What If My Child Is the Bully? 3 Dos and 3 Don’ts

What should parents dogrumpy child with a santa hat when they suspect (or know) that their child is bullying others?

Bullying is a hot topic these days. Most of the literature focuses on ways to recognize and prevent it from happening to your child, but what do you do when you suspect that your child IS the bully?

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind.

Don’t …

  • Ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Children who get away with bullying are empowered to continue bullying. As uncomfortable as it may be, children need parents to get involved and help them to do and behave better.
  • Shame or threaten the child. Fear and shame can be effective motivators in the short term, but they do nothing to help parents accomplish the goal of raising children who will be happy, productive, and moral adults. Resist the urge to threaten or shame children who struggle with bullying behaviors. These approaches tend to escalate negative emotions, increase conflict, and can harm parent-child relationships.
  • Attempt peer mediation. Remember, bullying is not simply a disagreement between friends or peers. By definition, bullying involves a more powerful party and less powerful party. It is not appropriate to imply equal responsibility for the situation by bringing the two parties together to reach a resolution. This can also be scary or painful for the victim.

Do …

  • Set clear limits. Be clear and specific with your child about what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are not. Children crave limits and structure (even if they tell you otherwise). Clear, specific limits help them feel secure and increase the chances of compliance.
  • Try to understand the basis for the behavior and model responding with empathy. Children may engage in bullying behaviors for a variety of reasons, including the desire to fit in, to feel powerful, or to avoid being bullied themselves. Sometimes bullying may be a response to stress or abuse that the child has experienced. (In these situations, it may be appropriate to seek the help of a mental health professional.) When parents respond with empathy and understanding, they set a powerful example for children and position themselves to give instruction and address the underlying motivation for the behaviors.
  • Assist in establishing a plan to make reparations. Making reparations is an important step that helps children to develop empathy for others. Examples of reparations include doing a good deed for the person who was bullied or paying for destroyed property. If children feel sorry, encouraging them to apologize is a great step; however, apologies should never be forced. Allow children to actively participate in planning and making reparations as a part of the healing and recovery process.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Betsy Smith, MEd, LPC-S, therapist in Bellaire, Texas

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Andrea

    November 28th, 2014 at 8:47 AM

    It’s so hard when you know that it is your kid bullying others because you never want to think that your child could be the one to do that to another person. But you can’t bury your head in the sand and hope that the situation will just go away either. Ignoring the problem has likely never solved any problem so no matter how difficult it may be this is something that you have to be willing to confront head on and not allow t to get even further out of control. There will be someone who gets hurt if you just continue to act like it is not happening or that your child is not the one who is responsible.

  • Blythe

    November 28th, 2014 at 11:25 AM

    You need to first discover what is going on in that child’s life that encourages this sort of behavior.

    You may look closely and see that your child is being picked on by another, and that by bullying someone else they feel like they have regained some kind of control.

  • Sebastian

    November 28th, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    We went through this a few years ago with some good friends. Their child would mercilessly tease ours, and it got to the point that any time all of us were together there was always tears and frustration. After talking with the parents it was plain to see that they would in no way accept that their child was bullying ours.
    So we did what any self respecting family would do and needless to say that none of are friends anymore.

  • Javon

    November 29th, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    I wouldn’t even know how to react if someone came to me to tell me that their kid had been picking on mine.
    well I guess I know what I would want to do but I know that I would need to set a better example than that for my kids otherwise am I any better than what the kid is?
    I don’t know, this is something that feels like it has gotten so out of control now that I am not sure why the turning point and why kids these days think that it is more and more acceptable to treat another person like this.

  • Maxwell

    November 29th, 2014 at 12:04 PM

    I would be mortified and I would be ashamed because this is indirectly or maybe even directly going to reflect on me as a parent.

  • Lucia

    November 30th, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    The parents and so called adults that really get to me are the ones who are determined that their child would never do something like this even when all of the evidence points to the contrary. Why try to ignore it when this will only make things worse? If you are going to stand bu and let your child demolish the self esteem of another person then you are really no better than they are and it should come as no surprise where they get their behavior from.

  • Bart

    November 30th, 2014 at 3:26 PM

    Most kids learn how to behave from home
    so what do u think that the parent who has actually showed the kid that this is appropriate behavior will do?
    probably nothing because many time they will think that what the kid is doing isn’t wrong

  • JS

    November 30th, 2014 at 9:07 PM

    This happened I my brother. They moved to a new city and their eight year old would bully others at school. My brother and his wife were called in and eventually through many counseling sessions they discovered that he was being bullied in his old school and so he started doing that in his new school so as to prevent that from happening to him again.

    This just speaks to how important it is for parents of the child who bullies to accept, acknowledge, and rectify this behavior in their child, because bullying is contagious and could hurt a lot more people than is initially apparent.

  • daniel

    December 2nd, 2014 at 3:54 AM

    I don’t know how I would handle this because you want to trust that your own child would never behave like this but you also have to be able to look at the situation with very clear eyes instead of through those rose colored glasses that so many parents are guilty of using when it comes to their kids.

    I would like to think that I am raising my children so that this would never even become a possibility but I know that even just believing that is wrong, that there are plenty of parents who have done all of the right things and their kids still end up becoming bullies.

  • Kirk

    December 3rd, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    My granddaughter is being bullied at school but I think that her parents are at their wits end. We have all tried to talk to teachers, counselors, with no resolution. We want her to change schools but she is adamant that aside from this one person she loves her school and does not want to leave. We are not sure whether this is a decision that we have to step up and make for her or if we continue to let her stay there in the cross hairs of a mean bully who is unrelenting.

  • Gwen

    December 4th, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    You immediately need to put a plan into action! Don’t let it continue because the sooner you start working through it then the faster the problems can be resolved.

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