle of bad relationships.   Consider these suggestions to create a bully free home:

Increase your Awareness:
Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes someone harm or discomfort. It may be physical, verbal, or social. The target is someone who has trouble defending him/herself and does nothing to “cause”the behavior. American Psychological Association
Is there bullying going on between the adults in the family?
If the adults in the family are struggling with aggressive communication then this is the place to start.  I call it the “my way or the highway” view of leadership or the “win-lose” mentality.  If you see things my way, I win.  If you get to do things your way, I lose.  Communication stops being about expression and understanding instead it becomes about persuasion and influence.  Working on this aspect of the adult relationship is foundational.  If patterns are longstanding and persistent, please seek counseling support to learn a new way of interacting that will benefit all of the relationships in your home. 

Create a Family Policy:
Encourage the pro-social behaviors of kindness, empathy, cooperation, and forgiveness.  Make opportunities for everyone to interact positively with one another in group projects, family fun,  and volunteer work.  Assist your children in resolving conflicts through talking and listening and demonstrate how to “agree to disagree.”Make a clear “no bullying” boundary in your family.

Watch this:  Bert and Ernie "agree to disagree."

Intervene quickly
When sibling behavior is escalating into bully/victim roles stop the action immediately and separate the siblings.  Calmly assist each child individually in regaining self-control and then discuss alternative ways to manage frustration. 

The bully needs to recognize that aggressive behavior is unacceptable in the family and will always result in a consequence. Keep intervention quick and clear, the consequence fair and easy to follow through.
The victim needs the reassurance of safety and the message that telling isn’t tattling.  Assertive skills such as telling the sibling that his/her behavior isn’t kind, walking away, and playing somewhere else might need to be practiced.

Apologies are important but need time to be genuine.  If bullying behavior is resistant to change with positive parenting techniques consult with a psychologist or other licensed mental health counselor.  Undiagnosed attention problems, sensory sensitivity, anxiety, or depression can contribute to bullying behavior and more intensive treatment will help you to restore peaceful negotiations in your family.

Be Consistent:
The effort you put into correcting aggressive behavior at home (without losing your temper!) will pay off in the long run.  By creating a bully free zone at home you are increasing the odds that your children will be better problem solvers and prepared with the necessary assertiveness  to manage difficult situations at school and in the community.   

 What family boundaries help you to create a bully free home?



  1. Great post. Kindness is one of the most important traits you can have. Learning to be kind and not to take advantage of others is key.

  2. It isn't always easy to be kind when we are frazzled or exhausted from the end of a long day and our kids want one-more-thing but these are the habits that form the family culture. You've got the key! Thanks for the comment!