When Your Child Is The Bully
Clearly Communicate New Rules, Then Consistently Enforce Them.
A child who bullies at school may be bullying at home. Is your child a bully?
Dealing with the flip side of bullying.When Your Child Is The BullyClearly Communicate New Rules, Then Consistently Enforce Them. By Laura Bradley
Thirteen years ago, two teenage boys embarked on a massacre at Columbine High School — a horrifying event that changed the way we see and treat bullying.
Previously, attention focused almost exclusively on victims and making them more “normal.” “That all changed after Columbine,” explains Dr. Jay Reeve, licensed psychologist and chief executive officer of the Apalachee Center. The focus has shifted to the bullies themselves — both why they display aggressive behavior and how to correct it.
Reeve describes three types of bullies, each with different motives. The first are those with conduct disorders, who exhibit fairly obvious deviant behavior at young ages (some as early as age six). The second group includes children with naturally lower inhibitions, usually because the part of their brain controlling inhibition is less developed than most, causing risky and impulsive behavior. Socialized bullies, the third — and most common — group, behave aggressively to fit into certain cliques or just to blend into the crowd.
“The pack mentality of young adolescents really lends itself to bullying,” notes Reeve, a member of the Big Bend Anti-Bullying Task Force.
While bullies with conduct disorders or low inhibitions often display warning signs of the behavior as they test it at home, socialized bullies often show no warning signs at all.
Reeve advises parents who want to raise a child who won’t bully to guide by example. The overwhelming amount of research shows children raised in environments with more physical violence tend to be more physically aggressive. He adds that structure is important for kids. A fixed routine along with well-defined expectations have surprisingly strong impacts on how children carry themselves.
Despite parents’ best intentions and efforts, however, some children will still act out.
The most important thing parents can do when they find out their child bullies others is to take it seriously. “This is a pretty serious behavior, and it has some serious — as we’ve seen recently — deadly, consequences,” Reeve says.
Next, determine what course of action to take. Reeve says it’s generally best to sit the child down and set very clear limits and rules. Parents must communicate and agree about the rules and how they will be enforced; discrepancies can be confusing or present an exploitable weakness. Any authority figures should cooperate to consistently enforce the rules.
Socialized bullies might benefit from joining another social group through an extracurricular activity — maybe even one unaffiliated with the school — where they can meet new people with similar positive interests.
It’s also highly important, Reeve stresses, to let the child know there will be strong, constant communication with their school. Knowing about this connection can discourage the child from behaving at school in ways that wouldn’t be accepted at home.
As schools work to reduce aggression, another arena for bullying grows. The online world allows children to connect with friends and strangers, sometimes anonymously. Unregulated social media, like a disconnected school environment, provide an array of opportunities and dangers. Reeve suggests proactive parental involvement and interest in children’s online activities can help them develop healthy habits with respect to the Web.
Regardless of how or why a child bullies, the behavior might eventually become overwhelming. Even if the behavior does not seem severe, psychologists and family counselors can often offer valuable insight and effective solutions. “The overwhelming evidence indicates that therapy helps,” says Reeve, adding later, “If you have the resources to take advantage of this, why not do it?”
Is Your Child a Bully? From ‘Teenage as a Second Language-A Parents Guide to Becoming Bilingual’ by Barbara Greenberg
1. A child who bullies at school may be a bully at home. Is your child aggressive or belligerent towards you?
2. Has your child stopped being invited out with friends? If being alone is new, you need to find the root cause.
3. Does your child consistently receive negative feedback from teachers, coaches or other parents?
4. Are other parents uncomfortable around you? Parents will mirror their children. If they are avoiding you, their children are probably avoiding your child.