Bullying Behavior: “There’s No Excuse For Abuse.”

Posted May 19, 2011 by

“There is no excuse for abuse.” This is an important lesson in The Total Transformation, and one of the first things I put into law in my own home, once I began utilizing the tools and techniques taught by James Lehman. But what do you do when the same choices are not made in your friend’s home — or in the home of your children’s friends?

My daughter’s best friend, I’ll call her “Jen,” is bright, outgoing, and what her mother describes as a “bossy” girl. My daughter needs a friend like that to balance her shy, introverted, and indecisive nature. A few play dates ago, on the way to our home from Jen’s, I could hear Jen berate my daughter, Anna, for touching her bag.

“Anna, quit touching my bag,” she scolded in a nasty tone, each time Anna brushed up against her backpack resting on the seat between the girls.  (“Abrasive, definitely, but abusive? We’ll see,” I thought.) From the rear view mirror, I observed Anna, and her body language said it all. She’d completely turned away from Jen and was staring out the window on the verge of tears.

The next play date was at Jen’s house. Jen’s mother is one of my good friends, so we decided to make it a girls’ afternoon. We were not there too long before I heard Jen say to Anna, who was in the bathroom washing her hands, “Anna, don’t wipe your filthy, smelly hands on my Dad’s towel.” I asked my friend if she’d heard what Jen had just said. When she told me she hadn’t, I repeated it. My friend told Jen to be more polite to Anna. Jen did not respond, except to make a mocking gesture at her mother.

While my friend and I cyber-shopped, my attention was constantly diverted to the girls, Jen mostly, who was yelling at Anna for things like eating her crackers too loudly as they watched a movie, to lying down on the blanket, which Jen did not approve of. My friend acted as if nothing was happening. Finally, I put my hand on my friend’s and said, “Jen must be angry with Anna because of how she’s treating her.” My friend is a very gentle-hearted person, and said to me barely above a whisper, that Jen was not angry with Anna. She then said to Jen that she needs to be nicer to Anna. Jen did lighten her tone when talking to Anna, only to then turn and hiss sharply at her mother, “There! Does that make you happy?”

I continued to observe Jen speak to both her parents in a disrespectful and often abusive tone for the duration of my visit. At one point Jen ridiculed her father’s foreign accent, saying that he “talked funny” and “sounded stupid.” Her behavior went unchecked and uncorrected. Her parents remained complacent to her disrespect and abuse, reacting only with, “OK, Jen.”

Anna has asked me not to schedule any more play dates with Jen. I came to the conclusion that I cannot expect Jen to treat Anna differently if she is being allowed to treat her parents even worse in her own home. My obvious responsibility as Anna’s parent is to live as an example of “No excuse for abuse,” and make parenting decisions in support of that.

After some debate about what is my business and what is not, when it comes to the choices other parents make about raising their children, I believe it’s also correct to be a support system for my friend and help her realize that no abuse, even from your own child, is ever “OK” (as in “OK, Jen.”) I clearly need to make my friend aware of what is going on with her daughter’s behavior. My friend needs to realize that they are both creating damage within their relationship, and within their friendships; one by being abusive, and one by allowing it. Yes, these are tough places to go with people, and you can feel like the bull in the china shop when having these difficult conversations. Knowing about it though, and letting it happen is worse.

That would be making an excuse for abuse.


Suzz is married with two children. She loves working and writing and her favorite thing to do is spend time with her family.

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  1. Donna M (Edit) Report

    I recognize that bullying often stems from a child’s lack of confidence and effort to appear as the “confident leader or boss”, but I have found that it has actually crept into the culture of our children. I have six sons between the ages of 17 and 3, the pecking order jumps around daily when it comes to bullying. Half of each day I feel like a bullying therapist trying to teach my boys how to properly treat each other! We have sought family counseling in order to help our family dynamic improve. What my husband and I found out is that the boys tease each other as a part of their family “game”. The boys are trying to make each other “tough” and practice at home so that when outsiders tease them they have comebacks and can cope with the bullying from strangers! My oldest son said, “I have to bust on them, otherwise they will be wimps when they get teased by their friends.” After I picked myself up off the floor, I bought James’ Total Transformation program and am trying to un-do years of the boys’ self help lessons!

