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What To Do When YOUR Child Is The Bully

Bullies are made, not born. If left unchecked, bullying can lead to serious life-altering consequences. Bullies come in every shape and size. They are from every ethnic group, race, socioeconomic class, gender and religion. As a mother or father, you'll probably be shocked to learn that your youngster is intentionally causing pain and humiliation to other kids.

Kids who bully, and continue this behavior as grown-ups, have greater difficulty developing and maintaining positive relationships. Also, they are more likely to experience a decline in their peer-group status, which becomes more and more important in the youngster's social development as he enters adolescence.

Research shows that kids who resort to bullying often:
  • Come from families where the mom, dad, or siblings bully
  • Do not receive adequate parental attention or supervision 
  • Have a mom or dad that does not enforce discipline
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Lack empathy and compassion for others' feelings
  • May be expressing anger about events in their lives
  • May be the victims of bullying and are trying to retaliate
  • May be trying to impress their peers
  • Want to be in control

Given the short- and long-term consequences – not only for victims, but for the bullies as well – it is important to keep an eye out for signs that your youngster may be bullying others.  

A youngster who bullies may exhibit any of the following behaviors:
  • Defiant or hostile attitude (e.g., easily takes offense)
  • Frequent name-calling (describing others as ‘wimps’ or ‘jerks’)
  • Lack of empathy for others
  • Need to always get his own way
  • Regular bragging
  • Spending a lot of time with younger or less powerful children

Bullying is often a result of unhappiness, low self-esteem, and emotional insecurity. The first step is to talk with your youngster about what you have heard.  

Here are a few questions to ask your youngster that might help get the conversation started, and help you understand the situation so you can take appropriate action: 
  • Are you being bullied?
  • Do you get along with your peers at school?
  • How are things going at school?
  • How do you treat other kids?
  • What do you think about being considered a bully?

The good news is that there IS a lot that a mother or father can do to help their youngster stop bullying. By taking immediate action, you can help your youngster learn new ways of handling his feelings, peer-pressure, and conflict with peers.

What to do if YOUR child is the bully:

1. Acknowledge the problem. Communicate directly with your youngster. Let him know that you are aware of the bullying, that you take it seriously – and that it won’t be tolerated.

2. Be realistic. Your youngster’s behavior will not change in a week. When you are talking with your youngster, try to focus on how the “behavior” is unacceptable, not on your youngster as a person.

3. Control the amount of violent television shows and video games that your child engages in. The interactive quality of video games differs from passively viewing television or movies, because it allows players to become active participants in the game’s script. Players are rewarded for their violent acts by moving up levels, resulting in playing for longer time periods. There’s evidence that children become less sensitive to violence after observing it over and over. When kids play violent video games for an extended period of time, the following can occur: (a) decline in school achievements; (b) increases in aggressive behavior because violent acts are continually repeated throughout the video game; (c) more likely to have confrontation with their educators; (d) encourage fights with their peers; and (e) tendency to be more aggressive.

4. Discuss the topic of firearms. The easy access to firearms has led to numerous school shootings and accidental shootings. It would seem like a common sense move to keep them away from kids. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. Talk to your youngster about this topic. Owning a gun is o.k. However, they need to be locked and placed in a secure location. Having trigger locks is also a good idea.

5. Examine behavior and interactions in your own home. When you discipline your youngster, are you focusing on how the behavior is unacceptable rather than your youngster’s personality? Is there something at home that is encouraging this type of behavior (e.g., violent media, video games, television and movies)? Are there interactions that may lower your youngster’s self-esteem (e.g., constant teasing or taunting by a sibling)?

6. Explain to your youngster the harm caused by his behavior. Bullying causes physical, psychological and emotional harm to other kids.

7. Is there a lack of supervision at home? Maybe the youngster has too much time alone. Kids get into more trouble between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. because of having too much free time. Limit your youngster’s unsupervised time. Also, spend more time with your youngster and his friends by inviting them over while you’re home.

8. Listen to what others have to say about your youngster's behavior. Then, listen to your youngster's side of the story. Try to understand what is behind the behavior. Is your youngster being bullied? Are his friends bullies too? Start the conversation.

9. Make sure that your youngster's behavior is not due to a disability. Sometimes kids with limited social skills or behavioral issues bully others. It still needs to be addressed, but perhaps in conjunction with his Individualized Education Program.

10. Model respect, kindness and empathy. You are your youngster’s role model, and he may very well learn to treat others with respect by watching you.

11. Most of the time, bullies are also victims – and it could be coming from the home. Is there an abusive mother or father in the home? Does your youngster frequently get criticized at home? Does he get spanked or hit? Does anyone yell or use name-calling or put-downs? Are you, your spouse, or a sibling a bully at home? Many times, parents do not recognize the habits they have that may be contributing to bullying behavior.

12. Prevent bullying in the first place. Be proactive about bullying prevention. Find out your school's policies on bullying prevention and actions taken if a youngster is bullied. Join the Parent Association, and ask for training on signs and symptoms and how to start a prevention program with the school children.

13. Role-play how your child can handle future conflicts with his peers. Change characters and have your youngster play the part of the youngster that is being bullied. This will help him understand why his behavior should change.

14. Meet with school officials. Let them know there is a problem, and ask them how you can work together to solve this issue. Realize this may just be a wake-up call that should be stopped before it becomes a huge habit. Working together with the teachers will be more helpful than working against each other and passing the blame. They may have dealt with this topic numerous times in the past. So, schedule an appointment to talk with school staff – including the school counselor. School staff that work with your youngster every day may be able to help you figure out why he is bullying and provide you with some tools to solve the problem.

15. Seek professional help, if needed. Sometimes a situation calls for more than parental intervention. Bullying can be a sign of other serious antisocial or violent behavior, which can lead to future problems in school and with the law. One study found that males who were identified as bullies in middle school were 4 times as likely to have a criminal conviction by age 24.

16. Talk with the moms and dads of your youngster’s peers about bullying. Discuss your concerns and what you can do together to change the behavior of your youngster.

17. Talk with your youngster about who his friends are and what they do together. Peers can be very influential. If your youngster is hanging around with children who bully and encourage bullying behavior, you may want talk with him about getting involved in activities that will help him make new friends.

18. Reinforce kind, compassionate behavior. Teach empathy and provide opportunities for cooperation (e.g., have your youngster care for a pet, enroll him in meaningful activities that cultivate talents and interests while fostering cooperation and friendship).

Yes, your youngster could be a bully. You want to prepare him for the real world – not protect him from it. Bailing your youngster out from consequences now can lead to you needing to bail him out of jail in the future. He must be held accountable for his actions; otherwise, you as a parent will have much bigger fish to fry later.

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