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What should you do if your child is ‘the bully’?

How do I know if my child is a bully? 

Parents may think there is no problem – that it’s just a little teasing, or that it’s natural for children to fight with one another, but if your child is repeatedly hurting other children physically or emotionally, it’s bullying.

Why is my child a bully?

Working with children and families over the past 25 years I’ve seen my fair share of upset children who have been bullied, but I have also helped parents of children who bully come through the other side.

No parent wants to hear that their child is a bully. It’s hurtful and upsetting to think of your child inflicting harm and upsetting or hurting other children and often parents feel totally lost on how to cope and deal with the situation.

Children’s friendship relationships are important, so when those friendships are under strain through bullying, it can create an awful amount of hurt and upset on not just the child being bullied, but the bully too.

If your child is engaging in bullying behaviour (this can be anything from targeting single or groups of others and causing physical or emotional abuse on them) – it may be a sign of distress, anxiety, or simply an issue in understanding how to regulate behaviour and emotions.

It’s important to keep in mind that kids don’t bully because they are ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ – it’s easy to brand a child with such terms, and that common phrase ‘give a dog a bad name’ can come into play if you go down that road.

Children engage in all kinds of behaviour while growing up.

“Kids engage in all kinds of behaviour that isn’t a reflection of who they are as a person,” says Dr. Jamie Howard, director of the Stress and Resilience Program at the Child Mind Institute. “They’re still figuring things out. They can be nice kids who have made some mistakes.”

There are many reasons why an otherwise well-behaved, happy child, might suddenly start being unkind or show signs of bullying to other children.

  • Peer Pressure: The child wants to fit in with a group of friends who are picking on one classmate, so they will copy the behaviour simply to fit in and e part of the group.
  • Retaliation: The child is getting bullied themselves at home or school, and is trying to regain a sense of power by acting aggressively toward others.
  • Attention seeking: The child is looking for attention from adults and hasn’t been successful in other ways so ‘acting out’ gains attention – even though it is negative attention.
  • Misreading signals: The Child has problems understanding the behaviour of others. They may see others as hostile, or uninviting even when they are not behaving that way. In response the child responds aggressively.
  • Change of situation at home: Sometimes family break-ups, a family loss of a loved one or win a house or school move and cause a big change in behaviour. The child feels unsettled and anxious so acts out aggressively.
  • Low self esteem: A child can often bully others to make themselves feel better. By belittling and bullying someone else because of ones own insecurities – it can make them feel more important, powerful and better about themselves.
  • Playing age-inappropriate computer games: Some children who play games that are too old for them or too violent, often ‘act out’ these games at school. 
  • Lack of understanding: The Child does not fully grasp how their behaviour is making the victim feel. This is particularly true of younger children who are learning about feelings and emotions and lack understanding in actions and consequences. 

What can I do to help my child who is bullying?

Keep your cool: As hard as it is not to lose your cool when you find out your child has been hurting or upsetting others, coming down on them like a ton of bricks won’t help you get to the bottom of why this behaviour is happening. Shouting and punishing the behaviour without finding out why it’s happening – will just cause your child to close down and not open up to a new path of behaviour.

Communication is key: It is so important to keep the lines of communication open with any child who is bullying others. By talking with your child about what is happening, you can begin to have an understanding of why these things are happening.

Be direct: Let your child know you know what has been happening, but that you are there to help them get through the situation. Be supportive, but also let them know this behaviour is not acceptable.

Accept what is happening: Nobody likes to hear that their child has upset others, but in order to make the situation better and to move forward and support your child, you all need to accept what has happened. Having the attitude of ‘Girls always fall out with other girls’ or the one I hear so often ‘boys will be boys’ – will not help the situation. Burying your head in the sand about an incredibly volatile situation won’t help your child develop


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