What if Your Child IS the Bully?

Reprinted with permission from PACER

The word “bullying” often conjures up an image of a schoolyard scene, with a big, intimidating student towering over a small, cowering child.

That’s just one face of bullying—and of children who bully. Another face of a bully might be…that of your child. Surprised? Many parents are. Often they have no idea that their child is harassing other children. Yet knowing the facts—and acting to change the situation—is vitally important in making the future safer for your child and all children. Here’s why. Children who bully suffer as much as those they target. They are significantly more likely than others to lead lives marked by school failure, depression, violence, crime, and other problems, according to experts. The message is clear: Bullying is too important to ignore. Could your child be bullying others? Would you know? Once you found out, would you know what to do? Here is some information that can help.

What is bullying? Bullying is different from the routine conflicts of childhood. It is intentional behavior that is meant to hurt and dominate another person. Characterized by an imbalance of power between the child who bullies and the target, bullying can be physical, verbal, emotional (social), or sexual. It includes harassment via e-mail and instant messaging.

Who does it? Children who bully come in a variety of packages—the waif-like second grader, the big sixth-grade boy, the child with a disability, the popular girl, the loner. They can come from any background, race, income level, family situation, gender, or religion. Research has shown that despite their differences children who bully typically have one or more of the following traits.

They may…

be quick to blame others and unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions • lack empathy, compassion, and understanding for others’ feelings

be bullied themselves

have immature social and interpersonal skills

want to be in control

be frustrated and anxious

come from families where parents or siblings bully

find themselves trying to fit in with a peer group that encourages bullying

have parents who are unable to set limits, are inconsistent with discipline, do not provide supervision, or do not take an interest in their child’s life.

If you see these traits in your child or hear from others that your child is bullying, you may want to look into the issue. If your child is bullying, take heart. There’s a lot you can do to help correct the problem. Remember, bullying is a learned behavior—and it can be “unlearned.” By talking with your child and seeking help, you can teach your child more appropriate ways of handling feelings, peer pressure, and conflicts. Here are some ideas.

Help your child to stop bullying

Talk with your child. Find out why he or she is bullying others. You might explore how your child is feeling about himself or herself, ask if he or she is being bullied by someone else, and invite discussion about bullying. Find out if your child’s friends are also bullying. Ask how you can help.

Confirm that your child’s behavior is bullying and not the result of a disability. Sometimes, children with disabilities bully other children. Other times, children with certain behavioral disorders or limited social skills may act in ways that are mistaken for bullying. Whether the behavior is intentional bullying or is due to a disability, it still needs to be addressed. If your child with a disability is bullying, you may want to include bullying prevention goals in his or her Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Teach empathy, respect, and compassion. Children who bully often lack awareness of how others feel. Try to understand your child’s feelings, and help your child appreciate how others feel when they are bullied. Let your child know that everyone has feelings and that feelings matter.

Make your expectations clear. Let your child know that bullying is not okay under any circumstances and that you will not tolerate it. Take immediate action if you learn that he or she is involved in a bullying incident.

Provide clear, consistent consequences for bullying. Be specific about what will happen if the bullying continues. Try to find meaningful consequences, such as loss of privileges or a face-to-face meeting with the child being bullied.

Teach by example. Model nonviolent behavior and encourage cooperative, noncompetitive play. Help your child learn different ways to resolve conflict and deal with feelings such as anger, insecurity, or frustration. Teach and reward appropriate behavior.

Role play. Help your child practice different ways of handling situations. You can take turns playing the part of the child who does the bullying and the one who is bullied. Doing so will help your child understand what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes.

Provide positive feedback. When your child handles conflict well, shows compassion for others, or finds a positive way to deal with feelings, provide praise and recognition. Positive reinforcement goes a long way toward improving behavior. It is more effective than punishment.

Be realistic. It takes time to change behavior. Be patient as your child learns new ways of handling feelings and conflict. Keep your love and support visible.

Seek help. Your child’s doctor, teacher, school principal, school social worker, or a psychologist can help you and your child learn how to understand and deal with bullying behavior. Ask if your school offers a bullying prevention program.

Bullying hurts everyone. Parents can play a significant role in stopping the behavior, and the rewards will be immeasurable for all.

