While one of a parent’s biggest concerns for their school-aged child is their being bullied by other children, very few actually worry whether or not their child may actually be The Bully. “Seriously? My child would never do anything like that,” clueless parents say to themselves. But, what if you discovered your daughter is the quintessential “Mean Girl,” or your son has been making fun of the kid with learning disabilities?
Children turn into bullies due to a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they have been emotionally or physically abused at home by an older sibling or parent, or bullied at school through aggression and intimidation. To regain a sense of security the child starts bullying others to feel more in control.
However, that is not the biggest reason children become bullies. Often, it’s about power and popularity. In school, there is a hierarchy and in order to rise to the top bullies try to achieve prominent social status through dominance. They feel the only way to accomplish this is by putting others down verbally or physically.
The development of a bully can also be the result of an undiagnosed learning or mental disorder. If so, a child’s social development and problem-solving skills can be inhibited and/or exacerbated.
Since most schools have cracked down on physical aggression by enforcing zero tolerance policies, bullies are finding other subtle ways to intimidate their victims. Some examples are: spreading rumors about a child’s sexuality, making fun of the victim or a family member, or excluding them from social activities. In today’s world, the most common and effective means of bullying is through social media, which can feel like the kiss of the death for the targeted individual.
Signs Your Child is a Bully
StopBullying.gov says there are many warning signs that a child may be bullying others. Some are:
- Getting into physical or verbal fights
- Having friends who bully others
- Are increasingly aggressive
- Getting sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently
- Having unexplained extra money or new belongings
- Blaming others for their problems
- Not accepting responsibility for their actions
- Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity
Pay attention to how your child treats other kids and adults. Notice what type of friends they hang out with. Monitor their cyber and phone communications, and keep an eye on Facebook activity, as well as other popular websites.
What if one day you get a call from the school telling you that your child has been bullying other kids? First, stay calm and listen to what the school administrator or teacher has to say without getting defensive. Then, start working with everyone involved to find a resolution.
If you think (hope) your child will eventually grow out of this type of behavior, think again. These negative tendencies often stay with the child into adulthood because they have not learned acceptable social skills. It’s important to nip this type of negative behavior in the bud, so consult with a qualified mental health professional who will work with your child and teach them strategies that will last a happy lifetime.
Even children who are not doing the bullying or being bullied are still impacted. It’s very easy for a child on the outside to get sucked into the drama and become a part of the problem. Here are some ways to prevent that from happening:
- Teach your child not to be a bystander. Studies have proven time and again that if someone intervenes by speaking up or going to an adult, the bullying often stops immediately.
- Use teachable moments when watching TV or a movie about bullying incidents to demonstrate what is and isn’t acceptable.
- Establish a culture of accountability within the family unit by giving consequences for negative behavior towards someone else. Examples are siblings picking on one another, or catching your child gossiping and saying mean things about another child.
- Ask the school to implement a bullying prevention program if one is not already in place.
Most importantly, create a warm home environment that embraces tolerance and celebrates everyone’s differences.