What To Do If Your Kid Is The Bully

Bullying has become a national epidemic. According to recent data, between 1/4 and 1/3 of school children say they have been bullied. And, according to surveys, 30% of young people admit to bullying others.

While much research has gone into how we can prevent bullying, and many programs have been implemented and tested in schools, the results have been modest at best. These results leave many wondering if prevention must start at home.

Home Life May Play a Role in Creating Bullies

Research suggests that family life can increase the risk of someone becoming a bully. Certain home-life characteristics are more commonly found in youth who bully others compared to those who don’t. The following trends can serve as warning signs that trouble may lie ahead:

  •  Harsh discipline (shaming, insulting, physical threat or harm)
  •  Lack of warmth or tenderness between parent and child
  • Excessive teasing from siblings
  • Domestic violence between other family members
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Prejudice or hatred against others shown by parents or other family members
  • Emotional neglect
  • Excessive pressure to meet expectations or perform well in the world

While some of these factors can contribute toward children’s bullying behavior, this by all means is not a comprehensive list. Some kids who express bullying behaviors can come from very loving homes without any of these risk factors present. What does this mean? Typically, you can think of bullying behavior as smoke… and where there is smoke, there is usually fire. Children often exhibit behavioral symptoms as a way of expressing other issues that they can’t understand or verbalize. This can be anxiety, depression, difficulty with attention, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, or any number of mental health issues. If your child is displaying disruptive behavior, it is important to get to the bottom of it. Specifically, if your child is bullying others, it is crucial to get to the root of why this is happening.

Other Reasons Children Bully May Include:

  • Wanting to fit in with other kids and believing that picking on one, or a group of children will help them to do so
  • Your child may not fully understand how their behavior is impacting on others and may need help to develop empathy
  • He or she may be getting bullied themselves and using bullying behavior as an attempt to regain control over their life or peer relationships
  • Modeling an older sibling’s behavior as a result of observing that sibling tease others, or being teased excessively by this sibling
  • Seeking attention from peers, teachers, and other adults in unhealthy ways
  • He or she may have a natural tendency to be more aggressive or impulsive than other peers
  • Behavioral symptoms of an underlying mental health issue

The hopeful news is that research has shown that intervening to prevent or end these risk factors in the home, or with your child can greatly reduce bullying and other youth violence.

Once bullying behavior has been identified in your child, parents must act swiftly to support children to make immediate changes in their behavior and look for the root causes and underlying emotional needs. This will be paramount in preventing further unhealthy peer relationship patterns and self-esteem issues.

Communication

If another parent or teacher has told you your child is being a bully, the very first thing to do is sit down and talk with your child. Don’t scold them right off the bat, but rather tell your child you would like to hear their side of the story.

Depending on how old your child is, he or she may open up and admit to the bullying and also offer an explanation, such as they want to fit in and be liked. Many children with low self-esteem bully to feel empowered and noticed.

Some children may not be able to express their thoughts or feelings easily. This is particularly true of younger children who may be struggling with anxiety or other mental health issues. If you find you are having trouble communicating with your child, consider seeking the guidance of a mental health professional who has experience evaluating behavior.

Remain Vigilant

If your child is a bully, changing their behavior won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight. But remaining vigilant is important.

Continue to build an open channel of communication with your child. This will help you recognize signs of trouble. Check-in with them daily and ask about their day – what they have planned, something that happened that they enjoyed, and something that happened that they didn’t enjoy.

Laying this foundation of communication is vital. Once kids know they are expected to share details of their lives on a regular basis, they become more comfortable opening up even into adolescence.

Consequences

Ensuring your child understands the implications and the consequences of their actions is crucial to creating real change in their behavior. Consequences should be appropriate, meaningful to them, and should not be carried out in a way that makes your child feel ashamed. Remember, this behavior is likely indicative that something bigger is going on, so shaming your child will not help you get to the bottom of this. It will also make your child pull away, making you unsafe to talk to when this is vital to their emotional well-being at the moment. You want to open the lines of communication so that you can understand your child’s experience and what is driving the behavior. Most children are not inherently mean, so there is something driving them to act this way. A mental health professional can assist you in asking the questions and talking to your child to get to the root cause, as well as support you to create lasting behavioral changes so that your child can develop empathy, self-esteem, and healthy peer relationships.

Ongoing Monitoring

Once you are aware of your child’s behavior and are actively taking steps to keep clear communication open with him or her, checking in daily about your child’s feelings and their day, and establishing accountability and consequences for behavioral changes, it is important to stay on top of the situation. The situation didn’t develop overnight so it will not resolve that quickly. Maintaining a close relationship with your child so they feel safe to talk about their emotions with you is important to prevent the behavior from continuing. You child will likely feel vulnerable and their behavior at school may have opened them up to be avoided by peers or become the target of other’s bullying. This is a critical time to stay connected to your child and let them know you are in their corner no matter what.

Get Support

If your child is bullying others it is important to involve teachers, school administrators, school counselors, other parents, and you may want to consider reaching out to a licensed mental health professional for support. If you or someone you know is the parent of a bully and would like to explore treatment options, please reach out to me. I would be more than happy to discuss how I might be able to help.

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