My Child is a Bully! What do I do?

This week, we are going to look at bullying from a different perspective – when your child is the bully.

A 1993 Olweus study found that boys who were identified as bullies in middle school were four times as likely to have a criminal conviction by age 24.

This one becomes more difficult since some studies show that bullies tend to come from families with problems ranging from domestic abuse, and drug abuse to divorce and financial issues.  So if the parents are in the middle of a crisis, they will likely not give their child the attention needed to diagnose a social behavior problem.   Clearly this is not always the case and there are two sides to every story.  Kids bully for a variety of reasons from wanting to feel powerful or in control to believing it will increase their status with peers.

I am not quite sure which would be worse to hear, that my child is being bullied at school, or learning that my child is the bully at school.  Both are pretty hard to swallow.  When your child is bullied, your heart aches for him and you want to help him get out of the situation as soon as possible.  When your child is the bully, a whole other set of emotions kick in, perhaps second guessing your parenting skills, feeling embarrassed to face other parents (especially if they know that your child is a bully) or even anger at your child for treating his peers with such disrespect.

Primarily, it is a parent’s responsibility to recognize their child as a bully, which may make you feel like you are a bad parent.  How did you miss this?  When did it happen? How long has he been a bully?  According to an Education.com article citing Alana Friedman, national Olweus bullying prevention trainer, there are some things a parent can do if your child is a bully:

  • Acknowledge the problem. Communicate directly with your child, let them know that you are aware of the bullying, that you take it seriously and that it won’t be tolerated.
  • Be a hands-on parent. Talk to your child and be ready to listen. Know who your child’s friends are. Monitor activities. Work with the school, and keep communication lines open. If they have a bullying prevention program, learn about it. One of the most important things that parents can do for their kids is to be involved.
  • Decrease violence at home. Turn off violent TV and video games. But also, monitor your own behavior. What do you do when angry? What is it teaching your child?
  • Teach positive behaviors. Reinforce kind, compassionate behavior. Teach empathy and provide opportunities for cooperation. Have your child care for a pet, and enroll your child in meaningful activities that cultivate talents and interests while fostering cooperation and friendship.
  • Seek professional help, if needed. Sometimes a situation calls for more than parental intervention. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bullying can be a sign of other serious antisocial or violent behavior, which can lead to future problems in school and with the law.

Sometimes the parent is completely unaware of the situation.  Sometimes the parent encourages bullying, even supporting it!  It is hard to believe, but it happens.  In this situation, outsiders such as teachers/administrators, other parents, or sometimes law enforcement authorities need to get involved to make the parents aware of the consequences not only against their child but against themselves as well – including probation, jail time and social services intervention that could lead to the removal of the child from the home.

So parents, in my opinion, the best way to prevent your child from being a bully is INVOLVEMENT.  Know everything about your child, who he hangs out with, what he reads, what he watches on TV, what he does on the computer – you are NOT invading their privacy, you are being a good parent!  It is OK to “snoop.”  Some may disagree, but until a child is old enough to make their own decisions and face their own consequences (AKA – living on their own) it is the parent’s responsibility to guide their child in the right direction.  No matter what.  Period.

For more detailed information on bullying, visit http://www.olweus.org for comprehensive solutions to bullying.