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Could your child be bullying others? How to know and how to stop it.

August 05, 2015

When you hear the word “bully,” what’s the image that comes to mind?

Most of us imagine the stereotypical image of a big, menacing kid, looming over a smaller kid and demanding his lunch money. However, we know that someone who bullies comes in all shapes and sizes. And genders. And ages. They can be five years old or fifteen, a boy or a girl, tall, short, thin, heavy, cool, not cool. A kid that bullies can come from any family- even yours.

Could your child be bullying others?

For most of us, it’s hard to imagine. We spend so much time talking about bullying- how to deal with it and how to stop it- that many of us don’t think about it happening in our own homes, at least not with our child being the one who is doing the bullying. However, kids that bully do not just materialize out of thin air; they come from families, just like everyone else. The term “bully” is defined as someone who is intentionally trying to hurt or dominate another person. Someone who bullies purposely tries to seek out an imbalance of power over someone else and physically, emotionally, verbally or socially targets someone they perceive as weaker than themselves.

Many parents would be surprised or upset to know that their child is bullying others. As distressing as it might be to learn that your child is behaving this way, knowing about it can help put a stop to it, which increases your child’s safety and the safety of the kids around them.

What makes a bully a bully?

Some of the common characteristics of children who bully others are:
  • Quick to blame others and unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions
  • Lack empathy or the ability to understand other people’s feelings
  • Bullied themselves
  • Have immature social skills
  • Want to be in control
  • Get frustrated or anxious easily
  • Come from families with parents or siblings who bully
  • Find themselves trying to fit into a group of friends that bully
  • Have parents that struggle with setting limits, disciplining, or supervising their children

What you can and should do if you suspect your child is bullying

If you feel that your child may be bullying others, remember that bullying is a learned behavior, and with time and work, it can be unlearned as well. Talking with your child and seeking outside support and help are great ways to start to take on this issue. When talking with your child, consider these suggestions:
  • How is your child feeling about himself or herself? Is someone bullying them? Talk about what bullying means so that the definition is clear to everyone.
  • Teach empathy, respect, and compassion. Some kids that bully are not very good at understanding how other kids feel. Help them learn to understand their own feelings. Teach them that everyone has feelings, and those feelings are affected by how we treat each other.
  • Make sure your expectations are clear. Explain to your child that bullying behavior will not be tolerated. Set reasonable consequences and let them know ahead of time what the consequences of bullying will be. Make sure to follow through with those consequences if behavior continues or reappears. Consistency is key!
  • Teach by example. Our kids typically do what we do (and what we don’t do). If we want to see a change in their behavior, it is critical for us to look at ourselves and make sure that we are treating others the way we want our children to treat others.
  • Role play situations where bullying occurs. Help your child figure out how to deal with a bully, as well as how to treat others appropriately. Role playing can help them learn to understand how other people feel.
  • Celebrate the positive. Anytime you see your child engage with someone in a positive way, make note of it and tell your child how pleased you are. “Catching our kids being good” is much more effective than constantly criticizing and redirecting negative behavior. Did they just share with their younger sibling? Did they just say, “Thank you.”? Did they just give themselves a moment to collect their feelings before getting upset? No action is too small. Always praise any positive behavior you can.
  • Bring in the reinforcements. Changing can take time, and time requires patience. However, if you feel like you are doing everything you can and don’t see the results you’re looking for, reach out to your child’s teachers, a counselor or school counselor, or other professionals that you trust. They can provide insight and advice or work with your child to make sure they are getting consistent reinforcement at home and at school.
Many schools offer bullying prevention programs, and there are many helpful books and videos on this topic. Counselors and therapists who work with children are usually well versed in working with children that are bullied and that bully others. This is a behavior that can and should be changed.

The benefits of learning new ways to interact with others will serve your child all throughout their younger years and into adulthood, leading to healthier friendships, family relationships, romantic relations, and greater ability to work with others as an adult.