Ways Parents Make Bullying Worse

How to avoid these common mistakes

Boy hugging his mother

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Bullying is stressful for everyone involved. But sometimes parents are either so overcome by the emotions surrounding bullying or they miss the bullying altogether. And if they’re not careful, they can actually make a bullying situation worse for their child.

Here are the top six mistakes parents make when it comes to bullying in their child’s life.

Missing the Warning Signs

Be sure you are familiar with all the signs of bullying. These subtle signs include everything from frequent complaints about stomachaches and headaches as well as not wanting to do to school. Sometimes kids will allude to bullying without ever using the word. For instance, they may say there is a lot of “drama” at school or kids “mess” with them. These phrases are often subtle hints that bullying may be taking place. It’s especially important that parents can identify the warning signs because most kids don’t tell anyone that they are being bullied.

Ignoring the Bullying

Sometimes parents think that if they ignore a situation, it will go away. Or worse yet, they minimize the situation by making light of it or telling their child to toughen up. If you are one of the few parents whose kids will tell them about bullying, make sure you take time to listen to what they are saying. Gather as much information as you can and then make a commitment to help resolve the issue. Be sure you avoid getting emotional.

Bullying is about your child, not you. If you feel so impacted by the bullying your child is experiencing and are unable to control your thoughts or emotions, they may not feel as though you are a safe person in which to confide.

Dramatizing Situations

Some parents go to the opposite extreme and dramatize every mean thing a person does or label every conflict as bullying. They immediately call the school, the teacher, the coach, or the principal without giving their child a chance to navigate the situation.

What’s more, parents need to learn to differentiate between bullying and normal conflict. They also need to recognize the difference between unkind behavior and bullying.

For something to constitute bullying, there must be three components including a power imbalance, an intent to harm your child, and repeating incidents. If these are not present, it may not be bullying your child is experiencing.

Focusing on the Wrong Things

Sometimes parents get so wrapped up in the idea of bullying, that they focus more on getting justice or revenge. Then, they lose sight of what is really important: helping their child move beyond the bullying incident.

If the bullying is taking place at school, parents need to allow room for the school administrators to handle the situation according to their guidelines. As parents, the main focus should not be on the punishment the bully receives but determining whether or not the bullying has stopped and whether or not your child is safe.

If the bullying is continuing and the school is not taking steps to protect your child, then you do need to follow up with the school. But parents need to realize that they may not have much control over the disciplinary actions. Focusing your energy on what is happening in the bully’s life instead of what is happening with your child won't help.

Not Helping Their Child Overcome Bullying

When bullying occurs, your number one priority as a parent should be to help your child overcome bullying. You also need to look for ways to prevent future bullying incidents.

Talk to your kids about how to avoid bullies. Build their self-esteem and resiliency. Teach them how to be assertive. Help them develop friendships. And most importantly, find outside help for them when needed. Waiting too long to address depression and thoughts of suicide can have disastrous results.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Gossiping About the Bully

One of the worst things a parent can do when their child is bullied is to gossip or spread rumors. Again, this is something that takes away from helping your child. And, it can only complicate things. Remember that a bully is someone’s child and you should treat them with the same respect that you expect your child to be treated with.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Warning Signs of Bullying.

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Warning Signs for Bullying.

  3. Shetgiri R. Bullying and victimization among childrenAdv Pediatr. 2013;60(1):33–51. doi:10.1016/j.yapd.2013.04.004

  4. Hale R, Fox CL, Murray M. "As a Parent You Become a Tiger": Parents Talking about Bullying at SchoolJ Child Fam Stud. 2017;26(7):2000–2015. doi:10.1007/s10826-017-0710-z

  5. Alavi N, Reshetukha T, Prost E, et al. Relationship between bullying and suicidal behaviour in youth presenting to the emergency departmentJ Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2017;26(2):70–77.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.