  2. Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor (Edit) Report

    To TT: It sounds like you are really concerned about your son’s bullying behavior. You could be correct here– your son may have learned from his experience with the other child in your neighborhood that bullying behavior solves problems. After all, your son probably gives in to this other child when he is shamed and manipulated by him, so why not try this himself when he wants others to conform to his own wants and expectations? My advice to you is to put a strong emphasis on problem-solving and teaching your son more effective skills to solve his social problems. Have conversations about what he can do in situations that he commonly bullies in. Hold him accountable at home after he’s behaved inappropriately toward another child by restricting a privilege for a short time, talking about the incident, and having your son make an amends to his target whenever possible. If you don’t take on the responsibility of teaching your son new social problem-solving skills, his behavior is likely to continue. Remember that your son will need a lot of repetition of these problem solving discussions—you might have several, dozens even, and feel like you are not getting anywhere, but don’t give up. Learning takes time. Here is an article James Lehman wrote that talks more about why kids bully and how to handle it when your child is struggling with this: The Secret Life of Bullies: Why They Do It—and How to Stop Them. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

  3. TT (Edit) Report

    I’ve seen my child exhibit this type of behavior with friends and we’ve repeatedly addressed the behaviors verbally, taken privileges, sent the other child, sent our child to his room to cool off. The effects always seem to be temporary. My son has a love/hate relationship with a neighborhood kid who teases, hits, shames and manipulates. I feel my son displays these behavior to others based on his own experiences. We’ve forbid him to associate with this boy but he seems to “change” and things will be great for a couple of weeks until things go south again. I could really use some other parents observations to finally turn this into a learning experience and not be so hurtful ( and repetitive) to my own child.

  4. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    Thank you for this thoughtful post, and welcome to the EP Parent Blogger team!

    I wanted to chime in and say that my son has experienced a similar situation with a friend. Recently, when my son was sharing some of his fossils in class, this other boy said he was “weird” (in front of all the other kids) and asked why he was always talking about fossils. My son was embarrassed and felt terrible. I spoke to the teacher, who encouraged this other boy to write a note of apology. My husband and I are now talking to our son about what a true friend is — and how to avoid people who seem like friends, but really aren’t. This is another tough life lesson (heck, I think I just figured that one out in my thirties!) but it’s one we all have to learn. Good luck with your daughter, and with your friend — it sounds like you’re doing a great job handling the situation.

  5. Alison G. (Edit) Report

    I have had several situations like this over the years. It’s a tricky one that’s for sure. And I have had to speak to parents to explain why our kids won’t be having a playdate. James Lehman’s words can help with those conversations too.

  6. Suzz Malone (Edit) Report

    Hello Marsha,
    That sounds challenging. I find that when my own children use disrespectful tones, and even hurtful language with my family or others, I let them know it is unacceptable, what the expectation is, and then I walk away. With my daughter’s friend “Jen,” I told her mother that her bossiness can be groomed into leadership skills as she gets older – making it an asset,actually, and that her not wanting her things to be touched can be addressed immediately through telling friends ahead of time to “Please ask me before touching my things.”

  7. Marsha (Edit) Report

    Since I have a daughter like Jen..I find this hard to navigate. Her sensory issues DO make her more irritable and she hates her things to be touched, and she’s bossy and uses a nasty tone. I’d like to know exactly HOW to handle those situations, since I’m sure we’ve had almost exactly the same scenario. And as a parent, you can choose to ignore tone and attitude to yourself and focus on behavior issues. Sometimes I feel there is only so much I can correct in a few hours a day.



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