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What to Do if Your Child Is a Bully

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 09, 2021

Most people view a child that's been labeled a bully as a bad seed. But that bias doesn't always hold true. If your child's bullying other children, you need to help them find a way to break the cycle of this behavior by letting go of judgment and offering understanding and compassion instead. 

Who Tends to Be a Bully?

Bullying is a behavior, not an identity. Labeling a child a "bully" creates a sense in them that they will never be able to change their aggressive behavior.

While bullies should be held responsible for their actions, as a parent, you should try to understand why your child's acting out in this manner. Research has shown that children with the following qualities are most likely to bully others:

  • Quick to blame others and not assume responsibility for their actions. 
  • Exhibit apathy for the feelings of others.
  • Have been or are being bullied themselves.
  • Are not progressing in their social skills.
  • Need to be in control.
  • Are often frustrated, anxious, or depressed.
  • Are attempting to fit in with a social circle of peers who are also bullying others.
  • Think that their bullying behavior is just teasing.
  • Not feeling like they're getting the attention they want, so they bully to feel seen.
  • Being more naturally assertive than others.
  • Perceiving others as hostile even when they aren't.

If you believe your child is bullying other children or learn that they are from a parent or their peers, remember to be compassionate. Bullying is not a natural behavior — it's learned. By understanding why your child is bullying, you can better help them unlearn it. 

How to Help Your Child Stop Bullying

When you first learn that your child is bullying other children, it's essential to take it seriously but not fly off the handle. Perhaps you feel shocked, angry, sad, or disappointed in your child. No matter what your initial feelings are, resist the urge to be overly emotional around your child. Instead, take some time to process this new piece of information before discussing the issue with your child. 

When you're calm and ready, you should approach your child and speak with them about their bullying. Take the matter seriously and be very candid with your child, and:

  • Don't make excuses for their behavior or deny what is going on.
  • Hold them accountable and let them know that their actions will have consequences at home and in their community.
  • Tell them how much you want to help your child unlearn their negative behavior patterns.
  • Without displaying any judgment or a hint of right or wrong, ask your child — quite plainly — what they're thinking when they're acting out.
  • Ask questions about times they've bullied others.
  • Try to stay objective about the facts and the situation so you can clearly understand your child's perspective.

Once you feel you have gotten to the bottom of the situation, discuss the impact your child's actions have had by:

  • Letting them know that their aggressive actions are considered bullying and make sure your child understands why these actions are viewed this way. 
  • Lovingly let them know that you don't tolerate this behavior of others. 
  • Teach them to think through what's going on and try to have them problem solve.
  • Encourage them to feel empathetic for the people they bully.
  • Help your child recognize their feelings and work through them in a less damaging way.

You can also create a behavior contract with your child and your child’s school. This will establish that you and the school are working together and let your child know they'll be held accountable for their actions. The contract should state what the consequences of their actions are. It should also mention strategies that they can engage in instead of bullying.

While talking to your child and creating a behavior is helpful, the best method for preventing your child’s bullying behavior in the future is to lead by example. Practice being a patient, kind, compassionate, and sensitive person in your daily life with them. Setting a clear example for what's appropriate behavior is far more effective than simply telling them what isn’t right.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Child Mind Institute: “My Child Is a Bully: What Should I Do?”

Cincinnati Children’s: “What To Do When Your Child IS The Bully.”

Pacer Institute: “What if Your Child is the One Showing Bullying Behavior?”

Raisingchildren.net.au: “Children bullying others.”

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