Monday, November 28, 2011

Winning Kids: When Your Child is the Bully

When Your Child is the Bully
~Barbara Greenberg PhD

We not only must teach our children to navigate their lives safely but also help them balance school, recreation, family, and friends.  Yet even with all the new electronic distractions, many parenting principles -- such as teaching your kids how to behave towards others -- not only have not changed, but actually transcend the newest gadgets or fads. If you find your child has a personality characteristic that needs tweaking then, yep, it is your responsibility to do so. 

Bullying is a particularly vexing characteristic to correct because we often don't see it -- or, we don't want to see it. No one wants to believe their own child can be mean.  It's almost easier to believe someone else is being mean to them. But no matter how painful, we need to acknowledge if our child's behavior is hurting others. Intervening early is easier for you both, and your child's behavior change will provide lifelong benefits. We all know that being socially appropriate opens up many doors.
Three lists to help your child leave bullying behind:

How to Determine if Your Child is a Bully
  1. A child who bullies at school may be a bully at home.  Is your child aggressive or belligerent towards you?
  2. Has your child stopped being invited out with friends? If being alone is new, you need to find the root cause. 
  3. Does your child consistently receive negative feedback from teachers, coaches or other parents?
  4. Are other parents uncomfortable around you? Parents will mirror their children. If they are avoiding you, their children are probably avoiding your child.
Reasons Your Child Might Bully 
  1. Are you a bully? They might be modeling your inappropriate behavior.
  2. Does your child read misread social cues and therefore behave incorrectly?
  3. Does your child lack empathy or dismiss the feelings of others?
  4. Does bullying camouflage or hide other feelings?
Steps to Help Your Child Stop Being a Bully
  1. Sensitive topics are best discussed without an audience. Be sure you and your child have enough alone time to calmly discuss and review next steps.
  2. Observe other children interacting with peers and family. Point out what behavior constitutes bullying. If your child is misreading these situations, gently but clearly explain the true dynamic. 
  3. Talk to your child about empathy. You may want to do some role-playing to see how it feels to be bullied. 
  4. Most importantly, catch your child "being good." When you see them making changes praise them. We all love praise and attention.
Finally, remember that your children of all ages are less likely to be bullies if they feel good about themselves and have good values. Good self-esteem is built in many ways. Some crucial ingredients are having them involved in activities that they feel good about and reminding them how important they are in your life and to others. Good values are often developed by family example, being a member of a team where kids benefit from working together in a cooperative manner, and getting involved in some charitable work. Your children need to know that it feels much better to be kind then to be a bully.

Dr. Barbara R. Greenberg is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of teens and their families. She was the program director of an adolescent inpatient unit at a private northeastern psychiatric hospital for 21 years before dedicating herself to private outpatient practice. She is a respected writer, speaker and consultant on teen issues. Her new book, Teenage as a Second Language, serves as a culmination of her years of research and direct work with hundreds of adolescents and she is proud to say, she really understands what they are saying!  For more information go to

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