Is Your Kid a Bully?

Posted on 19 September 2007

How to put some gentle lamb into your lion.                                                                                  By Michele Santos                                                                           

No one wants to hear that their child is a bully. But if complaints are building up from children, teachers or other parents that your son or daughter is bullying other kids, it's a good idea to listen.

Children and teens who are bullies are more likely to become criminals than other children. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, boys who were identified as bullies in middle school were four times as likely as their non-bullying peers to have more than one criminal conviction by the time they're 24.

And it's not just a boy problem. Girls bully other girls, but in different ways. Although these methods may not be physical, emotionally they are just as damaging, experts say. Cyber-bullying—harassing and insulting someone through email, Web sites, text messages or instant messaging—frequently happens with girls as the bully and the bullied. (Boys can be cyber-bullied too.)

Studies show that bullies are more likely than other children or teens to get into fights, vandalize property, steal property, drink alcohol, smoke and carry a weapon.

"You need a relentless, consistent plan" to change your child's bullying ways, says Dr. Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and author who regularly appears as a parenting expert on "The Today Show." "You need to share your plan with the daycare workers, teachers and coaches who work with your child. You need to be relentless in order to turn this around. It is doable."

Once you acknowledge that your child is a bully, Borba says, "pat yourself on the back because you've admitted it. So many parents deny it, or see it as a leadership trait."

Then, you should:


  • Ask yourself why your son or daughter bullies others. Is he mimicking something he sees at home? Does she want attention, or need friends?
  • Take action immediately. "We think it's an overnight thing, but it is a buildup—like pollution," Borba says. "The world doesn't turn brown overnight."
  • Make it clear that you take bullying seriously and won't tolerate it.
  • Spend more time with your kid. Carefully supervise and monitor what they're doing. Find out how your child spends his or her free time. When are they threatening other children? Where are they doing it? And how?
  • Talk to your child's teacher, school counselor or principal. All of you must send clear messages to your child that the bullying must stop.
  • If you feel your child needs additional help, contact a counselor or mental health professional.
  • If your child is "cyber-bullying"—sending harassing or insulting e-mails, text messages or photos—consider taking away their camera phone and limiting their access to a computer.


Source: Materials from Dr. Michele Borba, author of "Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues That Teach Kids To Do The Right Thing"; "Stop Bullying Now!" a program from the Health Resources and Services Administration.


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