Parenting 101: Raise a Leader, Not a Bully – How to Encourage Pro-Social Behavior in Your Child


Recently, I was chatting with some moms at school. One said, “Oh my goodness, did you hear about ‘so and so’; he’s becoming quite the bully. My kid would never do that.” We all nodded our heads in agreement. Fast forward two days later, her son was seen pushing a handful of kids on the playground and teasing a girl about her weight.

None of us want to think that our child(ren) would or could do that. But, what if your child really is the bully?

So, how can you prevent – or stop – your child from bullying and instead encourage them to be a leader?

How to Encourage Pro-Social Behavior in Your Child

Nurture empathy and gratitude – We are all born with the capacity to be empathetic; however, being born with something doesn’t guarantee it will develop on its own. Take the time to develop empathy in your child. One of the easiest ways to nurture empathy is to have your child consider the needs and concerns of others. This can be done by simply asking, “How would YOU feel if ‘so and so’ happened?”

Teach your child to positive ways to lead – Bullies actually have phenomenal leadership abilities. Teach your child to use their leadership ability in positive ways such as volunteering at the library, helping out neighbors or donating some of their allowance/toys/clothing to help others.

Monitor media, such as TV, video games and music – Media doesn’t necessarily cause mean behavior, but it can cultivate a culture of mean. An example of shows that could contribute to a ‘culture of mean’ are iCarly and Wipeout. I watch these shows with my kids, and, yes, there are a few silly guffaws. However, there are also many scenes with repeated and intentional remarks, teasing and even violence. Rather than forbidding shows such as these, watch and discuss them with your kids. Have them identify certain behaviors and talk to them about the impact these behaviors can have. To really bring home the message, have them relate these behaviors to their own life.

Get them involved in physical activities – Horseback riding, soccer, rock climbing, hiking, running – even jump-roping and bowling are great activities to help kids redirect their energy into something positive. Involvement in activities also helps your child to learn friendship and teamwork skills as well as build self-esteem.

Finally, lead by example – We all have situations that require us to make moral decisions. If your child sees you in a sticky situation, talk about it. Let your child know that there were many different ways to handle the circumstance and talk about the choice(s) you made. This will help them learn to consider their own actions and choices. If they see you taking the moral high ground, they’ll be much more likely to do so as well.

Interested in starting a conversation of character in your home? Check out Julie Watson Smith’s workbook, Karmic Acts of Character.


About Author

Julie Smith, adolescent and family counselor and parent educator, specializes in improving the parent-tween/teen relationships. She helps parents and educators understand tweens-to-teens, so they, in turn, can help these kids understand themselves. Every day, Julie shares tween-to-teen perspectives, insights and answers questions from parents in in the Flipside of Parenting community. For more information or to Meet your Tween, visit


  1. It’s so true that bullies have leadership abilities. They can make you feel like a millionaire bucks and then turn on you the next. They have the ability to get kids to follow them around and do what they say. Incredible the pull they have yet I don’t understand why kids choose to follow them?  And don’t even get me started on the girls…..

  2. Great article as always.  I would add that getting kids involved in music, art, drama and/or dance is a huge step towards encouraging pro-social, anti bullying behavior.  Never to late to get kids involved in these activities.  Cheers!

    John (aka @brandflair)

  3. Thank you so much, John. I agree with you. Getting kids involved in the arts is a great way to encourage pro-social behavior. Nowadays, there are so many options for kids to redirect their energy into positive endeavors. 

    Take care!

  4. Hi Wendy~

    Agreed. Bullies actually have strong leadership abilities. It’s just that their leadership abilities focus on the negatives. Their “followers” do so because their is something they want from that person (leader/bully) such as power, status, protection, acceptance – even if it doesn’t support their best selves. Have you read or watched the movie Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons? It addresses the aggression and more subtle bullying that happens among girls. I highly recommend it! 


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