Is Your Child Bullying Others? 5 Tips for Parents

Posted August 24, 2010 by

It seems bullying happens at every school, in almost every grade. Even the most proactive schools with anti-bullying education programs have trouble with bullying. I also have noticed that over generations, the easiest kids to pick on for bullies are special needs kids: the ones who are less able to defend themselves. Even children who are non-verbal can recognize that they are being teased. I’ve seen the tears streaming down these kids’ faces with my own eyes after they were harassed by other students.

Now that I have special needs children myself, I feel hyperaware of the bullying that goes on. I’m afraid my children will be picked on for those wonderful differences that make me love them so much.

During the past school year, I noticed my oldest son has more of an issue with bullying than my youngest son. The only problem is, it’s my son doing the bullying! I can’t tell you how shocked I was.

After I discovered that Thomas went from being bullied to bullying, I could not find any reliable information online to show me what to do about it.

As the new school year starts, I thought I’d share tips on what I have learned:

Be observant. It isn’t always easy to watch your kids with his schoolmates but when you do get the chance, pay close attention to the dynamics. If your child has been diagnosed with something like Bipolar disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, he or she may tell you that they are the ones being bullied (like my son did). And, in their mind, they are. They tell themselves they are just retaliating. Or the case may have been that they were bullied before, in previous grades or by other classmates, but they are the ones doing the bullying now because they feel more powerful after feeling like a victim.

Notify the teacher. If you suspect your child does have bullying tendencies, don’t bury your head in the sand and pretend it is not happening! Sure, it’s embarrassing to us parents to admit when our children aren’t the perfect little robot children we seem to expect; however, how can your child be helped if you ignore the problem? Enlist the help of your child’s teacher(s). Teachers have usually gone through an education program on bullying and can provide great tips on how to specifically work these problems out with your child.

Talk with a therapist. If your child does not already have a therapist, consider getting him  one. Therapists offer a safe space for children to say anything about their feelings without the fear of reprisal from other kids, their parents, the teachers… no one is judged for their feelings in therapy. We may judge the actions that result from those feelings, but the feelings themselves are not the problem. A therapist can teach your child other coping skills that he or she may be lacking that has them resorting to bullying.

Talk with your child. This conversation can be difficult, especially if your child is being adamant about not being the one who is doing the bullying. For some children, even if you point out that you saw  it happen with your own eyes, they will deny it still. It does not matter at this point if your child owns up to past bullying behavior; it is important that he or she recognizes that it is not acceptable behavior, no matter who is doing it. Tell him or her the plans to make sure it doesn’t continue.

Talk openly with the other students’ parents. If another student’s parent has come to you about your child’s bullying, be open with them. Tell him or her that you do not approve of the behavior either and tell of the plan to make it stop. If the other parents know that you are working on the problem behavior, they will be less aggressive and defensive of their child (which they have every right to be). He or she may have other ideas on how to help your child.

Has your child been bullied? Has your child been a bully? Have any other ideas I didn’t list here? Please share them in the comments section below!

About

Heather is a mom of two special needs children and has spent over a decade working with them and other children who present challenging behaviors. She has been writing for over 20 years.

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  1. EllenaS (Edit) Report

    Bullying can be a problem at all age levels and in all kinds of schools. It is very hard to admit that the behaviors of a child you care about maybe harmful to others. Often it’s easier to make excuses than to do something about it. However, if a child is seen by others as a bully, it is in his or her long- and short-term interests to learn how to interact more appropriately with peers. You can help a child who bullies by reassuring the child of your love and talking to the child about what’s going on in his or her life, encouraging relationship-building to provide opportunities to develop positive relationships.

    Reply
  2. Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor (Edit) Report

    To ‘essjay75’: It’s certainly very hard when your child is being bullied by others, and even more so when the bully is supposed to be a friend of hers. We recommend doing some problem solving with your daughter about some things she can do to help herself feel better when the other child starts bullying. For example, she could find some other kids to play with, find a teacher or other adult, or come up with a useful phrase she can remember and use in the moment, such as “Stop it-I don’t like that!”. Keep in mind that it is typical for children this age to start showing some of these behaviors, and this can be very hard information to absorb as a parent on both sides, finding out that your child is being bullied, and also that your child is doing the bullying. We wish you the best as you figure out what your ongoing relationship will be with this family. I’m including some links to articles I think you might find helpful: Is Your Child Being Bullied? 9 Steps You Can Take as a Parent & Girl Fighting and Your Child. Good luck with you and your family as you continue to work through this.

    Reply
  3. Heather Sedlock (Edit) Report

    essjay,

    I am sorry that the girl’s mother was unapproachable. There are things we can do about our own behavior and tone of voice that might make them more responsive–more open to hearing what we are saying. But if they’re flat out in denial, nothing’s going to help them see it really.

