If you’re a parent, do you know what things you might be doing that could cause your child to become a bully? Bullying isn’t created in a vacuum.

“Although bullies may have particular temperamental profiles, some bullying behavior is learned,” and this includes from their parents, says Rona Novick, PhD, who developed the BRAVE bully prevention program.

A clinical psychologist, Dr. Novick has worked with schools nationally on the issue of bullying, and is director of the Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Doctoral Program at Yeshiva University, NY.

Parents Don’t Deliberately Teach Bullying to Their Children

Few parents would ever say to their child before school, “Okay, Junior, let’s see how many kids you can make cry today, and I’ll give you a prize when you get home.”

Dr. Novick explains, “Parents do not need to give direct ‘lessons’ in bullying; they teach by example and through errors of omission.”

You’ve certainly witnessed this many times in your life; I know I have: a parent having an angry meltdown in the presence of their young children, or even a more subtle display of bullying, such as loudly placing a hand down on the counter at a store and leaning towards the employee and demanding a refund.

This is what Dr. Novick means by example. It teaches that “bullying is not only okay, but the way to do business when, in eye or earshot of their children, they use power-assertive tactics to get what they want.”

These tactics can be imposed on sales clerks (a very common recipient of such, actually), a teacher, neighbor, solicitor at door, “but whenever a parent abuses their power to get their way, they teach bullying is the way to go.”

Ever hear that old saying, “Kids don’t obey their parents; they imitate them”?

Parents can also, though unknowingly, encourage bullying behavior in their kids by turning a blind eye to bullying, even in their own families.

How many days do you read a daily advice columnist before you get to a letter from an adult asking how to handle the family bully at reunions and other family get-togethers?

Guess what: Children interpret a neutral or turn-the-other-way response as approval of bullying, says Dr. Novick.

“So a non-response to older sibling bullying younger, or to someone who cuts in line, sends the message to children that this type of behavior meets with our approval.”

Wow, cutting in line! Have you ever said NOTHING, in the presence of your child, when someone cuts in front of you at the store?

You may not think it’s worth defending, but think about the message this sends to that little girl or boy whose hand your holding.

“Parents need not intervene in every case; they simply need to communicate their disapproval,” explains Dr. Novick.

“They don’t need to tackle a line cutter and move him to the back of the line; they can simply say to their children, quietly, ‘We don’t do that,’ or, ‘That’s a rude, unfair thing to do.’”

Dr. Novick is recognized for her expertise in behavior management and child behavior therapy. She has published scholarly articles on school applications of behavior management, children and trauma, and bully prevention in schools.