Adult Bullying Protecting Your Children

This is part 1 in a series on Adult Bullying Protecting Your children. Check back for the rest of the series or subscribe here. You can also follow my rants, photos, daily finds, and post updates here on my Facebook community site or on the Adult Bullying Facebook Community pages.

adult bullying protecting your children

“Children are the litmus paper to expose the presence of pride.” (J. Piper)

There was this moment a number of years ago when my husband and I were standing in the middle of a stone patio on a beautiful day with our young daughters in our arms, and my heart was very angry. I was a fuming mess. It was not the first time I had felt that much anger, nor was it the first time that I had to restrain that Mama Bear response in my heart.  However, this was the tipping point.

It was one of the breaking places: moments upon moments, comments upon comments, actions upon actions that had built one upon the other – fissures that ran deep.

I felt so helpless and unable to defend myself and my family against the bullying words and actions of a grownup in our life.

Have you ever felt that kind of helpless?

During that season of my life (young mother, young wife), I had unbeknownst to me slipped into an ugly “people pleasing” role instead of being confident simply as ME.

Restraining and hiding pieces of myself was actually counter intuitive to how my parents raised me.

Remaining silent and submissive was an ugly role I had learned in the church growing up: keep the peace, play nice, and do not stir the waters. It was a role I had learned as a woman that left me wide open to being abused, manipulated, living in shame, and isolated.

silent submissive and vulnerable churched woman jkmcguire

Allowing myself to be tamed and silenced into approved lines and boxes like a sniffling child is not who I am at my center, but I had allowed it. There were many “wise adults” around me who needed me to be living inbetween lines and shoved into boxes, complaint and not rocking their illusions.

I was taught to defend myself and children. That was the number one lesson I learned being raised in a home that took in foster children. I am a big time justice-seeking girl especially when it comes to the rights and our responsibilities towards the young, vulnerable ones in our world.

But for a number of reasons I did not fully understand at the time, I silently allowed the tirade on my child and family to happen (again) without protest or causing a scene. It was violent. It was cruel. It is one of those breaking point moments as a mother… as a woman… as a wife.

What follows are the things I have experienced and learned about adult bullying and protecting your children. 

Things that were born right out of moments like what I just described.

Hopefully what I have walked will help you before you get to that tipping place.

bully and jest at a child's expense

Bullying is Ugly

There are a number of ways in which bullies navigate. But in all the things that they do to frustrate our grownup hearts, hurt our adult feelings, and anger our sensibilities there is one maneuver in the adult bully’s arsenal that makes my blood boil:

Bullies seem to give special attention to children.

Some adult bullies attack at the young and innocent, the little ones who refuse to cooperate, or (heaven forbid) children that seem to have a mind of their own. They focus in on weakness, fear, vulnerability – and they use shame as their essential tool in keeping a child in his/her place.

These types of adults only have room for good little boys and girls who behave themselves.

To be honest adult bullies do not have much room for children at all…

Bullies intimidate and threaten or mock children into appropriate (bully approved) behaviors.

Children are least likely to call a bully out – to push a bully back – to refuse to play the bullying games.

Children are least likely to  tell others when an adult is being cruel. They are least likely to confront them.
Because we teach children to respect adult authority, to honor grownups – the fear & domination tactics that an adult bully uses to manipulate others is especially productive when used on our children.

adult authority adult bullying tactics jkmcguire

Adult bullies back our little ones up against walls, lining them up, standing tall over them, grabbing them from the safety of their parents’ arms or hands –  they push their grown fingers into little faces & chests, whispering spiteful words aimed right at their young hearts, while shaming  these innocent ones into fearful compliance.

As a parent it is difficult to navigate these moments when an adult comes after your child without YOU causing a scene or losing your cool or simply knocking the bully’s head off. Because I’ve heard that knocking a bully’s head off is not the most mature-loving-appropriate response. (darn)

How a Bully Uses a Crowd to Get to Your Kids

bully manipulates the mob jkmcguire

When a bullying moment occurs in public from an onlooker’s perspective it appears as though you (the parent or defender) are the one causing the problem:

  • The bully swoops in and angers your heart,
  • inserting themselves into your child’s boundaries,
  • whispering filth, shame, harm with mocking or derogatory words and
  • then quickly steps away again leaving you fuming, reacting, and feeling helpless
  • while your child is left frightened and confused
  • Meanwhile there may be a whole audience witnessing this encounter.

The problem, however, is that while there is often an audience present rarely is anyone SEEING.

Much of what the bully does can appear to be in jest or a part of an “overbearing” personality.

But any words that an adult uses at a child’s expense is unkind and cruel. Plain and simple.

A Bully Does What a Bully Does

The bullies in our midst:

  • back up like cowards and allow you and/or the child to bear the reproof for something you did not start or cause,
  • the bully throws up their hands feigning innocence as if the bully is the REAL victim
  • for actions you had to take to protect your little one from harm,
  • for your reactions to their inappropriate behaviors (after all they were only joking or this is just how Aunt Agatha behaves)

The bullies of this world just smile smugly to themselves and watch the sparks of rejection fly your way. Or they stand back in anger – like they have a right to be upset (poor, poor bully). They love your isolation. They are entitled to their anger. They enjoy watching how quickly the mob enforces the bully’s consequences.

And they don’t care – the bully’s behavior is aimed at getting what they want: mob violence, a child ridiculed, another adult put in their place, the bully coming out in the right and on top.

adult bullying a thousand different reasons jkmcguire

There are a thousand different reasons why they are doing what they are doing – and we feed right into the bullshit.

The bully only cares about how he/she is perceived.

Another person’s reputation, feelings, misunderstanding, hurt… none of these matter to a true bully.

The Bully was able say the words that needed to be said.

It does not matter to them if you like it or not.

It does not even matter to them if it is untrue.

adult bullying patterns of behavior jkmcguire

Learned Patterns of Behavior

Other times Bullies are just doing what they do.

Bullying is a learned behavior with big time rewards.

It is a pattern of relating that they have been using long before you or your child came into the picture.

And it is a way they will deal with others long after you have exited stage right.

A victim’s fear in a bully’s mind seems to be the same as respect, influence, or having power/authority over others.

They feed off of fear.

Bully’s thrive on this kind of stuff. If it did not work they would not do it.

They may not see their behaviors as bullying, but that behavior certainly obtains the responses they desire from others while leaving the bully feeling like they are in control.

Bullies are big time controllers.

Bullies are aggressive manipulators.

Adult Bullying is disgusting and dehumanizing, and even more so when a bully attacks a child.

Let’s stop here for today… part 2 will define adult bullying and what that specifically looks like with our kids and part 3 will offer some tips and tools for facing the giants when we encounter bullying adults in the future.

On a side note, I want to mention that I am not referring to adult bullying that takes the form of physical or sexual abuse. Physical or sexual abuse should instantly be reported to law enforcement officials. Get professional help – not just what you find on Google or through a blog or even through your church. There are great people who are qualified to help you or your children if abuse of any kind has happened to your family.

*This was originally published on the Jezamama blog February 19, 2014. It has been edited and reworked for the present.

Would you like to receive post updates and an exclusive monthly newsletter?
It’s free. Fill out the form below to get started*.

Join the Journey




Email Format


*We will never sell or disclose your information.

Want to Celebrate?
Join Me ON the Front Porch

Never miss an update! Sign up for a biweekly newsletter of exclusive content and weekly blog updates sent directly to your inbox.
Join me?