Are you Raising a Bully?

By Ingrid Palmisano….

Ingrid Palmisano

While there are many topics in education that seem to be on people’s minds, I have decided to tackle one specific issue that seemed to run concurrently through my life both in admissions and in my private practice as a therapist. With permission of the family, below is the question that a mother asked of me while seeking counseling for her daughter. This was the question asked:

A mother from my daughter’s dance studio called me to inform me that my daughter has been calling her daughter “braceface”. When I asked my daughter about it, she responded that all the kids joke around calling each other names and that they are just playing around. What should I do?

I remember “cut-down fights” as being a right-of- passage in Middle School. We would spend time on the telephone (the one actually connected to the wall) and think of things we could say to prove we were smarter and wittier than the next kid. We would also never dare tell our parents that someone had verbally insulted us. Most parents would not have gotten involved anyway and would have remarked only about how sensitive you were being. Children were sent to the office for serious offenses, like physical altercations and skipping class. In most ways, society has changed for the better as parents seem to be a lot more involved with their children and the day-to-day activities.

Many schools have bullying programs and even have specialized classes such as Life Skills that give students the tools to learn to deal with bullying and open the conversation up within small groups for role play. I find that while parents have educated their children not to talk to strangers, not to play with fire, or even what to do if they feel bullied, few have had the conversation to consider if their own child could actually be a potential bully. When Bill Belsey, founder of came to speak at my school he said bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Our generation is used to the biggest kid being the one that is most feared. This is not necessarily the case anymore. Our job as parents begins with modeling appropriate behavior. Kids do as we do! They listen to the way we treat the person behind the register, to our conversations on the telephone, and the way we speak when we are around our adult friends. If we are not modeling kindness, how would they know how to implement this characteristic in their own lives? If you are dealing with a bullying situation, my recommendation is to contact the adult responsible for the children during the time of the incident in order to bring awareness to the situation, and to also teach your child to come up with ways he or she can personally respond that would create self-confidence and independence without cruelty. It is our job to rolemodel, educate, protect, and encourage self-confidence and independence.

While I am familiar with the Life skills program of the school where I work and where my child also attends, I asked my daughter to role-play a bullying scene with me. She was able to come back with witty comments and we also had a conversation about the difference between being funny and hurtful. To my surprise, she had revealed that she herself had to write an I-care message to a child that she excluded from a game a few years ago through her Life Skills class. Not having heard of the I-care message program, I found out that it is actually something parents are not informed about as it is for a child to create a private message to tell another child of their expectations on how they prefer to be treated, teaching both independence and compassion.

It is important from a developmental point of view, depending on the age of the child, to teach our children how to be resilient and confident when adversity comes their way. While it is our instinct as parents to protect our children, there comes a point in time that we must refrain from resolving problems parent to parent and instead teach the skills so that our children can advocate for themselves. At the same time, we have to back off so they can practice those skills. Developing a good sense of humor and role-playing what happens with name calling is one step towards improving a child’s self-confidence and it gives him or her important tools for life.

If you have questions or comments please feel free to email me at

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