No parent wants to think their child is bullying others. Teasing siblings and friends is okay if everyone is having fun, but there can be long-lasting problems for both sides when behavior crosses the line and becomes repeated, unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves an unfair balance in power. Bullying can include teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, threatening to cause harm, leaving someone out on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors, embarrassing someone in public, hitting/kicking/pinching, spitting, tripping/pushing, taking or breaking someone’s things and making mean or rude hand gestures. It can be difficult to consider that your child may be hurting others, but bullying is not a healthy way for children to behave, nor a problem that should be ignored.
Youth who bully others:
- Have a higher risk of abusing alcohol and other drugs as teens and adults
- Are more likely to drop out of school
- Are twice as likely to have criminal convictions as adults
- Are four times more likely to be multiple offenders
Some warning signs that your child may be a bully include:
- Getting into physical or verbal fights with others
- Frequently being sent to the principal’s office or detention
- Having extra money or belongings that cannot be explained
- Being quick to blame others
- Not accepting responsibility for his or her actions
- Having friends who bully others
- Needing to win or be the best at everything
If your child is bullying others, it doesn’t mean he or she is a bad person or that you’ve failed as a parent. Raising children is very difficult! The good news is that people can learn to behave differently. Here are some things you can do if you discover that your child is bullying others:
- Find out what happened. Calmly ask your child to tell you, in their own words, what happened and what their role was in the incident. If he or she tries to blame another participant, be firm yet calm and remind them that you are only interested in your child’s behavior.
- Educate your child about bullying. Sometimes children and teens may not understand how hurtful and damaging their behavior can be. Encourage your child to practice empathy and awareness by helping him or her see their actions from the victim’s perspective and then apologize to that person.
- Try to learn the reason for the bullying. Your child may be trying to get attention, fit in with peers, gain popularity or have control – and fall back on bad patterns of behavior to get what they want. Once you and your child have pinpointed the reason for the behavior, explain that it’s okay to want those things and then brainstorm more positive ways they can get what they want.
- Teach them positive ways to manage stress. Sometimes children bully others as a way of getting rid of their stress. If a child’s home environment is stressful due to the parents’ behavior, this could be another reason for the bullying. We may not think they notice, but children pick up on adults’ stress, worry and anxiety; this could affect them in a negative way. Exercise, spending time outside, playing with a pet and doing something you enjoy are great ways for everyone to relieve stress.
- Establish consistent rules of behavior. Make sure your child understands your rules for how they should act and the consequences for not following the rules. Children and teens need boundaries to learn that they are safe, loved and worthy of their parents’ time and attention.
- Involve the school. You cannot monitor your child around the clock, so it’s a good idea to enlist the help of the school. Ask the guidance counselor and teachers to help you keep tabs on their behavior and report back to you. Even if it takes a while for the behavior to change, they will be much more willing to work with you if you make it clear that you don’t support bullying.
- Be a role model. Children learn by watching the adults around them. If you gossip, treat others without respect or don’t accept responsibility for your actions, your child will learn to do the same. If you don’t take bullying seriously, they won’t either.
Other helpful links:
Parents, talk to your teens. They will listen!