My Child Is A Bully

Dear Mr. Dad: The assistant principal at my daughter’s school called me in for a meeting today and told me that my 12-year-old is bullying several children in the school. I am in shock. This isn’t behavior I’ve ever seen in my child and I’m frankly having a hard time believing it. What should I do?

 

As tempting as it may be to dismiss this as some sort of mistake or overreaction on the part of the school principal, you need to take these complaints seriously. Bullying is rarely reported until a situation has become upsetting enough for others to feel threatened, frightened, or to even have to stay away from school on account of a bully’s behavior.

Start by establishing a cooperative rapport with the school. Let the administration know that you are willing to work with them to find a solution and to identify the areas of conflict that are leading to your daughter’s unacceptable behavior. Try to learn as many specifics as you can about the bullying incidents. Most schools keep (or should keep) written records of complaints they receive, which will help you to be focused and specific when you speak with your child. It will also be helpful in the event that she is being unjustly accused. Ask for advice about how to introduce the subject with your child, and let the school know you expect to be notified immediately of future complaints.

Next, set up a time to speak with your daughter. Make sure you’re feeling calm and that you’ve got plenty of time to talk. Children accused of bullying often feel insecure or threatened themselves, and their behavior can be an attempt to increase their own sense of power and control over their own lives. So approaching your daughter in an accusatory, angry, or disappointed manner will only make her feel worse about herself.

Chances are she’ll claim that she either didn’t know she was causing other children distress or that she was simply retaliating for them bullying her. If she denies the reports, investigate as thoroughly as you can—she may be right. The following questions about her school day, friends, and activities may help:

1)    Who are your friends? Why do you like them?

2)    Have you recently made new friends and dropped old friends?

3)    What do you do at recess? Who do you play with?

4)    What games do you play? Who decides who can join in?

5)    Who do you sit with at lunch?

6)    Are you afraid of anyone at school?

7)    Are you upset about anything going on at home? (such as divorce, bereavement, relocation)

8)    Do you feel that you are bullied?

 In many cases, though, kids who bully don’t interpreting their actions the same way other do. It’s important to let her know that her actions are hurtful and unacceptable, not funny or harmless. Explain that bullying makes others feel bad and might even make them want to stay away from school. If the bullying involves physical abuse such as kicking, pinching, punching, or shoving, ask your daughter how she would feel subjected to the same treatment. Ask her to put herself in the place of the children she targets and to describe how she would feel.

Children tend to bully those they see as easy or vulnerable targets, usually because they are in some way different from their peers. Kids who are overweight, wear glasses, hearing aids or braces, belong to a different race or culture, have a physical or learning disability, or live in a less (or more) affluent part of town, can become the target of a bully’s taunting and teasing. Sometimes the bully is jealous of someone’s talent, ability, appearance, or even wardrobe. Talk to your daughter about how she feels about differences and about the respect that all people are due, regardless of their differences.

Finally, think about the example you’re setting. If you have taught her to be assertive—a valuable trait—she may be taking that a step further and being aggressive instead without realizing the difference. If your own style is confrontational, your child may be mirroring the conflict resolution tactics she sees at home, which won’t necessarily serve her well elsewhere. Most children are basically good and decent, and truly regret causing harm to anyone else. By teaching them a more conciliatory style of relating to others, they will be empathetic to the distress their actions may cause.

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