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Going to School

What to Do When Your Child Is a Bully

bullyNo parent wants to get a call from the school principal about bullying, but what if the call isn’t about your child as the victim, but instead as the perpetrator of harassment? Your gut reaction might be to deny it—how could your sweet angel be involved in something so nasty?—but bullying isn’t a problem that anyone should ignore. So take a deep breath and commit yourself to finding out what’s going on and making whatever changes are necessary to be sure you aren’t harboring a bully at home. Here are six steps to follow.

  1. Find out what happened. Your initial instinct might be to get angry, but bullying expert Joel Haber, Ph.D., says parents need to keep their cool. Instead, Haber recommends asking your child to tell you, in his own words, what happened and what his role in the incident was. “Kids have to take accountability for their behavior,” says Haber. If your child tries to push the blame onto another participant, be firm and reiterate that you aren’t interested in hearing about other kids—just your child’s role in the bullying.
  2. Encourage empathy with the victim. After you get your child’s side of the story, ask him to imagine himself in his victim’s shoes. How would he feel is someone did the same thing to him? “The earlier we can help kids develop empathy, the better chance we have of them not becoming a bully,” says Haber.
  3. Have your child make restitution. Once your child owns what she did and acknowledges the hurt she’s caused, it’s time for her to try to make amends for the situation. This may mean apologizing to the other child in the presence of a school guidance counselor, or, in the case of cyberbullying, contacting all the recipients of a hurtful e-mail to issue a correction.

    Barbara Coloroso, the author of “The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander,”notes the nature of the Web means that “rumors on the Internet can be hard to fix.” In extreme cases, she recommends that cyberbullies be forced to pay for a Web scrubber, which help bury nasty Web pages in Google search results.

  4. Try to get to the root cause of the bullying. Just because your child did something hurtful doesn’t mean that he’s a bad kid or that you’re a failure as a parent, says Ben Leichtling, Ph.D., author of “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.” Most likely it means that he’s struggling to get something he wants—acknowledgment or attention or control, for instance—and falling back on bad patterns of behavior. So try to get to the root cause of the behavior, and then brainstorm different, more positive ways to act. “One way to do that is to acknowledge, ‘Okay, those desires are normal. I want to teach you better ways of getting what you want or being popular,'” says Leichtling.
  5. Involve the school. You can’t monitor your child 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so if you believe that your child is a bully, you need to enlist the school to help keep tabs on her behavior and report back to you. “Tell the guidance counselors and the teachers that you don’t support bullying and you want to know if it occurs,” says Leichtling.
  6. Be a role model. Remember the antidrug television commercial from the 1980s in which the parent asks his son where he learned to do drugs, and the son replies, “I learned it from watching you!”? The same commercial could probably be made about bullying. “If your kid is truly the bully, you have to examine what’s going on in your own home,” says Coloroso. So be honest with yourself: What behaviors do you model that send your child the message that it’s okay to make another person feel small? Are you curt with salespeople? Do you gossip and spread rumors? Roll your eyes when you hear something you disagree with? If so, it’s time to change—for your kid’s sake, as well as your own. “Kids observe what we do and follow what we do more than they listen to us,” says Haber. If we as parents want to stop the bullying, we all have to get on board.
  • death lord

    If you aren’t interested in hearing about the other kid’s roles in the incident, then you risk not getting the full story.

    • K

      I think they mean begin by focusing on having them acknowledge their role instead of trying to hide behind other children’s actions. I agree, tho, that after this acknowledgement is made, to find the full story as much as you can. My stepson is a bully and that’s something I work with, having him own up to his actions, because more often then not he uses excuses or ‘I don’t remember’ instead of admitting what he did. It’s very difficult to get him to say what he did and why, I think that’s what the article is talking about when focusing on the individuals actions.
      My situation, however, is that my stepson will act out violently towards other kids with little to no instigation. If he doesn’t want to wait his turn, if someone got to something before him, he turns to violence. I have never seen, or heard from school, that another child encouraged, joined or instigated the situations, it’s always my stepson. He has tried to hide behind excuses, blame the victim, but as his father and I were victims growing up, we have a zero tolerance policy.
      He was kicked out of camp yesterday for punching a kid in the face, his reason being that he had to pee and the boy was ahead of him to use the bathroom. I tried to get him to understand that the other boy needed to pee too, and how would he like it if someone punched him for trying to use the bathroom.

  • Yanna Zariwala

    I totally agree!!

    — Yanna Zariwala

  • Damiena

    What about parents who think it is cool to have a bully as a child? Our cousin’s child is a bully. We don’t go to family functions where I will not be able to attend with my husband as co-parents because I don’t want to be the only one dealing with this – it is HIS cousin’s kid. The kid is a few years older. I thought I was observing the kid being playful with my son. Then I had to step in because I was witnessing violent and aggressive behavior by a 7 year old to a 3 year old. I got involved before anything bad happened. I told his mom, and his mom yelled at the kid to stop, and then she apologized to my son.
    So what do you do? How do you handle someone who thinks that my kid just needs to toughen up????

    • TERRY

      I think a 7 yr old should not be bullying a 3 yr old, older children sometimes pick on younger ones. I suppose it is maybe a phase. The 7 year old probably doesn’t pick on others his age. My son is 5, the neighbors boy is 7, and more often than not, I see the older boy trick the younger one into doing things he should not. If my son doesn’t go along with the older boys plans, whether it be what tree to climb, or whatever, the 7 yr old will say , “if you do not climb this tree, i wont be your friend anymore”. Once my husband caught the 7 yr old hit my 5 yr old really hard in the face. We had a small pool in the front yard, they were playing. We have privacy glass, so we can see out, but nobody can see in. My husband happened to be at the front door looking out and saw it. He didn’t handle it properly, anyway, I think children start trying the “pecking order”, first on kids that they think cannot or wont fight back. I hate bullying….but I tell my son, never hit anybody in anger, ever. But if someone is hitting you, you have the right to defend yourself. Your kid will grow and find his footing, Its not the size of the doggie in the fight, its the size of the fight in the doggy. I would keep an eye on both when together, but do not baby him. This world is tough and ugly, for every bully, there is somewhere a bigger bully. In other words, no matter how big a bully one is, there will ALWAYS be someone tougher and meaner. In a year or so, your kid may grow taller and stronger, the bully wont be such an issue then.

      • TERRY

        oh, and to add…if someone tells you your child, “needs to toughen up”, Then obviously, they are part of the problem.

  • Stacey

    My son is in 3rd grade the same boy from second grade is still picking on him at first in second grade and even the being of year my boy didnt do much now he some what fights back by sticking out his tongue or says mean things back both boys have been in office to be talked to calls home missed recess, nowthe boys is hitting my son and school says my boy is pushing the boys buttons what do i do

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