No One Wants to Think Their Child is a Bully

October is Bullying Prevention Month, and while most articles center around how to help victims, it’s equally important that we consider the other side. Could our child be a bully?

Every parent loves their children dearly and likely cannot imagine their child intentionally harming someone else. In fact, we can be so blinded by our love that we miss warning signs. When we hear other adults bringing up potentially questionable behavior by our child, we might think they are being mean to our child, or think our child is just engaging in a little teasing. It takes a courageous and mature parent to consider whether their child might have a problem.

Even if it’s hard to consider, don’t dismiss warning signs, which we detail below. Don’t treat bullying as a phase your child is going through. There are long-lasting effects on an aggressive child, just as there are for victims. Research shows that without proper treatment, bullies are much more likely to suffer from antisocial behavior, substance abuse, depression, and unemployment in adulthood. Be familiar with the following warning signs and take them seriously:

Signs Your Child Might Be a Bully

  • Gets in frequent fights
  • Blames others for problems
  • Has positive views towards violence
  • Aggressive towards parents, teachers and other adults
  • Demonstrates a need to control and dominate others and situations
  • Wants to win at all costs
  • Hot tempered, impulsive and easily frustrated
  • Often tests limits, boundaries and breaks rules
  • Good at talking their way out of difficult and tense situations
  • Shows little sympathy towards others
  • Uses multiple online accounts and quickly switches screens or closes programs when you are nearby
  • Other parents have complained about your child’s behavior

Tips to Prevent Bullying

Studies from the American Psychological Association show that children and adolescents who have poor social problem-solving skills are more at risk of becoming bullies, victims, or both, than those who don’t have these difficulties. Additionally, poor academic performance predicts those who will bully. Therefore, to prevent children from becoming perpetrators or victims of bullying, we should teach our youth skills in: problem-solving, communication, empathy, and conflict resolution. If your child struggles academically, meet with their teacher to brainstorm solutions, so that poor performance doesn’t become an ongoing issue leading to bad behavior.

Tips for Parents if Your Child is a Bully

If you find out that your child is bullying others, you will need to actively stop the behavior. Here are steps you can take:

  • Communication is key. Understanding how and why your teen uses aggressive behavior is vital to knowing how to handle the situation. Often, teenagers bully when they feel sad, angry, lonely, or insecure and many times major changes at home or school may bring on these feelings.
  • Make it clear to your teen that you take bullying seriously and that you will not tolerate this behavior.
  • Develop clear and consistent rules within your family for your children’s behavior.
  • Praise and reinforce your children for following rules or showing kindness.
  • Only use non-physical, non-hostile consequences for rule violations.
  • Ensure that your teen has good problem-solving skills, and if they don’t, solve problems together until they become familiar with the process.
  • Spend more time with your child and carefully supervise and monitor their activities. Find out who your teen’s friends are, and how and where they spend free time.
  • Build on your teen’s talents by encouraging them to get involved in pro-social activities (such as clubs, music/art lessons, classes in a hobby, non-violent sports, etc).
  • Share your concerns with your child’s school. Ask a teacher or a school counselor if your child is facing any problems at school, such as if your child is struggling with a particular subject or has difficulty making friends. Ask them for advice on how you and your child can work through the problem. Work with your teen’s teachers to send clear messages that the bullying must stop.

Bullying behavior is a wake-up call that a child has not learned to control his or her aggression. A child who bullies needs professional counseling to get to the root of the problem and to learn healthy ways to interact with people. Counseling can lead a child to discovering why bullying is hurtful and can teach a child empathy. While it can be hard to admit your teen might be a bully, ultimately, you are being brave and adjusting their course to a better adulthood.

One comment

  • Great post! Thank you. I wish more psychologists could speak honestly about these issues with their clients. Thank you for writing such a clear and helpful article for parents.

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