Bully parenting is a colloquial term that refers to a parent who is overly aggressive. This parenting style can increase the likelihood that a child may be a bully or a target of bullying.

Negative parenting, which may include neglect or abuse, may play a role in a child being both a target and a perpetrator of bullying. In contrast, positive parenting, such as showing warmth and affection, may reduce the risk of a child becoming a bullying target.

However, it is important to note that if a child is experiencing bullying, both them and their parents are not at fault. Various strategies can help a parent support their child through bullying.

Keep reading to learn more about whether parenting style influences bullying, the types of parenting styles, signs of bullying, tips for parents, and when to seek professional help. We also include a personal account from Dr. Jennifer Silver, the mother of a child who experienced bullying.

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Bullying is aggressive behavior that seeks to humiliate or isolate another person. It can take different forms, including:

  • Physical: These include pushing, hitting, and kicking.
  • Verbal attacks: These include name-calling, teasing, and threatening.
  • Relational: These include gossiping, social exclusion, and spreading rumors.

According to a 2016 study, parenting styles can influence bullying. The research cites a 2013 meta-analysis that associates negative parenting with children who have an increased likelihood of being both bullying perpetrators and targets.

It defines negative parenting in this context as behaviors that include neglect, abuse, and maladaptive parenting. For example, a parent may emotionally manipulate a child by blaming them for something that is not their fault.

Conversely, the rejection parenting style can cause emotional harm through lack of care. These parents act unresponsive, uninterested, and unavailable to children and may dismiss or reject their attempts to spend time together.

The meta-analysis also found positive parenting links to protection from being a bullying target. It defines positive parenting as showing warmth, affection, and support.

Additionally, a 2022 study found a connection between a rejection parenting style and children who feel they are targets of non-physical bullying. The negative coping styles children adopt to cope with rejection parenting appear to influence their perception that other children are bullying them in a non-physical way.

There are four primary parenting types: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved.


Authoritarian parents establish strict rules and leave little or no room for negotiation. They usually do not explain the rules and punish mistakes.

This style involves high expectations and less nurturing. Children of authoritarian parents often behave well but may be shy or have higher levels of aggression.


Parents with an authoritative style typically have a nurturing, close relationship with their children. They explain reasons for disciplinary actions and use discipline as a means of support rather than punishment.

This style allows children to have input into expectations and entails frequent and appropriate parent-child communication. It links to the best outcomes and results in confident and responsible children.

Additionally, it fosters the ability of children to manage their negative emotions, which leads to better social and emotional health.


Parents with a permissive style are warm and nurturing but have little or no expectations. Their limited rules lead to only rare uses of discipline.

This style results in eating habits that could lead to health issues and allows children to set their bedtimes and decide if or when to do homework. Consequently, children can be demanding and lack self-regulation.

Uninvolved parenting

Uninvolved parents fulfill their children’s basic needs but are detached from their lives. They have low nurturing, limited communication, and few expectations.

Children of these parents are usually self-sufficient but may have difficulty controlling their emotions and sustaining social relationships.

Common signs that an adolescent is a bullying target include:

  • low self-esteem
  • disliking school, missing school, or declining school performance
  • loneliness or depression
  • tiredness, stomach aches, or headaches
  • self-destructive behaviors
  • unexplained injuries
  • frequent nightmares or difficulty sleeping
  • thinking about or attempting suicide
  • loss of electronics, jewelry, books, or clothing
  • avoidance of social situations or a sudden loss of friends

Jennifer’s story: My son lost interest in school-related activities

When my child was going through a difficult period of being bullied, I noticed some subtle changes in his behavior. One such change was his sudden lack of interest in school-related activities, which was reflected in a decline in his grades.

Moreover, I noticed that he became more irritable and was reluctant to discuss his day, which signaled that he might be going through some emotional distress.

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The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry offers the following recommendations for parents who suspect their child is a bullying target.

  • Allow a child to discuss the bullying incidents and provide emotional support while listening.
  • Do not encourage a child to fight back. Suggest that they walk away to avoid the bullying or seek help from a coach or teacher.
  • Get help from the school’s guidance counselor. Also, ask the school’s administrators to learn about programs other schools have used to address bullying, such as increased adult supervision.
  • Help a child practice what to say to the bully in preparation for the next time it happens. Encourage assertiveness, such as insisting that the bully leave them alone.
  • Because bullies are less likely to target a child in a group, encourage a child to be with friends when traveling to and from school.
  • Do not encourage a child to work things out on their own with a bully.

Jennifer’s story: We spent time outdoors and started a shared journal

I adopted a holistic approach. Because of his love for nature, we began spending more time outdoors, engaging in activities such as hiking and gardening. This provided a refreshing change and allowed us to have unstructured conversations where my child felt more comfortable sharing his feelings.

I also introduced a shared journal. We took turns writing messages to each other, allowing my child to express thoughts that were challenging to articulate verbally. This facilitated a unique form of communication that went beyond the usual parent-child dialogue.

Learn more about resources to stop bullying.

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Parental behaviors that help prevent children from being perpetrators of bullying entail teaching them to be respectful, kind, and empathetic. This takes considerable effort. It involves emphasizing that no one deserves teasing as well as avoiding jokes about a person’s clothing, size, or weight.

Because bullying can have serious consequences, when it becomes a recurring event, a person needs to seek professional help early.

Bully parenting is a colloquial term for aggressive parenting. A 2016 study links negative parenting to children who are perpetrators or targets of bullying.

Authoritative parenting is the style that has links to the best emotional health in children. It is nurturing and uses discipline for support rather than punishment.

If a child is a bullying target, a parent can help through measures, such as allowing the child to discuss what is happening while providing emotional support.