Expert Advice

What to say to your child if you suspect they might be bullying others

Help your child understand what bullying behaviour is.
Mother talking to concerned daughter shutterstock

Bullying in any shape or form is unacceptable and if your child is being picked on, it’s important to take immediate steps to put an end to it.

It’s even more crucial to act quickly if you suspect your child is the one bullying others.

Sometimes they may not think what they’re doing is bullying – they might see it as just teasing. They might even justify their actions by saying the other kid is “asking for it”. But they need to understand that they’re inflicting hurt.

In other cases, a child may know full well that they’re making life a misery for someone else. They have to be made to realise this is wrong and has to stop.

Signs your child could be bullying others include:

  • Getting into trouble for fighting other kids at school

  • Being defiant or confrontational

  • Using negative terms like “stupid” to describe other children and saying they deserve bad things to happen to them

  • Being easily frustrated when things don’t work out

  • Exhibiting dominant and aggressive behaviour, as well as a lack of empathy

  • Hanging out with other kids who display bullying behaviour.

Children who bully others do it for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Using it as a way of expressing anger or frustration over things that are going on in their lives

  • Having low self-esteem and wanting to feel stronger and more important

  • Wanting to impress their peers and being pressured by their friends into bullying others

  • Not getting enough attention or supervision at home

  • Having a parent or sibling who is a bully and seeing that behaviour as acceptable

  • Needing to feel that they have control over something

  • Being a victim of bullying themselves and wanting to hit out at somebody weaker in response.

If a complaint is made about your child’s behaviour or you suspect they are bullying, deal with it straight away by:

  • Making it clear that bullying won’t be tolerated. If it doesn’t, follow up with suitable discipline such as removing privileges

  • Listen to what others, such as their teachers, have to say about their behaviour, then ask for their side of the story. Try to work out why they are doing this. Try to get them to talk about what’s going on in their head

  • If they are targeting another child because they are different in some way, hammer home the point that it’s not acceptable to pick on someone because of their looks, size, ethnicity, behaviour or abilities. Reinforce this message frequently

  • Explain that they have hurt someone else and ask them to think about how they would feel if it was happening to them

  • Set a good example at home. Don’t gossip or belittle others in front of your kids. Show you can deal with frustrations without turning your anger on others

  • Encourage your child to be compassionate towards others and praise them when they are

  • Talk to their teacher, dean or guidance counsellor to see if you can work together to sort things out

  • If necessary, think about getting professional help from a child behaviour expert or psychologist.

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