This resource was created by PACER Center’s Bullying Prevention Project, an effort that unites, engages, and educates communities nationwide to prevent bullying through creative, relevant, and interactive resources. Find more resources at www.pacer.org/publications/bullying.asp

Common Views and Myths about Bullying

Reprinted with permission from PACER

In spite of the significant impact that bullying can have on a target, our society often views it as acceptable behavior. There are many misconceptions that characterize bullying, all of which can lead to minimizing the behavior. Here are a few of these common misconceptions, followed by the facts.

“Bullying is a natural part of childhood.”

Fact: There is nothing natural about being bullied. Bullying is often considered a normal part of childhood because it is such a common experience. Physical or emotional aggression toward others should not be tolerated as a normal part of childhood.

“Words will never hurt you.”

Fact: Even though words don’t leave bruises or broken bones, studies have shown they may leave deep emotional scars that can have lifelong implications. Children learn at a very early age that words can hurt other children.

“Some people deserve to be bullied.”

Fact: No child’s behavior justifies being hurt or harmed in any manner. All children deserve to be treated with respect and consideration.

“Bullying will make kids tougher.”

Fact: Bullying does not make someone tougher. Research has shown it often has the opposite effect and lowers a child’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Bullying often creates fear and increases anxiety for a child.

“Telling a teacher about bullying is tattling.”

Fact: Children need to know the difference between tattling and telling. Tattling is done to get someone in trouble, telling is done to protect someone. The secrecy of bullying only serves to protect the bully and perpetuate the behavior.

“It’s only teasing.”

Fact: Most children are occasionally teased. When teasing does not hurt a child, it isn’t considered bullying. Teasing becomes bullying when a child does not understand that he or she is being teased and the intent of the action is to hurt or harm.

“Boys will be boys.”

Fact: The implication here is that bullying is acceptable, and that it is normal for boys to be physically or verbally aggressive. However, research indicates aggression is a learned behavior, not a natural response.

“Girls don’t bully.”

Fact: Research shows that girls can and do bully. While they do not physically bully targets as often as boys, they will often use verbal and emotional bullying. Bullying for girls escalates during the middle school years.

“Children and youth who are bullied will almost always tell an adult.”

Fact: Adults are often unaware of bullying, in part because many children and youth don’t report it. Most studies find that only 25 to 50 percent of bullied children talk to an adult about the situation. Boys and older children are less likely than girls and younger children to tell adults about bullying. Children may be reluctant to report bullying because they fear retaliation by the children doing the bullying. They also may fear that adults won’t take their concerns seriously or will deal inappropriately with the situation.

“Bullying is easy to recognize.”

Fact: Physical bullying, such as hitting, kicking, and fighting, is easy to recognize since this type of behavior is overt. It is the covert bullying— such as shunning, alienating, and leaving children out on purpose—that is much harder to detect.

“Ignoring bullying will make it go away.”

Fact: This solution sounds easy, but ignoring the problem will not make bullying go away. In fact, it often makes the situation worse, because it sends a message that the target is unable to do anything about the behavior and gives the person bullying emotional satisfaction.

“Children and youth who bully are mostly loners with few social skills.”

Fact: Children who bully usually do not lack friends. In fact, some research finds that these children have larger friendship networks than other children. Importantly, they usually have at least a small group of friends who support and encourage their bullying behavior. Children who bully also generally have more leadership skills than targets of bullying or children not involved in bullying.

“Bullied kids need to learn how to deal with bullying on their own.”

Fact: Some children have the confidence and skills to stop bullying when it happens, but many do not. Moreover, children shouldn’t be expected to deal with bullying on their own. Bullying is a form of victimization and peer abuse. Just as society does not expect victims of other types of abuse (e.g., child maltreatment or domestic abuse) to “deal with the situation on their own,” we should not expect this from targets of bullying. Adults have critical roles to play in helping to stop bullying, as do other children who witness or observe bullying.

“Most children and youth who observe bullying don’t want to get involved.”

Fact: The good news is that most children and youth think that bullying is “not cool” and feel that they should do something if they see it happen. In a recent study of tweens (children ages 9 to 12), 56 percent said that they usually either say or do something to try to stop bullying or tell someone who can help (Brown, Birch, & Kancherla, 2005). These children and youth play a critical role in helping to stop bullying.

This resource was created by PACER Center’s Bullying Prevention Project, an effort that unites, engages, and educates communities nationwide to prevent bullying through creative, relevant, and interactive resources. Find more resources at www.pacer.org/publications/bullying.asp