What if Your Child is the Bully?

Some guys doing intimidation in Instituto Regi...

Some guys doing intimidation in Instituto Regional Federico Errázuriz, Santa Cruz, Chile (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You get a phone call at work from your daughter’s school.  The Vice Principal would like to meet with you as soon as possible about a bullying incident involving your daughter.  Your heart sinks as you promise to be there as soon as you can.  You wonder if she is ok, worry about the long term ramifications she will face from being bullied, try to figure out what she is getting picked on for and think back over her whole life to see if there is something more you could have done to protect her.

It never crosses your mind that your daughter isn’t the one being bullied; she is the bully.

We as parents struggle to see anything but the best in our children and often it doesn’t seem possible that they could be the one hurting someone else. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t lie which means there are 2.1 million sets of parents out there who have a child who is a bully.  Parents are essential to the prevention and elimination of this kind of behavior and that includes all parents, not just those of the children who are the victims.  Parents of bullies may be the key to turning the tide against this pervasive crime being committed against and by our children everyday.

How Can You Tell if Your Child is a Bully?

The first thing parents need to do is come to terms with the fact that their child is engaging in behavior that is unhealthy for them and damaging to others.  An adolescent that is bullying others is not necessarily a “bad kid” and being the parent of a bully doesn’t automatically mean that you are a bad parent.  People engage in bullying behavior for a reason and the most important thing you can do to help your child is to uncover that reason.

If you are concerned that your child may be bullying others, there are some things you can look for.  Bullies lack empathy and struggle feeling or finding sympathy for others.  Bullies believe that aggression is a valuable tool for dealing with other people and often exhibit a belligerent attitude.  Bullies like to be the leader, the one in charge, and the one who makes and enforces the rules.  When they win, they like to lord it over those they beat and when they lose, it is everyone’s fault but their own.  They are impulsive and may exhibit bullying behavior toward siblings.   Bullying behavior includes any verbal, social, physical, or online action that is repetitive and intentionally harmful.

What Makes Children and Teens Bully Others?

The perception that every bully is a social outcast who is lashing out at others in an attempt to repair or elevate their own self-esteem is outdated.  While this does describe some bullies, it also contributes to the idea that popular, socially-adept adolescents with intact families aren’t bullies, which is not the case.  Teenagers bully others for a variety of reasons many of which start at home.  If your child is being bullied or has been bullied by someone at home, they may model that behavior and bully others.   Children who never learn or lack empathy may become bullies because they don’t take the feelings of the other person into account.  Whatever the reason, adolescents need to be taught that this behavior is never acceptable.

How Does Bullying Affect the Bully?

Being bullied can have devastating, life-long affects, but being the bully can also cause long term problems.  Children who bully others are more likely to struggle in school, to smoke, to drink, and to engage in criminal behavior into their adult years.  When children bully others and experience no repercussions, it reinforces the idea that this behavior is acceptable and that being mean-spirited, dismissive, and degrading to other people can be a source of power.  This is a dangerous lesson that underlines how important it is for parents to stand up, step in, and speak out.

How Can You Help Your Child?

Here are some things you can do to help your child see that bully behavior is not acceptable and encourage them to stop participating or engaging in things that are intentionally damaging to others.

  1. Treat the issue as seriously as it is.  It isn’t a phase or something they will grow out of.  You need to reinforce the idea that intentionally causing harm to others is never acceptable.
  2. Work with your child to uncover the reason for their behavior.  It may be helpful to seek the services and expertise of a medical practitioner, counselor, or therapist. This is also a great time to connect with your child’s teachers, school counselor, or other school resource to talk about any problems or difficulty in school.
  3. Model the behavior you want your child to emulate.  Be empathetic, show sympathy for others, don’t fly off the handle and lash out in anger.
  4. Help your child develop positive problem solving skills.
  5. Never allow bullying behavior to continue in your presence no matter who is doing the bullying.
  6. Talk to your child away from their peers; don’t bring up this or other sensitive topics in front of others.
  7. See the new documentary called Bully as a family and use it as a way to start and/or continue the conversation.
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