What to Do When Your Child Is a Bully

While parents everywhere may worry about their child being victimized by bullying or teasing, others must deal with the children doing the bullying. When they find out their child has been involved in aggressive behavior with peers, many parents deny it and deal with it in unhelpful ways. We've got the expert advice from psychologist Dr. Joel Haber to help you deal with a child who has suddenly shown bullying behaviors.

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By Keren Perles

It’s one of those phone calls no parent wants to receive—the child you raised to know right from wrong is suddenly targeting classmates with hostile behavior. What can you do to replace your kid’s aggressive tendencies with gentle friendliness? Here are some tips from Dr. Joel Haber, a clinical psychologist and anti-bullying expert.

Don’t Deny It

“Accept the possibility that your child has been exhibiting bullying behavior,” Dr. Haber says. “Do not minimize the issue.” You might not accept it if you think of bullying as only physical abuse. It has more subtle forms, such as exclusion from activities or social circles, which is at the heart of what kids want most: social connection.

Don’t Overreact

Parents may start yelling at their child when they find out about his behavior. That’s not the best way to handle it—your aggressiveness will only reinforce his. Instead, give yourself time to relax, and have a calm, non-accusatory chat. Start with, “Let’s talk about being a good friend,” or, “How are you getting along with your classmates?”

Make Your Child Accountable

Tell your child that even if the other child “started it,” he needs to be accountable and control his own behavior. “Kids won’t really own the situation unless they see that they played a role in it themselves,” Dr. Haber says. “If they think that they don’t have a role in it, they won’t take responsibility for their own actions.”

Teach Empathy

Show empathy to your child—let him know that you understand why he might have acted how he did. Then encourage him to show empathy as well. Ask him to consider the other child’s point of view. For example, ask, “When you did that to your friend, how do you think he felt? How would you feel if someone did that to you?”

Watch Your Own Behavior

Could you be modeling hostility without being aware of it? Gossiping, verbal aggressiveness, and social exclusion of others are all common among adults. “Kids watch what we do more than they listen to what we say,” says Dr. Haber. It’s important to identify the source of your child’s behavior, especially if the problem has been going on for a period of time.

Minimize Bad Influences

Aggressive behavior stems from exposure to many sources, not just people your child knows personally. Today’s kids have access to social networks and online video games, which allow strangers to shoot off insults from miles away with no consequences. Keep up with your child’s tech habits and try out the parental controls on his Facebook account or Playstation Network.

Get a Mentor

Find someone from the school, sports team, camp, etc., who can be a mentor when you’re not there. This person, such as an older sibling, a more socially aware friend, or a coach, can intervene when your kid's behavior is crossing the line. The mentor should also offer positive reinforcement when he sees your child showing empathy toward others.

Consider Counseling

As a last resort, or if your child doesn’t understand that his behavior upsets others, you may want to consider counseling. Kids with special needs or lower levels of social skills may bully others without meaning to, and counseling can help them to learn alternative ways of getting attention.

As painful as bullying is to receive for the victim, it’s also harmful to the long-term development of the offender. News that your child has shown bullying behaviors should not be taken lightly—for his sake and the sake of others.

Education.com has bullying covered from every angle. Go to our bullying page by clicking here.

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