Parents who bully: tips and strategies for how to respond

By: Jodee Blanco
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It isn’t only kids that engage in bullying and exclusion on social media. Sometimes, parents do too, especially if their child is involved in a bullying situation at school, there are “parent cliques” and the adults start taking sides. 

This is one of the fastest growing bullying trends in our culture and one that as an anti-bullying expert I’m asked about daily. What many of these parents don’t realize is the damage their actions cause. They’re also setting a troubling precedent for their children.

In the age of COVID-19

COVID-19 has created an even higher reliance on digital platforms to communicate. This comes with both advantages and challenges. Some bad behaviors like parents that bully online may escalate, especially during this stressful time, when the entire world is on edge. 

How do you respond to a bullying parent online in a way that inspires dignity, understanding, and motivates everyone to work in partnership with each other? As a parent, how do you set an example of the person you want your child to be when they’re being bullied?

Here’s what you need to know:

  • If you’re being harassed by another parent, it’s usually fear that’s motivating it. In most bullying situations, whether among children or adults, the bully is acting out in a cry for help. Perhaps that parent is going through a bitter divorce, financial hardship, or family crisis. Whatever their situation may be, if you can keep that in mind, it may help you find some compassion despite your anger, which will give you more control over any impulse to lash out.
  • There’s a difference between reacting and responding. Reacting is when you say or do something in the moment of heated emotion without thinking it through. Responding is when you stop, process, and then act with intention. Ask yourself these questions: What outcome do I want from my response and why? What words/actions are most likely to inspire that outcome? Am I being fair, truthful and compassionate? Be as specific as possible, consider each answer carefully and be guided accordingly.
  • Don’t engage the other parent publicly on-line as this is only likely to escalate the issue. Instead, message them privately, acknowledge that you hear how upset they are, and suggest talking things through over the phone or in person (if appropriate). When you do have that conversation, don’t interrupt or become defensive. Listen and then share your honest thoughts. Often, just letting the other parent talk and know that they’re being heard will dissipate enough of the tension to allow for a productive dialogue.
  • Emotional Credibility in Communication means that you engender trust. There are three tenets of Emotional Credibility in Communication that are helpful when dealing with a bullying parent or anyone whose trust you wish to inspire. Specificity: the more specific you are when you communicate, the more validated the other person feels; the more general you are, the more dismissed they feel. Immediacy: when someone is upset, address it in as timely a manner as possible and don’t let them fester. Semantics and Positioning: present it the way you want it perceived; if you want something perceived as positive, introduce it that way.

Patience, understanding, empathy and dignity are not qualities that you can discipline into a child or even teach in a classroom. They must be inspired by example. Use this precious time right now to be that inspiration for your children online and everywhere. 

Learn about Verizon's response to COVID-19.

About the author(s):

Jodee Blanco, anti-bullying’s first voice, is the author of two New York Times bestsellers including the seminal memoir, Please Stop Laughing at Me…. that was a catalyst for the anti-bullying movement. She fills auditoriums, traveling to schools, sharing her story to save lives. Her anti-bullying program INJJA (It’s NOT Just Joking Around!), that consists of live presentations and a comprehensive character development curriculum continues to redefine the possibilities for curbing suffering in schools worldwide. For more information on Jodee, please visit https://www.jodeeblanco.com.

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