What to do if your child is a bully

What to do if your child is a bully

As a parent, it’s one of your worst nightmares: you get a phone call from the school about bullying – and your child is responsible. What can you do?

There’s a lot of information online to help victims of bullying, but it’s harder to know where to start if your child is the bully. What you will be aware of, is it’s important to nip these things in the bud before they become a bigger problem, so we’re focusing on younger children.

What is bullying?

The Anti-Bullying Alliance defines it as ‘the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power.’

In the playground, that translates to a whole range of things: from taunting, to pushing, to shoving, to intimidating, to just plain ol’ being mean about sweets or toys. Bullying can be verbal, psychological or physical, and it can take place face-to-face or online.

Why do children bully?

Most younger bullies are classed as ‘bully/victims’; they’re being bullied themselves, and then bullying others as part of a learned behaviour pattern. A tiny minority of children fall into the ‘true bully’ category – a child who’s not being picked on by someone else.

Why? Well, many children who bully have problems at home: again, it’s learned behaviour. If a child sees arguments between parents that result in there being a clear ‘winner’, it’s strange, but that can be enough of a catalyst to promote the behaviour in a child’s mind’s eye too. Or, if they’re being picked on by a sibling, then expressing themselves forcefully can seem normal – particularly if it’s not spotted by a parent.

‘True bullies’ are usually popular at school believe it or not, and polite to adults. ‘Bully/victims’ often have poor self-control, fly off the handle easily and can be aggressive. The parent of the ‘bully-victim’ might know about their child’s difficult behaviour, but the parent of the ‘true bully’ often has no idea their child is causing problems. That’s why it’s so hard to deal with.

What can you do?

First of all, look at your own behaviour. Before you talk to your children about their problems, it’s important to recognise if you’re making the situation worse – or if you’re responsible in some way.

  • If you’re on your own, are there any external influences that could be having a negative effect? 
  • If you’re living with a partner, what’s your own behaviour like – what are you doing, when you’re setting an example?

Now, talk to your children. Don’t worry if the answer’s ‘No, I’m not!’, or even, ‘ – but he/she started it first!’. Just talking and explaining there’s a right and wrong to a situation may help. Try to find out why the behaviour’s there.

  • Is there a ringleader? 
  • Is your child just going with the flow? 
  • Is your child unhappy with something, perhaps in the classroom, and venting in the playground?

Explain that it’s unkind, not fun, and (an old chestnut but a good one), ask your children if they’d like to be treated the same way. If they don’t want to talk to you, they might talk to a trusted adult or responsible older sibling.

Take control

Bullying behaviour is often associated with not knowing how to control one part of a life, and so venting in an area that ‘power’ feels good. Gently, take control over your child’s behaviour.

Burying your head in the sand won’t make it go away: make sure the school knows you’re aware of the problem. And if the school doesn’t know there’s a problem, tell them.

Teachers can be incredibly busy, and they can’t always watch every child, every moment of the day. Talk to the teacher and headmaster, discuss their anti-bullying policy. Work with them to find the best way to help everyone who’s involved.

  • Remember, bullying is a very emotive subject – try not to get into a slanging match with other parents. 

  • In fact, don’t try to force your children to get on either; it’s often best to keep them apart. If they don’t like each other in school they won’t like each other out of it.

It may also help you, to talk to someone about your child’s behaviour. If you’re not comfortable talking to the teachers on your own, they will understand if you want to take someone along with you for moral support.

And if you need more help and support, we recommend looking at information also provided by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, and Bullies Out.

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