How to Help Your Child Stop Bullying
Is your child a bully? Get to the bottom of why your child is hurting others, then learn how to put an end to the bullying behaviors.
What if you suspect that your child is a bully? What can you, as a parent, do to address the problem? After all, bullying is violence, and it often leads to more antisocial and violent behavior as the bully grows up. In fact, as many as one out of four elementary school bullies have a criminal record by the time they're 30. Some teen bullies also end up being rejected by their peers and lose friendships as they grow older. Bullies may also fail in school and may not have the career or relationship success that other people enjoy.
What Causes a Child to Become a Bully?
Although certainly not all bullying stems from family problems, it's a good idea to examine the behavior and personal interactions your child witnesses at home. If your child lives with taunting or name-calling from a sibling or from you or another parent, it could be prompting aggressive or hurtful behavior outside the home. What may seem like innocent teasing at home may actually model bullying behaviors. Children who are on the receiving end of it learn that bullying can translate into control over children they perceive as weak.
Constant teasing — whether it's at home or at school — can also affect a child's self-esteem. Children with low self-esteem can grow to feel emotionally insecure. They can also end up blaming others for their own shortcomings. Making others feel bad (bullying) can give them a sense of power.
Of course, there will be moments that warrant constructive criticism: for example, "I counted on you to put out the trash and because you forgot, we'll all have to put up with that stench in the garage for a week." But take care not to let your words slip into criticizing the person rather than the behavior: "You're so lazy. I bet you just pretend to forget your chores so you don't have to get your hands dirty." Focus on how the behavior is unacceptable, rather than the person.
Home should be a safe haven, where children aren't subjected to uncomfortable, harsh criticism from family and loved ones.
Stopping the Bullying Behaviors
In addition to maintaining a positive home atmosphere, there are a number of ways you can encourage your child to give up bullying:
- Emphasize that bullying is a serious problem. Make sure your child understands you will not tolerate bullying and that bullying others will have consequences at home. For example, if your child is cyber bullying, take away the technologies he or she is using to torment others (i.e., computer, cell phone to text message or send pictures). Or instruct your child to use the Internet to research bullying and note strategies to reduce the behavior. Other examples of disciplinary action include restricting your child's curfew if the bullying and/or teasing occur outside of the home; taking away privileges, but allowing the opportunity to earn them back; and requiring your child to do volunteer work to help those less fortunate.
- Teach your child to treat people who are different with respect and kindness. Teach your child to embrace, not ridicule, differences (i.e., race, religion, appearance, special needs, gender, economic status). Explain that everyone has rights and feelings. (See The Impact of Bullying)
- Find out if your child's friends are also bullying. If so, seek a group intervention through your child's principal, school counselor, and/or teachers.
- Set limits. Stop any show of aggression immediately and help your child find nonviolent ways to react.
- Observe your child interacting with others and praise appropriate behavior. Positive reinforcement is more powerful than negative discipline.
- Talk with school staff and ask how they can help your child change his or her bad behavior. Be sure to keep in close contact with the staff.
- Set realistic goals and don't expect an immediate change. As your child learns to modify behaviors, offer assurances that you still love him or her — it's the behavior you don't like.
Getting Help for Bullies
A big part of helping your child is not being afraid to ask others for assistance and advice. Whether your child is being bullied or is the one doing the bullying, you may need to get outside help. In addition to talking to your child's teachers, you may also want to take advantage of school counseling services and consult your child's doctor, who may be able to refer you to a mental health professional.
Suggestions for Working with Bullies
- Work in small groups. It is often helpful to place bullies in groups with older children and have them engage in cooperative tasks. It will be necessary to provide a great deal of supervision.
- Reinforce children each time they engage in some degree of caring or pro-social behavior. It will be easier to establish more appropriate rules for interaction after they learn that there are more positive ways to gain attention and affection.
- Often children who are having a hard time relating to other children can learn some social skills with pets. Under close supervision, bullies may learn to care for and show affection to a dog or cat.
- Work with families to determine ways they can show warmth and affection to their children, and seek to develop a more consistent set of discipline. Sometimes it is helpful for families to become more involved in community activities and become friends with other parents.
Last Updated: 26 May 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD