By: Rebecca Michelsen, M.Ed., MCHES, Penfield Children’s Center

No parents ever want to get the call from school informing them that their child has been part of a bullying incident. Worse yet, finding out that your child is doing the bullying, can be even more difficult to digest.

As a parent, we may instantly think “No way, not my child – there must be some mistake.” Sometimes we may think that there is no problem or that it is just a little teasing, but let’s take a moment to define what bullying behavior really is.

According to the Pacer Center, it is bullying if:

  • One person is hurting or harming another with words or behaviors
  • It is being done on purpose and it happens more than once
  • The person being hurt has a hard time making it stop
  • The kids who are doing it have more “power” (older, bigger or stronger, more popular, or there is a group of kids who “gang up” on someone)

When someone tries, either emotionally or physically, to make you feel bad about yourself, it is considered bullying.

In addition, it is also important to pay attention to the language we use when referring to bullying. We need to remember that bullying is a behavior that is often learned and can be changed.  So it is important to remember to say things like “child who bullies” or “a child with bullying behavior,” because it recognizes that they are first a child and second that they are using a specific behavior.  By recognizing that they are a child first allows her a better opportunity to change her behavior than just being labeled as “the bully.”

Now that we know what bullying behavior is, let’s talk about some ways that we can address our child’s bullying behaviors.

Signs your child may be using bullying behavior

Oftentimes when we think of a person who bullies, we think of the big kid in class who might get mad a lot or seems to get into a lot of trouble. But that is not always the case; children who bully can come in any shape or size and from any background.  According to the Pacer Center, there are some common traits that children who bully typically have. Some of these traits include:

  • Quick to blame others and unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions
  • Lack of empathy, compassion, and understanding for others’ feelings
  • Might have been bullied themselves
  • Want or need to be in control
  • Frustrated, anxious, or depressed
  • Try to fit in with a peer group that encourages bullying

Help your child to stop bullying

  1. Talk with your child. First talk to your child about the incident and get her side of the story. If your child tries to push the blame onto others, remind her that you aren’t interested in hearing about the other children’s role in the bullying, just her role.

Children do not always realize that their behavior is considered bullying and they may see it as “just having fun.” Help them to understand what bullying truly is and the impact it has on another child. Emphasize that bullying behavior is not appropriate.

  1. Determine the reasons for the behavior. Have an open, non-judgmental discussion with your child to try to help you figure out why she may be acting this way. Things you may want to ask your child are: how she is feeling, if she is being bullied by someone else, or if friends who use bullying behaviors are pressuring her to bully too.

Make sure that your child’s behavior is not the result of a disability. Some children with disabilities may act in ways that are mistaken as bullying. No matter if the behavior is intentional or due to a disability, it still needs to be addressed.  If your child with a disability is using bullying behavior, you may want to include bullying prevention goals in her Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

  1. Teach empathy, respect and compassion. Once you get your child’s side of the story, help her understand how she might feel if someone did the same thing to her. Help your child remember that everyone has feelings and that feelings matter.
  1. Make your expectations clear and provide consistent consequences for bullying behavior. Let your child know that using bullying behavior is not okay and that you will not tolerate it. Let her know that there will be consequences for her behavior if it continues.  Make sure to be specific about what will happen if she continues to use bullying behaviors and make sure that the consequences fit the situation.
  1. Develop an action plan. Behavior can be changed, but it will take time and work. Think through your action plan and consider options that work for you, your child and your situation. Also, think about who needs to be involved, such as your child’s school, your child’s doctor, coaches or mental health professionals, just to name a few.
  1. Be a role model. Bullying behavior is a learned behavior. As parents, we need to remember to model appropriate behavior for our children, especially when it comes to resolving conflict and dealing with our feelings such as anger, insecurity or frustration.

It may also be a good time for us to re-examine some of our own behaviors that could be considered bullying behaviors, such as spreading gossip and rumors or being curt with sales people or wait staff.  It is important to remember that our children pay more attention to our actions than what we tell them to do.

Remember, we need to take all incidents of bullying seriously, no matter how minor we think they are.  However, there are things that you can do to help your child change her bullying behaviors and redirect her behavior in a more positive way.

What are some ways that you have been able to teach your child about empathy, respect and compassion?



Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center – “What if Your Child IS the One Showing Bullying Behavior?”

PBS Parents – “What to Do When Your Child Is a Bully”

STOMP Out Bullying – “What to Do If Your Child Is a Bully”

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