Kids want to fit in and be liked and they’d do anything for that to happen. To be considered cool or part of a group, they’ll go from changing their clothing style, to substance use or bullying.

As parents, it is our duty to watch our children’s behavior and make sure they develop healthy relationships with their peers. Bullies are not born into this world, they are raised. Having this said, many parents choose to ignore the fact that their children have a pushy or even aggressive attitude.

It’s easier to think “My child isn’t capable of doing this/that”, “Maybe it’s just a phase” or “Maybe that kid really provoked him/her.” Not to mention that there are parents out there who are actually proud that their kids are bullies, thinking that such a behavior will help them win in life. But will it?

According to the NCAB, bullying is an “ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behavior that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm.”

Teaching children how to defend themselves when necessary is one thing, but teaching them to be verbally or physically aggressive in order to get what they want is a whole different story.

However, most parents aren’t directly teaching their kids bad behaviors. More than often, children simply imitate or react to their parents’ ways.

So where do parents go wrong and unwillingly encourage bullying?

1-They are bullies themselves

Children are like sponges — they soak up language, information and experiences. When the occasion is presented to them, they will use everything they’ve seen or heard. And they’ll feel even more encouraged to do so if they saw or heard it from their parents.

If a child sees their parents treating someone with disrespect or retaliate against others, they’re more likely to do the same. Being malicious or gossiping in front of your child will make them follow the same behavior.

2-They are too harsh in their punishments

There is ample evidence that children with harsh, punitive parents are more likely to bully other kids. By constantly being punished, the child accumulates a lot of anger which they can later project on other kids. The parent basically passes on the idea that control is obtained by using fear.

On the other hand, the same parenting style might increase the risk of the child being bullied. So depending on other factors that will impact their development, the child can later become either the abuser or the victim.

3-They are highly competitive

These are the type of individuals who often have prejudices based on race, sex, wealth, and achievements. Highly competitive parents tend to place absurd demands on their children. They need to be the best at everything, they have to be superior to other kids (and God forbid they fail).

This type of parents teach their kids to compete at all costs, whether it’s academically, athletically or socially. They encourage them to use whatever means as long as it leads to them winning.

4-They are too permissive or neglectful

Bullies often have parents that are neglecting them or are being too permissive. Sometimes parents struggle to set boundaries or hold their kid accountable for their behavior, so they give up and let them do whatever they want. Others choose to deal with it “later” and some simply don’t care enough to get more involved in their child’s life.

If the parent is irresponsible or passive toward their kid’s behavior, the child will lack discipline and will have no point of reference in their decision making process.

5-They are cruel to animals

We are not talking here about parents who don’t want their child to own a pet because they don’t like cleaning after it. We’re talking about the ones that are constantly chasing away or kicking animals for no apparent reason.

The child is likely copy his parent’s abusive “discipline” of animals. Moreover, research on childhood animal cruelty has shown that this type of behavior is among the first signs of later violence and delinquency.

What can parents do to avoid raising a bully?

Environments in which parents are caring, responsive to their children’s needs and set rules for the sake of their safety, lower the kid’s risk of becoming a bully.

Below are a few tips that will help your child build healthy relationships:

  • Teach them how to share and be kind.
  • Avoid comparing your child to others and make sure your demands are reasonable. Don’t breed unhealthy competition.
  • Help them solve their problems rationally.
  • Get to know their friends and their friends’ parents and encourage positive friendships.
  • Set boundaries and hold them accountable for their behavior. This is not about punishing your child, but about teaching them about responsibility.
  • Be careful with your language in front of your child and avoid exposing them to conflicts you might have with your partner. However, do teach them how to solve conflicts.
  • Try to decrease their exposure to violent content.

Bottom line

As previously stated, children are not born bullies, it is a learned behavior. Of course, we’re excluding neuropsychological conditions which are a whole different topic.

All parents have the opportunity to raise empathetic and well-behaved children. For that to happen, we sometimes have to analyze our own conduct to make sure we’re not bullying them ourselves and that we’re passing on the right lessons.

We can’t have full control over our children, other factors will also contribute to their future behavior. But it is in our power to substantially decrease the chances of our children becoming bullies.

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