When Your Child is a Bully

Usually, you get a phone call from the school to advise that your child is in trouble for bullying. Most parents will think, “Not my child, no way.”  Know that almost every child is capable of bullying.

There are two distinct reasons why kids bully:

  1. Popular and powerful children use bullying to maintain their status.
  2. Children who experience deprivation feel entitled to bully others. They feel they have been dealt a bad hand, so rules do not apply to them. They make think, “I’ve been picked on, so I’ll get them before they get to me.”

Kids also observe bullying behavior through the media, television reality shows, classmates and family dynamics.  They do not comprehend that this behavior is unacceptable.

PARENTS, take a deep breath, learn exactly what has transpired, and work with the school staff for a positive outcome.  Assess your child’s actions without rushing to judgement.  Focus on understanding the behavior before deciding on the consequences.  Children CAN unlearn bullying behavior with your help.

Speak with your child in a calm, but firm tone and ask what happened and why they behaved that way.  Try to listen and avoid blame.  Kids need to know it is okay to admit they have made a mistake.  Help them understand and know the behavior affects others.  Ask, “Is what you did respectful?  Did it hurt someone?  How would you feel if that was done to you?”  Focus on fair treatment.  Let your child know that this behavior is not accepted in the family because you respect each other and do not treat each other that way.

FOCUS on consequences.  Write down and follow through with consequences for their actions.  Review them weekly and enforce them.  You could withhold something they cherish like cell phone privileges, reducing television or video game times, etc.  A more desirable way would be to turn the incident into a teachable moment by discussing positive ways to handle future situations.   You can also encourage them to write a letter of apology.

WORK WITH THE SCHOOL.  Show school personnel that you sincerely want to improve the situation.  Begin with the teacher then meet with the principal and school counselor.  Ask for available community resources and monitor your child’s behavior with at school.  Find counseling for your child.

Help your child build social and emotional skills.  This includes self-awareness, self-management, resilience, social agility and responsible decision-making.  Involve them in after-school programs and activities that develop ways to build positive relationships.  Working on improving these skills NOW while your child is young will be a lifelong gift!