When Your Child is a Bully

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Last week I wrote about steps parents can take if they think their child is being bullied at school. But what do you do if it is the other way around and you think your child is the bully? This week, we'll offer some steps to take.

    What Is a Bully?

    According to Bullying.org, a bullying is "doing, saying or acting in a way that hurts someone else or makes him or her feel bad on purpose." Some specific behaviors of bullies include:

    • Calling someone names, either to their face or behind their back
    • Hitting, punching, pushing or other physical attacks
    • Leaving someone out of a game, trying to socially isolate a person
    • Stealing money or possessions

    Today, in addition to bullying on the school playground, computers and cell phones are used in what is referred to as "cyberbullying." In this type of harassment, social sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, and texting are used to make fun of, harass or cause emotional pain to someone. It often takes the form or making fun or or insulting a person and can be directed specifically at the target of the bullying or can be addressed to friends and schoolmates.

    What Parents Can Do

    It is hard to accept that your child is being a bully and purposely hurting other children. It is important to remember that bullying behavior is a symptom of some other problem. It is your job to find out what the root of the problem is, however, the first step is:

    Stop the bullying behavior - Sit down with your child and let him or her know this behavior is unacceptable.  Explain what the consequences of bullying can be. Explain how the victim of bullying feels and why he should stop. Although you probably are not going to stop the bullying behavior overnight, your child needs to know how you feel about bullying and what the consequences are if he continues to act in this way. Set specific rules about bullying and let your child know what to expect if his behavior continues.

    Talk with your child's school - Find out all the information you can about what has been going on. Has your child been following another bully? Is your child the leader, the one doing all the bullying? The more information you have on what is going on, the better you will be able to help your child.

    Try to find the root of the problem - Bullying is often a result of insecurity, feeling vunerable or of having been bullied in the past. Talk with your child about what he or she is feeling and why bullying seems like a good answer.

    Provide alternatives ways of expressing frustration, anger or loneliness -  Explain what are accepted ways of dealing with these emotions and what are unacceptable. Practice at home by role-playing new behaviors and reinforce by insisting these behaviors be used at home with siblings. Provide clear rules of rewards and consequences for using the proper behaviors.

    Monitor the progress at school -  Once you talk with the teacher and then talk with your child, don't assume the problem has been solved. Ask the teacher for daily or weekly updates on school behaviors, so you can correct issues as they arise.

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  • Monitor your child's time with friends -  Who is your child playing with? Invite his friends to your house to play so you can watch and monitor their interaction with one another. If you notice bullying within the group, you may need to help your child decide whether these are the friends he wants to be with or whether looking for less aggressive friends would be best.

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    Provide encouragement and support -  If your child is trying to change his behaviors, be supportive. Let him know you appreciate his efforts to make changes and accept that these changes are not going to happen in a day. Be patient.

    Evaluate your home environment -  Although bullying is not necessarily the fault of the parent, in some homes, hitting is an accepted punishment. If this is so in your home and your child is hitting others, you may want to reevaluate your discipline methods.

    If you work closely with your child and the school, yet do not see any progress, you may want to consult a professional. Contact your family doctor and request a referral to someone in your area specializing in childhood behavioral problems.


    "If Your Child is a Bully", Date Unknown, Laura Broadwell, Parents Magazine

    "What if Your Child is a Bully?" 2008, Nov 15, Carol Watkins, M.D., HealthPlace.com


Published On: July 20, 2010