What to Do When Your Daughter is the Bully


Throughout my career as a teacher and school counselor, I’ve made many uncomfortable phone calls to parents uttering these difficult words, “Your child bullied someone at school today.” 

I then give them details of the well-investigated incident.  Parents tend to respond in one of five ways:

  1. Denial – “My Jamie wouldn’t do that.  My Jamie doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.”
  2. Blame – “If Suzanne did that, then the other girl must have done something first.  The teacher should watch them more closely.”
  3. Acceptance – “I was afraid of that.  Evie has been behaving that way with her cousin lately.”
  4. Pride – “It’s about time!  Layla’s been having trouble with that girl, so I told her to get her back good!”
  5. Mortification – “Oh, no!  I’m so sorry!  Mary knows better than that!  I don’t know what to do!  We don’t tolerate bullying!  You must think I’m a terrible parent!”

Regardless the reaction, when the dust settles, one thing remains.  A girl behaved as a bully, and that girl needs help.  She needs guidance to understand her actions, their effects on others, and how a pattern of bullying can affect her life. 

Best, Worst, and Extreme Cases

The best-case outcome is a fledgling bully gets help and stops her actions.  The worst case is she doesn’t; her bullying behaviors grow and become second nature to her. The extreme, unthinkable version could lead to her contribution to another’s life-long misery or to abuse resulting in someone’s bullicide.  A chilling fact is bullies contributed to the suicide deaths of Phoebe Prince  and Megan Meier  The physical and emotional damage to Josie Ratley stands as a living reminder

Bullies accustomed to using physical or relational aggression risk using these behaviors as their default coping mechanism.  Beyond the friendship problems they cause in youth, adult bullies bring their behaviors into the workplace, marriages, parenting, extended families, organizations, and societal interactions.  The cycle continues.

Bullying is Complicated

The dynamics of bullying are complicated.  The most dedicated, caring, and peaceful parents can raise a child who turns to bullying.  Schools with zero tolerance bullying policies or programs can still have bullies roaming the halls.  Infinite factors muddy peaceful intentions: personalities, perceptions, target and bystander silence, culture and climate norms, human nature, etc.   Despite sometime seemingly insurmountable odds, parents can and do make a difference when their child is a bully.

What Parents Can Do

First of all, understand your child is trying out a role.  All of us have bullied at some time in our lives.  If you have siblings, that’s where you first likely flexed your bullying muscles.  At some time, your daughter will try hers.  It’s natural, but don’t let her get stuck there.  Help her understand her actions, and guide her to discover the purpose of her bullying.  Here are the top five reasons girls resort to bullying.

The Top Five Reasons Why Girls Resort to Bullying

1.      To  Get What She Wants – the life skill this girl needs is to learn to ask for what she wants in a civil manner instead of bullying to get it.  Teach her positive ways to speak up and ask for what she needs.

2.     To Claim Her Power – Power can be hurtful or helpful.  Help this girl understand more appropriate ways to use her power.  Use inspiring examples to illustrate the use of positive power (Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Harry Potter, Fern from Charlotte’s Web, the mouse from Tales of Despereaux , etc.)

3.     To Get Revenge – Revenge can feel satisfying, so it can be difficult convincing a girl it’s not productive.  It’s the opposite of the Golden Rule.  The Revenge Rule is: Hurt Her As Much or More Than She Hurt You.  Use the example of how nations locked in war can use revenge.  Ultimately, after the war is over, both nations have suffered pain, win or lose. 

4.     Fear – Most bullying comes out of fear.  Girls fear friends being taken away from them, loss of power or position in a group, and others discovering their vulnerabilities and insecurities.  Girls fear they are not enough.  When you expose the fear, you uncover the foundation of pain.  Explore your daughter’s fears with her.  Brainstorm ways she can address them without bullying.

5. Parental Role Modeling – Parents continually deal with life right in front of their children.  If you come from a family culture of bullying, you may be blind to or default to familial bullying behaviors.  Honesty about your own behaviors will help you determine if your daughter’s behaviors are mirroring your own.

If you find your daughter has bullied, stay calm, discover her motives, and teach her positive, replacement skills.  Once a bully, always a bully?  No, however, an established bullying pattern is much harder to extinguish.  Talk to your daughter now to address a current situation or to prevent bullying behaviors in the future.

© 2010 A Way Through, LLC

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Female friendship experts Jane Balvanz and Blair Wagner publish A Way Through, LLC’s Guiding Girls ezine. If you’re ready to guide girls in grades K – 8 through painful friendships, get your FREE mini audio workshop and ongoing tips now at

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