    Have you gotten school personnel involved? This makes it more about so-and-so at school and less between the two of you directly.

    Anyone else have any ideas?

    Reply
  4. essjay75 (Edit) Report

    What do you do when your 9 year old daughter comes home crying multiple times because her only best friend since kindergarten suddenly begins bullying her? Please keep in mind how close our family is to her and her family. I have always been this families babysitter whenever they needed me. And what hurts the most is that last summer when I babysat, they always talked about paying me…but they never did. I’ve contacted the mom and when she finally replied to me she was frustrated and intollerant, although this was the first time she had been approached with this kind of problem. She said that herself. What causes someone who calls themself a Christian, to become so frustrated when an issue has been brought to their attention? Why the HECK are so many parents in denial that their own “precious” children can never be at fault?? THAT, my friends, IS the reason our kids are so screwed up these days…because of parents like THAT!

    Lets make a change, Lets change ourselves!

    Reply
  5. Heather Sedlock (Edit) Report

    “Mware”:

    Thank you for the comments. I, too, see the desire to support your daughter and give you kudos for trying to do something about it. When talking to Thomas, I’ve used the following script successfully: “I’m not talking about Girl A’s behavior. I’m not her mom and can’t help her. But I am YOUR mom and we need to work on YOUR choices.” The other part of this is also “We can’t control other people’s actions, but we can control how we react to it.” Both ways don’t attack or judge her perception of what is going on. At this point, it’s not necessary to confront her interpretation of what’s been going on.

    Reply
  6. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor (Edit) Report

    To ‘mware’: I can tell you really want to support your daughter in learning some new ways to improve her peer relationships. It’s not uncommon for girls to begin having relational problems with each other around this age. And as you know, it continues throughout adolescence. The best you can do is focus on what you can control. It might help to talk about bullying in general and work with the information you do get to help her learn how to handle things more effectively. You can also challenge the faulty thinking she might be using to justify her behavior. For example, if she is blaming someone else you can say, “Just because Sara said something you thought was mean, that doesn’t make it okay for you to ________.” Keep in mind that your daughter may truly believe she is the victim. We would not recommend treating her victim mentality as a lie, but rather a thinking error that you can challenge by using phrases like the one above. Here is an article with some more information on this: The Secret Life of Bullies: Why They Do It—and How to Stop Them. We wish you both luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

    Reply
  7. mware (Edit) Report

    My daughter is 9 and has a group of 5 friends in her grade who are all involved in relational aggression. They are constantly fighting and targeting each other to hurt one another. Think Mean Girls but in third grade. My daughter has come home several times with hurt feels and asking to move, but at the same time I know she is not innocent in all of this. After talking to her teacher, the school counselor, and another mother who volunteers at the school I’ve learned that she can be pretty antagonistic and loves getting the attention that it brings. I’ve tried to open our relationship up to a point where we can talk about what is going on at school without her feeling judged, or discounting the situation, so we can brainstorm solutions. However, she is still seeing or telling the situations from her victim point of view. She is never willing to be accountable for part. We have always struggled with lying with her and i’m afraid she will always lie to me when talking about this so I won’t be able to know how to help her. Her stories always involve how someone else or everyone else was mean and not what she did or how she has hurt others…. how can I help when I don’t even know the whole truth and how can I help her to recognize that she is being a bully and teach her to be accountable for her part when I don’t even know what is going on? There is always so much information for parents with kids being bullied but not for kids who are bullying and are involved in relational aggression. Please help!

    Reply
  8. Lauramac1 (Edit) Report

    Our daughter is 7 and just started 2nd grade. She attends a small, progressive, private school which concentrates on group dynamics and puts the child before the curriculum. A very loving and supportive place. Still, she was teased and excluded several times last year because some of the boys called her fat. She did gain several pounds in kindergarten/1st grade for a variety of reasons. She has a tummy, but she is a healthy, active kid. Now, I’ve noticed a distinct hardening around her when she gets angry and argues with friends. I’m fearful that she is developing a bully-ish behavior as a way of deflecting her own pain or shutting others out. I appreciate EP so much and thank you for this blog!

    Reply
  9. Andrea Prostko (Edit) Report

    I agree that bullying is a huge issue in our schools. I recently wrote a book titled Strike One! that is geared toward the tween age group, and addresses bullying through 3 main characters: the bullier, the kid who is the target of the bullying, and the friend who watches it all happen but does not quite know how to respond. It is a great tool to help kids understand they are not alone, and to start the dialogue with parents and teachers. Can also be purchased on Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com.

    Reply

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