How to NOT raise a bully

Have you seen the viral video of Keaton Jones? He is a boy in Tennessee who was being bullied and his mom recorded him sharing his pain and pleading with the bully kids to stop. It’s absolutely heart wrenching. It’s gotten a ton of media attention and a host of celebrities offering their support.

My heart broke for him knowing first hand how painful being bullied can be – 5th and 6th grade were a nightmare for me. Now looking at this as a parent, I found myself wondering where are the parents of these children who are being so cruel and hurtful?

I don’t want to sound cliche but it really does start at home. It’s up to us as parents to raise children who won’t stand for this type of cruelty. But how do we do that? I think there are a few things that we can instill in our kids before they even reach school to make sure that they aren’t inflicting this kind of pain on someone else.


A bully isn’t the most empathetic kid on the playground. Having empathetic kids, that is, being able to recognize emotions in other people, is something that needs to be nurtured and taught. It’s not an instinct that we are all born with and just like a host of other things, needs to be modeled, encouraged and recognized.

There are a ton of resources on the internet to find ways to teach empathy but I’ve found that the easiest way is to make it a part of everyday teachable moments. Just like I would recognize and encourage good manners or being a good helper at home, I do the same for emotional control and sharing of emotions.

I wrote about having a conversation about diversity with our Big Nugget and what resonated easiest with her was that words can hurt. That she wouldn’t want to be singled out because of her blonde hair or brown eyes so she shouldn’t do that to someone else. It’s about accepting our differences.

We also take opportunities to teach compassion, this holiday season we do the Kindness Elves and they are a great tool to each empathy. They come during the month of December and share ideas on act of kindness they can do for others, instead of just reporting bad behavior to Santa.


Instilling confidence in our children is another way to combat bulling. How do you make your child confident? It’s not about bloating their ego and constantly telling them how great they are. Kids learn through action and confidence is no different. I’ve noticed a huge jump in Big Nugget’s confidence by her involvement with swim class and dance. I think extra curricular activities help them learn, challenge them physically and develop an innate sense of confidence that will help long term.

Why is confidence important? Because kids who are confident don’t feel the need to bully and belittle other children. They also have the strength to stand up to the bully or not fear telling an adult about the behavior. They have the confidence to speak out against injustices. They have the confidence to be includers when that might not be the easiest choice.

Leading by Example

No parent is perfect but our children are sponges and reflect the behavior that they see. Do we as adults treat other adults the way we would want our kids to treat other kids? It’s not always easy and our kids are watching. Empathy and inclusion are things we need to practice ourselves.

I love this quote from “Upsetting experiences don’t have to lead to long-term damage if children are listened to respectfully, if the problem is resolved, and if their feelings are supported.” Kuddos to Keaton’s mom who had the courage to record her son in a moment of obvious pain. She knew that sharing his pain would lead to healing. People watched. People identified. Hopefully change is coming.

Bully Resources

Teaching Empathy: Evidence-based tips on fostering empathy in children

Face Bullying with Confidence: 8 Kidpower Skills We Can Use Right Away

Bullying Basics

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