Stopping Bullying Behaviors: Advice for Parents and Caregivers (page 4)

By — Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Updated on Sep 30, 2009

Parents: What Can You Do If Your Child Is a Bully?

You will need to work closely with the school to resolve the situation. Being informed by the school or another source that your child is bullying other students may be a difficult fact to face. Making excuses and playing down your child’s behavior will not help him or her. On the contrary, you should act quickly for the sake of the victim and for your own child’s future.  As mentioned earlier, children who are aggressive toward their peers are at high risk for what is known as anti-social development, including criminality and misuse of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs at a later stage in their lives. It is, therefore, important to take time now to guide your child on to positive paths.

Steps You Can Take

  • Make it quite clear that you take bullying seriously and will not accept the continuation of this behavior. If both you and the school show consistently negative reactions to the child’s bullying, the chances that your child will change are increased.
  • Try to set up some simple rules for family interactions. Whenever your child follows the rules, praise him or her. If your child breaks the rules, consistently enforce some kind of negative consequence (for example, the withholding of allowance or other benefits/privileges).
  • Spend 15 minutes or more of quality time with your child every day. Gain thorough knowledge into who he or she is spending time with and what they are doing. It is easier for children or young people to change their aggressive behavior if they feel they are reasonably well liked and listened to by their parents/caregivers.
  • Help your child use his or her energy and need to dominate in a more positive way, for example, by encouraging him or her to participate in a sport like basketball or soccer, in which one must play by the rules. Explore any particular talents your child may have that can be further developed to enhance his or her self-esteem.
  • If these kinds of measures, and the plan that has been set up with the school, have not resulted in noticeable changes in your child’s behavior after some time, then you should get in touch with a mental health professional for more help.

What Can Schools Do?

Bullying in schools is not a problem that can be solved once and for all. Therefore, schools should maintain constant readiness to counteract any tendencies toward bullying in the school environment. This can best be achieved by having a good bullying prevention program as a standard element in the school environment. Although there are other anti-bullying programs available, the most noted program is the one developed in Norway by Dr. Dan Olweus at the University of Bergen.

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program has been used and evaluated in large-scale studies with quite positive results in several countries, including the United States, and it has a strong research base.

The following are core elements of the Olweus program that you might want to consider when requesting, promoting, implementing, and evaluating a bullying prevention program in your school.

A Model Bullying Prevention Program

Principles and Characteristics

What helps make the Olweus program a model is that it builds on a few key principles that have been found to be important in research on the development and modification of problem behavior, especially aggressive behavior, like bullying.

  • First, it is important to create both a school and home environment characterized by warmth, positive interest, and involvement with adults.
  • Second, firm limits against unacceptable behavior need to be established.
  • Third, non-physical, non-hostile negative consequences (sanctions) must be applied if a youth breaks the rules that have been agreed upon.
  • Fourth, it is expected that the adults in the school and at home act as authorities, at least in some respects. The program is based on an authoritative (not authoritarian) model for the relationship between adults and children, where teachers are expected to be authorities with responsibility for the students’ total situation, not just their learning.

For additional information

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program


  1. Increase awareness and knowledge of problems related to bullying as well as dispel a number of myths about the causes of bullying.

    The use of the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire in an anonymous survey is an important step toward the acquisition of more concrete information about the occurrence and forms of the problem in the individual school.
  2. Get teachers and parents actively involved.

    This means that the adults must take responsibility for controlling what is going on among the students in the school, at least to a certain extent. One aspect of this is organizing good supervision of break times. Furthermore, teachers are encouraged to intervene in situations that arouse suspicion and to give a clear message to the students: We will not accept bullying in our school, and we will make sure it’s stopped. Teachers should initiate serious discussions with victims of bullying, bullies, and their parents if a problem has been identified or is suspected. Parents and teachers must closely follow up and monitor the measures taken. Otherwise, the situation of the victim can easily decline from “bad to worse.”
  3. Develop clear rules against bullying. The following rules have proven to be very useful:

    • We will not bully other students.
    • We will try to help students who are bullied.
    • We will make it a point to include students who become easily left out.
    • When we know somebody is being bullied, we will tell a teacher and an adult at home.

