As parents, you can help protect your child both from becoming a bully and being bullied by others by nurturing your child’s self-defenses. You do this by helping your child develop emotional strength, empathy, and friendship skills.

At home, give lots of praise rather than criticism. A child living with lots of criticism can start to believe that it is normal to live in a harsh world. Children who are criticized can feel as if they are worthless and deserve to be bullied. Children who are given praise, warm words, and kindness at home develop an attitude reflecting that they feel good about themselves and are valued, special, and deserving of being fairly treated. Teach your child that he or she has a right to feel safe in this world and that there will be times when assertive rather than aggressive behavior is appropriate.

Keep an eye on sibling fighting, also. If a young child is hurt by a sibling, he or she may learn more about hitting than fairness, and his or her brain will start to wire up to live in a hitting world. This young child may feel powerless with the sibling but not so powerless when around someone younger or smaller at school. The result can be that the child who is bullied at home becomes the bully at school.

Remember that many of the genes for personality depend on the experiences that are offered to determine how they will manifest. Although a child might tend to be timid, anxious, or quickly angered, none of these are set in stone. You can help your child respond to people and situations with the emotions that are appropriate at the time—and not from the extremes of overarousal or emotional flatness.

Children who know how to make friends easily often have learned from the example of parents and adults who are responsive to their emotional needs. For example, face-to-face play and quality talking time will help them develop a proficiency for the nuances of friendship.

Keep in mind that you are always modeling, so your own ways of handling difficult behaviors will be a form of teaching.

More to consider: Bully repair . . .

Research is showing that the brain changes as a result of being bullied. For example, the nerve fibers that connect the two halves of the brain can become damaged. Partial repair has been shown to be possible by activities such as playing the piano because making music requires integration of the processing that occurs in both the left and right sides of the brain.