A Note From The Teacher

by Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed.teacher school kids

When Your Child is a Bully

There are thousands of articles and sources of information that can be found regarding how to stop bullies from impacting the life of your child. Everyone knows that being the target of a bully at any age is frustrating, scary, and can have tremendous personal impacts. Bullying is not just a physical issue, but a social and emotional one, as well.

Less often, however, are resources for parents and families who have a child who is acting as a bully.

Prevailing notions are that children who become bullies are from families who think their behavior is acceptable. While it is true that many children learn to bully from observing what they see in their lives, there are many families who recognize the problems their son or daughter is having, yet have few resources to deal with the issues at hand.

These parents often become worn down and frustrated, dealing with a seemingly endless list of complaints from school personnel, peers, coaches, and others in society. Over time, it is easy to see why some parents become angry and defensive of their child’s actions and cannot deal with their child’s behavior.

If you believe that your child has the tendency to bully others physically, verbally, or emotionally, take heart- you can make changes that can influence your child’s behavior.

It will take time, it will not always be easy, and the process may require you to examine your behavior as a family. Thinking about behavior, evaluating the source of the behavior, and planning an effective method to address the problem can’t be solved in one night. However, with perseverance and deliberate action, you can change a bully’s behavior.

First, examine all of the information in a realistic manner.

Try to look objectively- as if this were someone else’s child- when making a judgment about behavior. Try answering these questions honestly:

Are you getting reports from several different people about your child’s bullying behavior?

Are there common complaints year after year in school or other activities? What types of behavior do you see at home, with siblings, peers, or other family members?

Does your child have a hard time keeping friends?

Does your child physically hurt others?

It is easy to dismiss reports as others “picking on” your child or “not understanding them”. However, if reports are coming from many different areas, there is likely a problem of some kind.

Answering these questions honestly can be a very difficult task. As parents, we want our children to reflect the positive values that we teach them; when they display behavior that we (or others) don’t like, it is sometimes easier to deny that it exists than it is to admit there is a problem.

Denial is a very common response to reports of bullying. However, if a family is serious about confronting the problems at hand, it is important to move beyond feelings of guilt, shame, or denial in order to make effective progress.

Second, look for all of the different factors that influence your child’s behavior.

Over a few days, really notice the things and people he or she interacts with and make a mental note of how these might impact behavior.

Are there certain friends that seem to play aggressively?

What types of video games or TV programs is your child drawn to?

How does the family handle conflict?

Is there a lot of yelling and fighting?

Are siblings aggressive with each other physically?

How do the adults in the family interact?

Is vulgar or slanderous language used freely in the house?

If you are having trouble answering these questions, or you find yourself saying “no” to every one of them, try this experiment: Watch your family interact with each other as an observer might, and write down exactly what you see in a notebook. Just describe the people, interactions, sounds, and feelings present at that moment, then close the book.

Do not tell others what you are doing, as this will probably change their behavior. If you have to, observe off to the side, then go into another room to write down what you observe.

Don’t forget to write about encounters you may have just participated in. By doing this a few times a day, with different groups of people in different situations within the family, you may find there is a pattern of behavior that was easy to overlook before you wrote it down.

After a few days, go back through your entries and highlight or underline each negative behavior you recognize. Sometimes the act of writing helps to bring everyday actions into sharper focus.

Third, after you have examined the behavior of your child and your family, it is time to communicate with each other about the changes you would all like to see.

Rarely are bullies happy and cheerful; rather, they often are unhappy with their choices, but simply do not know how to change what they are doing.

Take the time to sit down as a family and discuss the things that each person likes and would like to change about themselves. It is important that this NOT be a critical time that focuses all negative attention on one person. Rather, as each person expresses something they would like to change, others in the group should share how they can help that person make those changes a reality.

Everyone should participate, since everyone has something about themselves they can work on. Support, not attack, should be the over-riding feeling in this activity.

Depending on the family dynamic, there are many things that can be done to help keep all of the positives discussed in everyone’s mind.

Coming up with house rules of support, posting individual goals, and making positive message posters to put around the house are all ways people can have whole-family support to make positive changes.

Encourage others’ efforts at change when you see them making progress. Find ways to offer help when they falter.

Though it will be difficult at first, and may even feel artificial and “fake”, keep at it! It takes time to change a group of people, even a family that cares deeply for each other.

Above all, the adults must be the role models for their children, displaying the behavior they want the children to show.

Finally, set up goals for each person’s individual behavior they want to change.

It is easier to reach goals such as “I will not put my hands on anyone else all week” than it is to accomplish “I will be good”.

By having several small, attainable, concrete goals, each person gets to experience success a little at a time.

Regularly check in together to see how progress is coming toward each goal. Celebrate successes, make new goals, and find ways to reach goals that are problematic.

By continuing the communication process, you will find a change in family dynamics that leads to lasting change.

Though all of these steps take place within the family unit, the effects of these changes will be felt all throughout your child’s life. Working well at home, but not at school?

Work with teachers, counselors, and others at school to participate in your family plan.

Are peers still an issue?

Try changing the activities your child participates in. Sometimes meeting new people that have no previous experience with a “reformed bully” can really lead to more positive interactions with peers.

Are there other adults that reinforce the behaviors or ideas you’re trying to eliminate?

Think about limiting your child’s interaction with them for a while.

Children acting more violent after certain shows or games?

Get rid of them. (Yes, I do mean actually get them out of your house and find better alternatives to participate in.) Getting control over bullying behavior is all about reinforcing the positive and reducing the negative influences in your child’s life.

As with everything a family can experience, there are times when there are too many issues to handle alone.

At these times it is important to recognize when you may need outside assistance to get you on the right track.

By consulting a school counselor, family counselor, clergy member, or other professional you may be able to make more effective change more quickly than by working at the issues alone.

Trust the advice of the professionals you choose to work with, giving their recommendations a chance to work, even if they seem ineffective at first. It probably took quite awhile for these behaviors to become a problem and no one can repair them overnight. Consider participating as a family so everyone can make positive changes together.

Families that recognize they need to work on the bullying behaviors of their child or children should be applauded for their effort and honesty. By working with not only the victims of bullying, but the perpetrators, the overall cycle of intimidation and fear is more likely to come to an end. We support all of our readers for their commitment to their families and their children.



Jennifer Cummings

Ms. Cummings, author, and editor of the Education and School Section, she has a B.A.in psychology and an M.Ed. in special education from Framingham State College in Massachusetts. She was an elementary teacher in Massachusetts serving both regular education and special education students. She has taught grades 1,4, and 5.

"I believe that families' involvement in their child's education is one of the key ingredients to creating a successful school experience for children. Keeping parents informed about school-related issues helps parents and teachers work together for the best possible outcomes for their children. Learning together makes learning fun - for everyone!" - Jennifer Cummings.
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