It can be shocking and upsetting to learn that your child has gotten in trouble
for picking on others or been labeled a bully.
As difficult as it may be to process this news, it's
important to deal with it right away. Whether the bullying is physical or verbal,
if it's not stopped it can lead to more aggressive antisocial behavior and interfere
with your child's success in school and ability to form and sustain friendships.
Understanding Bullying Behavior
Kids bully for many reasons. Some bully because they feel insecure. Picking on
someone who seems emotionally or physically weaker provides a feeling of being more
important, popular, or in control. In other cases, kids bully because they simply
don't know that it's unacceptable to pick on kids who are different because of size,
looks, race, or religion.
In some cases bullying is a part of an ongoing pattern of defiant or aggressive
behavior. These kids are likely to need help learning to manage anger and hurt, frustration,
or other strong emotions. They may not have the skills they need to cooperate with
others. Professional counseling often can help them learn to deal with their feelings,
curb their bullying, and improve their social skills.
Some kids who bully at school and in settings with their peers are copying behavior
that they see at home. Kids who are exposed to aggressive and unkind interactions
in the family often learn to treat others the same way. And kids who are on the receiving
end of taunting learn that bullying can translate into control over children they
perceive as weak.
Helping Kids Stop Bullying
Let your child know that bullying is unacceptable and that there will be serious
consequences at home, school, and in the community if it continues.
Try to understand the reasons behind your child's behavior. In some cases, kids
bully because they have trouble managing strong emotions like anger, frustration,
or insecurity. In other cases, kids haven't learned cooperative ways to work out conflicts
and understand differences.
Tactics to Try
Be sure to:
Take bullying seriously. Make sure your kids understand that
you will not tolerate bullying at home or anywhere else. Establish rules about bullying
and stick to them. If you punish your child by taking away privileges, be sure it's
meaningful. For example, if your child bullies other kids via email, text messages,
or a social networking site, dock phone or computer privileges for a period of time.
If your child acts aggressively at home, with siblings or others, put a stop to it.
Teach more appropriate (and nonviolent) ways to react, like walking away.
Teach kids to treat others with respect and kindness. Teach your
child that it is wrong to ridicule differences (e.g., race, religion, appearance,
special needs, gender, economic status) and try to instill a sense of empathy for
those who are different. Consider getting involved together in a community group where
your child can interact with kids who are different.
Learn about your child's social life. Look for insight into the
factors that may be influencing your child's behavior in the school environment (or
wherever the bullying is occurring). Talk with parents of your child's friends and
peers, teachers, guidance counselors, and the school principal. Do other kids bully?
What about your child's friends? What kinds of pressures do the kids face at school?
Talk to your kids about those relationships and about the pressures to fit in. Get
them involved in activities outside of school so that they meet and develop friendships
with other kids.
Encourage good behavior. Positive reinforcement can be more powerful
than negative discipline. Catch your kids being good — and when they handle
situations in ways that are constructive or positive, take notice and praise them
Set a good example. Think carefully about how you talk around
your kids and how you handle conflict and problems. If you behave aggressively —
toward or in front of your kids — chances are they'll follow your example. Instead,
point out positives in others, rather than negatives. And when conflicts arise in
your own life, be open about the frustrations you have and how you cope with your
Starting at Home
When looking for the influences on your child's behavior, look first at what's
happening at home. Kids who live with yelling, name-calling, putdowns, harsh criticism,
or physical anger from a sibling or parent/caregiver may act that out in other settings.
It's natural — and common — for kids to fight with their siblings at
home. And unless there's a risk of physical violence it's wise not to get involved.
But monitor the name-calling and any physical altercations and be sure to talk to
each child regularly about what's acceptable and what's not.
It's important to keep your own behavior in check too. Watch how you talk to your
kids, and how you react to your own strong emotions when they're around. There will
be situations that warrant discipline and constructive criticism. But take care not
to let that slip into name-calling and accusations. If you're not pleased with your
child's behavior, stress that it's the behavior that you'd like your child to change,
and you have confidence that he or she can do it.
If your family is going through a stressful life event that you feel may have contributed
to your child's behavior, reach out for help from the resources at school and in your
community. Guidance counselors, pastors, therapists, and your doctor can help.
To help a child stop bullying, talk with teachers, guidance counselors, and other
school officials who can help you identify situations that lead to bullying and provide
Your doctor also might be able to help. If your child has a history of arguing,
defiance, and trouble controlling anger, consider an evaluation with a therapist or
behavioral health professional.
As difficult and frustrating as it can be to help kids stop bullying, remember
that bad behavior won't just stop on its own. Think about the success and happiness
you want your kids to find in school, work, and relationships throughout life, and
know that curbing bullying now is progress toward those goals.