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Just Ask Children's


When Your Child Is the Bully

A woman with blonde hair and wearing a blue shirt with small polka-dots gives a disapproving look to a school-age girl wearing an orange and white striped shirt.

Your child has been involved in a bullying incident at school — and she was the aggressor. What do you do?

Children frequently have disagreements. Accepting that your child may have acted out of line is difficult, but necessary.

"Parents often believe being kind and respecting others is instinctual, but it's not an automatic reaction," said Pediatric Psychologist Dr. Natalie Walders Abramson, PhD. "What may be more instinctual is aggression, while kindness and respect require a conscious effort and coaching from adults."

If you learn your child is bullying others, remind him that bullying is never acceptable, and that any unkind or aggressive behavior has consequences.

"Link the behavior with an appropriate consequence," Dr. Abramson said. "For example, if the bullying was online, a child should lose access to electronics or social media for an appropriate period of time. If the incident happened on the field, consult the coach and request your child be required to sit out a game or two as a consequence."

Talk with your child about what happened and help her walk through how she could have interacted in a different manner. Suggest other, more suitable ways of behaving, and encourage her to come up with non-bullying solutions that would have been a better alternative.

How to prevent your child from bullying

  1. Connect with the school. Be a known presence in your child's school. Make sure teachers and administrators are aware you want to know about any infractions, however minor, as soon as possible. Ensure that the school knows you care about your child's social interactions as much as athletic and academic progress.
  2. Network with parents. Stay in touch with parents of children in the same peer group. Notice conflicts that are emerging among the kids, and try to support children early if relationships start to sour.
  3. Watch your child. Make sure your child knows you care about how he is interacting socially. There's a careful balance between autonomy and regulating peer interactions online and in person, but keep a watchful eye within reason.
  4. Set an example. It is important for parents to model what it means to be a good friend. Nurture adult friendships, and allow children to observe you being a good friend yourself, particularly when someone else is in need of more support.

How to respond when your child is the bully

  1. Be a part of the solution. It's important that parents (of bullies or victims) do not minimize the problem. Bullying should not be dismissed "just part of growing up."
  2. Share the consequences. Talk to children about the consequences of their behaviors. Cyberbullying is harmful, and in some cases may result in legal charges. When bullying happens online, children may not realize the impact of their actions. It's important for parents to help their children understand that the victims of online bullying are real and so are the consequences.
  3. Make it an adult team effort. Work with the other adults involved in the situation, including the parents of the victim(s) and school personnel. If appropriate, talking with the victim's family about an appropriate response to the problem may help repair some of the damage done and teach children about accountability for their behaviors.
  4. Increase supervision. Increase supervision of your child to ensure that he/she does not have opportunities to continue the bullying on or off-line. This may require more close supervision of their online activities, cell phone use, and communication with other parents or teachers.
  5. Remain vigilant. Bullying tends not to be isolated to one victim or incident. Continue to be watchful of your child's behavior over time. Praise your children when they are treating others in safe, respectful and appropriate ways.

Bullying infographic

An infographic about what to do when your child is the bully. 5 ways to respond: be part of the solution; share the consequences; make it an adult team effort; increase supervision; remain vigilant. #BullyProofSummit

Download the When Your Child Is the Bully infographic (.pdf).

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