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What Do You Do When Your Kid is the Bully?

Friday, October 26, 2018 7:04 AM

As parents, we want the best for our children and hope that they will thrive in school and their social life. It can be rather upsetting to find out that your child has gotten in trouble and is labeled as a bully. It’s important to deal with this right away to prevent more aggressive behavior. Rafael Rivera, LCSW, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at NorthShore, recommends what to do when you first learn of your child’s behaviors:


Understand why.

Kids can act up and act out for many reasons. Sometimes when children see someone or something different from their own experiences, they may be unaware that it is not acceptable to make fun or ridicule. Bullying behavior can be the result of the child not having the empathy skills to connect in a positive way. Children who bully may feel insecure, and picking on someone who appears to be weaker – whether physically or emotionally – may give them a sense of importance and control. In some cases, an ongoing pattern of bullying is a sign that the child is finding it difficult to process and properly express his or her emotions. When kids get angry, upset or frustrated and do not know how to channel it, other children can be the unloading point.

Change the behavior.

When you learn of your child’s actions, it is important to let him or her know immediately that bullying is unacceptable and that this behavior has consequences. The consequences aren’t just at home, but also at school and within the community. Set clear rules and repercussions about bullying, and stick to whatever the established repercussions are. For example; if you catch your child cyberbullying, then you may want to consider restricting his or her internet privileges for a period of time.

Be patient.

Behavior doesn’t change overnight – it takes time and work. There are steps you can take to improve their behavior. When you observe your child interacting with another child in a positive way, make sure to praise and acknowledge that interaction. This will help encourage and reinforce good behavior – positive reinforcement can have a powerful effect on children. Children mimic behaviors they see from family members, so be sure to create a positive environment at home. What was once considered a harmless joke between family members may no longer be favorable – try to find other ways to show affection. Also, if you see your child getting upset and unable to properly resolve their frustration, be patient and continue to work together to create a solution.

If you are struggling with how to further resolve bullying behaviors, talk to your child’s primary care physician or contact the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.