What do I do if I find out if my child is a bully? Here's what the experts say 1 week ago

What do I do if I find out if my child is a bully? Here's what the experts say

It's every parents worst nightmare.

Our hearts would break in two if we learned that our child was the target of a bully at school, but it would likely smash into smithereens to find out that our child was the one doing to bullying.

Nothing in this world is black and white. There's always a reason for every action, and while you may be furious to know that another child has come to emotional or physical harm because of your child, there is better ways to handle the situation that will lead to a more positive and long-lasting outcome.

Experts at the Child Mind Institute (CMI) say it's absolutely crucial to remember kids don’t bully because they are 'bad kids' and it's not a reflection of who they are as a person.

This, in itself, is a relief and something that should be your mantra during the conversation with your child.

"They’re still figuring things out. They can be nice kids who have made some mistakes. There are many reasons why an otherwise well-behaved child might be unkind to other kids," says Jamie Howard, PhD, director of the Stress and Resilience Program at CMI.

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Speaking of reasons, they can include that your child may want to fit in with a group of friends who are picking on one classmate or they are being bullied themselves, whether at home or at school, and are trying to take back some sense of power by lashing out.


Do they perhaps they have an assertive nature and are more impulsive than other kids their age, or they maybe a tendency to perceive other kids as hostile, even when they're not? These could also be the root causes.

Reasons can also include failed attempts of looking for attention that has resulted in this more extreme, aggressive approach to get it, or they do not understand the severity of their behaviour and how it is making their victim feel.

The experts at CMI recommend a number of ways you can deal with the behaviour and hopefully put an end to it.


Communication is among one of the most important tools you, as a parent have and should be the first port of call when you find out that your child has been bullying.

Be direct about the issue, but also make it clear that you are open to hearing your child’s side of the story.

Instead of launching in to 'How could you?' perhaps mention that you are worried and ask 'Could you please tell me what happened?'

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Ultimately, you want to get to the root of the issue, so asking questions is key and listening without judgement or anger is important.

However, if a child is unable to articulate themselves, perhaps if there are struggling with  anxiety, trauma, or another mental health issue, CMI suggest consulting a child psychologist or psychiatrist.


If you have gotten to the bottom of why your child has engaged in this behaviour, then looking at how you can help deal with social interactions that may be causing the emotions that have led to them to act out.

CMI suggest 'discuss scenarios that might prove difficult for them to handle, and guide them through appropriate responses.'

Changing language around what you want them to do can also prove rather helpful.

"Have lots of different solutions to various issues that are likely to come up, and give clear examples about how you expect your child to respond,” says Dr. Howard. "I would try to frame it as friendship behavior, rather than, ‘Don’t be a bully.’ Kids respond better to being told what to do than what not to do."


Encouraging your child to take the perspective of the person who is being bullied can be another helpful way to cope ahead. Ask your child: “Can you think of a time when you felt left out or sad because somebody wasn’t being nice to you? That feeling you had is the same feeling your classmate is having because you aren’t being nice to her.”

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Look inward

Kristin Carothers, PHD and clinical psychologist also suggests that parents 'think about how their behaviors might influence their kids' including they way they speak to their children and spouse.

"The way they handle anger—and to be realistic about whether or not this might be something that’s been modeled for the child."

If some form of bullying is taking place within the family home - yelling, name-calling, putdowns, hitting - it could be taken into school with the child.

If so, it is important to start creating and fostering a positive home environment, where members of the family treat one another with kindness and respect.



Punishments for bullying behaviour can be impactful in correcting it, but CMI stress that they should be 'meaningful and limited in scope.'

"If you remove a privilege for too long, it may actually lose validity," Dr. Carothers says. "The kid’s like, ‘OK, well, I can never get it back, so I’m just not going to try.’ You want to make it so that the time within which punishment happens and the amount of time for which it happens are really balanced to have the biggest effect."


Of course, one of the most important steps here is that the child apologises for their behaviour, in a way that feels right for them. Whether it is in-person, via letter or text, repairing the damage is important.

Apologies can be followed with a lovely gesture or activity, so get creative.