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What Do I Do If My Kid is a Bully?

Dealing with bullying is never fun.  While most parents fear that their kid will be the victim of bullying, some find out that their child’s negative behavior has found them labeled as the school “bully”.  If you get this news, as a parent, you may find yourself feeling embarrassed, angry, or even guilty.  Most parents feel dumbfounded, asking “Why is my child acting this way?  What can I do to stop it?”.  I’m going to do my best to answer these questions and most of all, help your kid grow in the process.

While curing your child from their bully-like behavior may seem difficult, the good news is that they are behaving that way for one of three reasons, or perhaps a combination of the three reasons listed below.

1. They are trying to be funny

Some kids struggle to develop an appropriate sense of humor.  In observing comedy, they realize that all humor is based on insults.  Someone is always the butt of the joke.  If a child wants to make others laugh and/or gain popularity, they often turn to humor in order to accomplish this goal.  If the child is not mature, they will often offend other and get into trouble in the process.

The solution is rather simple.  Teach your child the difference between appropriate joking and rude humor.  Practice making jokes about each other and stop the game when something crosses the line.  In doing so, they will develop an understand of how humor works and what they should (and should not) say to others.

2. They are hurting inside

It’s true that 90% of those that bully others feel like victims inside.  As the age old phrase says, “Hurting people, hurt people”.  It’s important to address this right away.  While humor may offend others, victimization is toxic.  Victims are those that try to hurt themselves or hurt others.  These feelings must be taken seriously and dealt with swiftly yet carefully.

The solution here is to address the hurt and begin to heal the wound, while choosing to forgive.  Notice I said forgive, not forget.  Forgiveness is like leaving a heavy backpack behind that you are sick of lugging around.  We all have baggage and burdens that wear on us.  Assist your child in identifying the hurt, acknowledging the pain, and choosing to emotionally leave it and move on.  Understand that your child may need professional help, such as a counselor or therapist, to help them walk through this process.

3. They are trying to control someone else

If you find your child trying to dominate and have power over others, chances are it’s because they feel little power or control in some area of their life.  Many people (adults included) will sabotage, just in order to have control of something, even something most would deem insignificant.  The person often loses sight of what it costs them, for what they gain – power and control.  If you have a child that dominates others frequently, they will likely make enemies and come to be known as a jerk.

The solution here is to teach them not to get upset when someone tries to dominate them.  I do this through a simple role-playing game.  You may think that this game is only good for helping victims, but what it’s really teaching is how to be emotionally resilient and respond to enemies by treating them like a friend.  If your child can manage their emotions when they feel out of control, they will have a much easier time handling relational challenges.

Concluding Advice

Remember that it could be a single thing above or a combination of two or three.  Ask clear questions to understand which behaviors your child is struggling with.  Please note that in trying to help your child change their behavior, they are likely to become defensive.  They may feel that their current behavior is working for them and their situation. You may need to convince them otherwise before they become willing to change.

You can help your child logically think through the negative consequences of their behavior by asking simple questions like, “When you call them that name, will they want to be your friend or your enemy?  Will that make them want to like you or hate you?  Will that make someone want to respect you or disrespect you?  Is that what you want?”

While it is possible to help your child work through this on your own, they may have deep-rooted irrational thoughts that are leading them down a path of destruction.  In this case, there are times that you may need a professional to help them correct their irrational thinking.  For further help and instruction, you may find my parent training seminar and my coaching and intervention services beneficial.  Your child would also likely see progress through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy.