What to Do if Your Child Is a Bull

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What to Do if Your Child Is a Bully

By Leslie Davis

Nobody wants to admit that their teen is a bully. But if there are kids getting bullied at school, there are kids doing the bullying. And that child might just be yours.

A 2001 survey of students in grades 6 through 10 found that 13 percent had bullied other students. Bullying can include physically bullying (hitting or punching), verbal bullying (teasing or name-calling), emotional bullying (intimidation or social exclusion) and cyberbullying (insulting others via email, text or instant messaging).

Away from the observant eyes of their parents and surrounded by often influential peers at school, your kids may be bullying without you even knowing it. Your kids may act like angels at home but may not be quite so well-behaved on the schoolyard.

Signs That Your Child Is Bullying

If your child is getting into trouble at school for fighting or acts dominant or aggressive with other kids, you may have a bully on your hands. Kids who are bullying generally become easily frustrated if they don’t get their way, lack empathy for others and have a history of discipline problems.

Here are other common characteristics of children who bully, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

  • Seeks to manipulate others
  • Enjoys feeling powerful and in control
  • Is both a poor winner (boastful and arrogant) and a poor loser
  • Seems to derive satisfaction from other’s fears, discomfort or pain
  • Is good at hiding behaviors or doing them where adults can’t notice
  • Is excited by conflicts between others
  • Blames others for his/her problems
  • Displays uncontrolled anger
  • Has a history of discipline problems
  • Displays a pattern of impulsive and chronic hitting, intimidating and aggressive behaviors
  • Has a history of violent and aggressive behaviors
  • Displays intolerance and prejudice toward others
  • May use drugs or alcohol, or be a member of a gang

Both boys and girls engage in bullying, though they often do so in different ways. Boys typically participate in more physical or verbal bulling, such as punching or threatening. Girls are often less direct when it comes to bullying, and will spread rumors or intentionally leave someone out of activities.

Children who bully are more likely to have friends who bully and engage in violent behaviors.

Parenting Tips

If you have discovered that your child is bullying, there are some things you can do:

Let your child know the types of bullying and effects of bullying on the victim, and make it clear that you will not tolerate bullying of any sort.

Set up rules and consequences for bullying behaviors, and be sure to consistently enforce them.

Reward your children when they engage in appropriate behaviors to discourage them from engaging in any inappropriate behaviors.

Talk to your child about why they have been bullying. Try to encourage them to open up to you and don’t be judgmental or react out of anger. The bullying may be masking something else that is going on with your child, and talking to them about it can get it out in the open.

Get to know your child’s friends and how and where they spend their free time. If your child is spending time with a crowd that engages in bullying or other troubling behaviors (such as drinking, drug use or smoking), talk to your child about their choice of friends and encourage them to seek out friends who will have a more positive influence.

Monitor your child’s behaviors at home, online, with friends and at school (as much as possible). Keep an eye out for any early warning signs of bullying so that the problem is easier to address and stop before it gets out of control.

Help your child learn healthy ways to cope with anger and frustration, such as exercise, journaling, playing an instrument, or talking to a friend or family member.

Teach your child alternatives to aggressive behavior, such as asking for help, respecting others and showing tolerance for those who are different.

Get your child involved in positive social activities, such as after-school clubs, volunteering, music lessons and non-violent sports.

Get your child’s school involved to watch out for any signs of bullying and to enforce consequences for the behavior at school. Also report any incidents of bullying behaviors to school officials, even if your child is the one doing the bullying. Doing so will hold them accountable for their behavior.

If your child continues to bully, you may want to seek counseling or help through a therapeutic boarding school or wilderness camp for troubled teens. With treatment, your child can address their bullying behaviors, any underlying issues causing them to act out through violence and learn healthy coping behaviors that will reduce the chance of them ever bullying again.

Behaviors Associated with Bullying

Bullying is often a sign of other serious antisocial or violent behavior. According to Stop Bullying Now!, children who frequently bully their peers are more likely to:

  • Engage in frequent fights
  • Be injured in a fight
  • Vandalize property
  • Steal property
  • Drink alcohol or use drugs
  • Smoke
  • Be truant from school
  • Drop out of school
  • Carry a weapon

People who engage in childhood bullying are also more likely to be underachievers in school, engage in criminal activities as adults, and become abusive spouses or parents.  Putting a stop to your child’s bullying now can help ensure that they end a cycle of violence that could continue well into adulthood.

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