My child the bully




My child the bully


Bullies come in all ages, shapes and sizes, and from any culture, gender, race or religion. They may be cuddly and cute. And they could even be your child.

Dr Nicola Davies advises on the way forward when it’s your child doing the bullying



Much is written about children who are bullied and how they can be protected. But what about children who bully? Who are they? Why do they do it? And crucially, how can parents prevent their child becoming a bully?


Research indicates that some bullies may be naturally aggressive from the very beginning. However, not all aggressive children become bullies. Children can learn bullying behaviour, especially in

the following circumstances:


They have been victims of bullying by siblings or other family members.

They have a parent who is finding it difficult to handle conflicts and ends up being aggressive towards their partner.

Their every demand is fulfilled by their parents and so they feel entitled to everything they wish for, even if it belongs to someone else. They feel it’s their right to bully if it leads to them getting what they want.

They have inconsistent discipline at home, with one parent being

overprotective and indulgent, while the other is authoritarian.

They may be unable to cope with school stress and seek revenge on higher achieving children.

They feel isolated or disliked by peers and believe they might win friends by controlling them.





If the school informs you that your child has been bullying, what steps should you take?


It’s tempting to shift the blame or defend your child, but in doing so you will be justifying the bullying, which is likely to have serious long-term consequences. Don’t look for someone else to blame. Acknowledge what has happened and work on rectifying it. Take time to process what you have just heard and then arrange to meet with the school to devise a way to address the problem.


Working with the school will ensure children are supported rather than condemned for their behaviour. Also, by supporting the school’s approach, your child is receiving the message that none of you will tolerate this kind of behaviour in the future. Stay in touch with the school to keep track of progress. You should also share

with the school any family problems your child may be experiencing so they can take that into consideration while supporting your child.


If another parent brings to your attention that your child is bullying, how should you react?


Your first instinct as a parent is likely to get defensive and deny that your child is a bully, but try not to rush blindly to your child’s defence. You weren’t there and you don’t know what happened.

At the same time, don’t condemn children before hearing their side of the story. You need to know both sides before deciding on the right course of action.


Calmly and carefully listen to what the other parent says, just as you would hope they might react if you were concerned that their child was bullying yours. Thank them for letting you know the situation and assure them that you will talk to your child. Take their contact details so that you can call them back to clarify what really happened, and what course of action you will be taking. This will help to reassure them that the situation is being managed, and that the bullying will stop.


Why do children bully?


As well as the environmental issues that may lead children to learn bullying behaviour, there are some other fundamental reasons why children may bully. They include:


They are witnessing the divorce of their parents and are trying to create problems that will take the focus away from parental issues in an attempt to keep the parents together.

Bullying is often used to solve social problems. When you bully, you don’t have to manage your emotions or solve problems or come to an agreement with someone. It’s an easy way out of situations.

A bully may lack compassion and empathy and see weaker kids as easy targets. They do not understand how others feel and may perceive situations inaccurately.

They crave power and attention.

They have low self-esteem.

They have poor self-control.

They watch violent TV shows or play violent video games.


Dr Michael Jellinek, Professor of Psychiatry and Paediatrics at Harvard Medical School in the US, says: ‘Children tend to bully out of their own insecurity or lack of power. They sense that this is the best avenue for interpersonal success, or the only avenue given their low self-esteem. Also, many parents use physical rather than verbal approaches to discipline by roughly picking them up or spanking them. This makes children feel even more powerless and teaches them that hitting is a means to an end, or a way of communication.’


Signs of bullying


It’s important to spot the seeds of bullying behaviour in order to catch it early. Here are some signs to look out for:


Your child doesn’t get along with other kids and doesn’t play with them.

When confronted with a problem, your child takes it out on someone verbally or physically.

They throw and break things to feel better.

They talk about wanting to ‘get even’ with others.

They come home with items that don’t belong to them.

They have difficulty expressing their own feelings and understanding others’ feelings.

They are impulsive and often fight with their siblings.

They don’t accept responsibility for their actions and often blame others.

They react with anger or avoidance when asked to do a chore or if they are denied a request.

They start throwing tantrums when they don’t get their way.





Acknowledge what has happened. Talk to your child in a calm, firm tone and ask what has happened and why. Emphasise fair treatment: ‘We don’t behave this way because we are kind to others and want them to be kind to us.’


Focus on consequences.

Hold children accountable for their actions. Outline the consequences of bullying and make sure they are enforced. You can reduce or eliminate TV time or ground them for a few days. You can also ask your child to write an apology letter to the child who was bullied.



Build social and emotional skills. Lack of social skills can lead to bullying behaviour, so empower your child by teaching problem solving and conflict resolution skills.


Nurture self-esteem. Dr Jellinek recommends: ‘Parents should find ways to build their child’s self-esteem, to give them more control over their lives and a sense of reasonable power.’


Build empathy. Instil empathy in your child by turning the tables: ‘How would you feel if someone did this to you or your sister?’ Role-play the situation so that your child can learn the appropriate response.


Use positive reinforcement to encourage your child to adopt good habits. Praise them when they show kindness or compassion for others.


Be a role model. Be careful about how you talk in front of your child and how you handle your own problems. When you face problems, share with your child how you coped with your feelings.


Spend time with your child. Listen when they want to tell you something. Talk to them often.


Build positive sibling relationships. Avoid comparisons as this breeds unhealthy competition.


Decrease exposure to violent TV shows and video games. If despite your best efforts the bullying behaviour doesn’t stop, don’t hesitate to reach out to counselling services for your child.


It’s unnerving to know your child is a bully, but timely intervention is the best solution. It’s important to identify what is going wrong and to set it right immediately. Your child can still grow into a kind, compassionate, healthy adult.





September/October 2017

All information is correct at time of publishing