    These rules can provide the basis for class discussions about what bullying is and what negative consequences should be put into effect when students break the rules. Regular class meetings are a good forum for evaluating how students relate to the set rules and whether the planned measures are working. It is important that the teacher enforce the rules consistently and also give plenty of praise when the rules are followed.

  4. Provide support and effective protection to the victim.

    If the rules are followed, students who are easily bullied usually are provided reasonably good protection. In addition, the teacher can enlist “neutral” or “well-adjusted” students in different ways to improve the situation for victims of bullying. The teacher can use his or her imagination to help bullied students stand up for themselves in appropriate ways and make themselves useful and valuable in their classmates’ eyes. The parents of bullied children can motivate them to make new friends and show them how to get to know others and how to maintain good relationships with friends.

    Even though many of the measures in this school-based program do not directly involve parents, parents should know that this kind of intervention program exists and that it works. This bullying prevention program does not require large-scale investments of time or money. It is first and foremost a question of the attitudes, behaviors, and routines of the teachers and school administrators. A dramatic reduction in the extent of bullying can be achieved with a relatively simple, but carefully developed bullying prevention program.

Olweus Bullying Prevention Program

Key Components

General Prerequisites

  • Awareness and involvement on the part of adults

Measures at the School Level

  • Questionnaire survey (answered anonymously by the students)
  • Improved supervision of break time
  • School conference day
  • Establishment of one or more teacher discussion groups (at each school)
  • Formation of a coordinating group

Measures at the Classroom Level

  • Class (or school-wide) rules against bullying
  • Regular class meetings (teacher and students)
  • Class parent/teacher meetings

Measures at the Individual Level

  • Individual meetings with children who bully
  • Individual meetings with children who are targets of bullying
  • Teacher and parent use of imagination to help solve the problem.

It’s Time to Make a Commitment

How much bullying takes place in our schools and other youth environments depends on the role that committed adults will play in their schools, their families, and their communities.


Melton, G. B., Limber, S. P., Cunningham, P., Osgood, D. W., Chambers, J., Flerx, V., (1998). Prevalence of Bullying: The South Carolina Report.

Henggeler, S., and Nation, M. (1998).  Violence among rural youth.  Final report to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Nansel, T. R., Overpeck, M., Pilla, R. S., Ruan, W. J., Simons-Morton, B., and Scheidt, P. (2001). Bullying behaviors among U.S. youth: Prevalence and association with psychosocial adjustment. Journal of the American Medical Association, 285, 2094–2100.

Olweus, D. (1991). Bully/victim problems among schoolchildren: Basic facts and effects of a school-based intervention program.  In D. Pepler & K. Rubin (Eds.), The development and treatment of childhood aggression. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Olweus, D. (1993a). Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. (Can be ordered from Blackwell, c/o  AIDC, P. O. Box 20, Williston, VT 05495, USA; phone: 1-800-216-2522.)

Olweus, D. (1993b). Victimization by peers: Antecedents and long-term outcomes. In K. H. Rubin & J. B. Asendorf (Eds.), Social withdrawal, inhibition and shyness in childhood. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Olweus, D. (1994). Annotation: Bullying at School: Basic facts and effects of a school-based intervention program. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 1171–1190.

Olweus, D. (2001). Olweus’ core program against bullying and antisocial behavior: A teacher handbook. Bergen, Norway: Research Center for Health Promotion (The HEMIL Center).

Olweus, D., and Limber, S. (1999).  Blueprints for violence prevention: Bullying Prevention Program. Boulder, CO: University of Colorado, Institute of Behavioral Science. Available online at

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