What to do when your kid is the bully

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
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It's not easy to watch a child cry over something said or done to him at school. It's not any easier knowing your child has intentionally hurt another child. How does a child become a bully? And what can parents do about it?

"The playground is the key spot where bullying is going to happen," says Julia Unnerstall, a guidance counselor at Alma Schrader Elementary School. "I think parents often feel embarrassed and almost like they have a lack of power, because this is happening at school and they're not at school. They're not able to see and observe it."

There are many reasons a child becomes a bully, says Unnerstall.

"A lot of times a child who bullies has been bullied," she says. "Or, the child may not feel very positive about himself. Instead of seeking positive attention he seeks any attention, even if it's negative." Children who feel ostracized may lash out because of it, she adds.

Bullying is generally a learned behavior that starts at home, school or in the child's peer group, says Shannon Anderson, licensed professional counselor and clinical director at Tender Hearts Child Therapy Center.

"At home, a lack of consistent consequences for negative behaviors can cause an increase in bullying behavior," he says. "Also, parents who use physical punishment or who make negative remarks to their children as a form of discipline will often cause them to develop poor self-esteem, another contributing factor in bullying behavior."

Sometimes, bullying results from pressure or encouragement from peers.

"Environments where negative feedback or attention is the norm tend to encourage bullying behaviors," says Anderson.

Teacher-parent camaraderie and communication are important for identifying bully behavior, says Unnerstall. Teachers will likely contact the parent about any red flags, comments or unusual behavior they see at school.

"Parents should watch for signs such as their child always wanting to be in control or in charge of peer situations, lacks empathy or compassion for others, has frequent anger problems and peer conflicts, and a higher than average incidence of behavioral problems at home and school," says Anderson.

Unnerstall encourages parents to key into what's going on in that child's life and talk about any changes in behavior.

"Kids aren't always able to verbalize why they're acting a certain way," says Unnerstall. Pinpoint behaviors and talk to your child about how he can turn that behavior into something more positive, and role play to figure out appropriate ways to act.

"Let them know that you are aware of the behavior and that you will not allow the behavior to continue without serious consequences," says Anderson.

Remember to avoid using physical punishment at home. Instead of spanking, try timeouts or removing privileges, Anderson suggests.

"Sometimes bullies are simply acting out what they see mom or dad do: use physical aggression to resolve conflicts they are faced with," he says. "Parents should always model positive emotional control and effective, healthy ways of dealing with stress or conflict."

If the bullying remains a problem, it might be time to see a professional counselor.

"Children who are bullied or who do the bullying often develop more severe emotional problems as time goes on and the behaviors are not stopped," says Anderson.

More signs to watch

1. Child enjoys controlling others and feeling more powerful than they are

2. Poor loser

3. Unable to see things from another person's perspective

4. Blames others for problems

5. Good at hiding negative behavior so adults won't notice it

6. Enjoys conflict

7. Little remorse for negative behaviors

8. Tests authority by pushing the limits

9. Mainly concerned with his own well-being

10. Lacks social skills

11. Easily frustrated

12. Positive view of violence

13. Vandalizes property

14. Arrogant

15. Manipulative

16. Disregards school and class rules

Source: www.parentfurther.com, from "The Right to Be Safe: Putting an End to Bullying Behavior" by Cricket Meehan

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