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My Child Is a Bully. What Should I Do?

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You hate to imagine your child acting like a bully, but if it’s happening, you have to take it seriously and take immediate steps to make sure the behavior stops, after all, it’s not only those bullied who suffer long term consequences from bullying, those who mete out the aggression are also at increased risk of long term problems, such as increased risk of getting in trouble with drugs or alcohol and an increased risk of getting in trouble with the law.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, (SAMHSA), if you find out that your child is a bully, here what you should do:1

Do not discount reports of bullying and resist the impulse to blame others for your child’s bullying. Investigate any reports of bullying and try to get to the bottom of what exactly is going on. You need the facts and you need the truth, so make sure to investigate and question with an open mind (this can be difficult, as your first impulse is likely a protective impulse.)

Talk to your child about bullying and make sure she understands that bullying is not acceptable.

Try to get your child to explain to you why he bullies other kids.

Spend more time getting to know your child’s friends and observing your child and his or her friend’s interacting.

Make sure you set a good example in the family. Bullying is generally about power and contempt, so make sure you handle power-imbalance situations in your life as you’d want your child to handles like situations on the playground.

Practice role playing different interactions, so that your child can learn healthy ways to interact with peers and can hopefully learn to better understand how being bullied makes others feel.

Make the consequences of any future bullying well known. Discipline is important, but be careful to avoid overly harsh or corporal punishment, as these types of punishment are thought to increase a child’s likelihood to bully others.

Encourage your child to participate in more structured sports or activities as ways to harness aggression in a more positive way and to achieve success in ways other than through bullying.

Develop an ongoing working relationship with school officials, to ensure that bullying behaviors do not reemerge over time

Teach Empathy

Research shows that one reason for bullying behaviors is a lack of empathy. Bullies do not or cannot put themselves in the shoes of the person they torment and this lack of empathy makes it much easier to continue with aggression over time.2

A number of experimental school programs are attempting to stamp out bullying by teaching empathy in the classroom3, but you can encourage and teach empathy at home and within the family too. To boost your child’s empathy, try:

  • Encouraging your child to do some volunteer work with those less fortunate than herself
  • Modeling empathy with others yourself
  • When you observe another person in discomfort or in conflict, encourage your child to try to imagine what the other person is feeling and the reasons behind his or her actions
  • Children who don’t have adequate feelings of attachment with their parents or caregivers are more likely to lack feelings of empathy, so make sure you spend lots of quality and focused time with your children, making sure they know they are loved and valued. After all, if you don’t have the time to teach your children how they should live, you can’t be surprised when they pick up aggressive qualities from peers, TV shows, video games or other sources.
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Page last updated Jun 22, 2011

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