When your child is the bully

Your child’s a bully… It’s heartbreaking and soul crushing, hurtful and damaging. It impacts everyone who is touched by it. It’s also something you never want to hear as a parent. 

There’s so much information out there about bullying, and the impact that bullying has on our children, but often we overlook the other side of the issue; where our children could be the bully. It’s a topic we hope we never have to tackle, but it can, and does, happen. 

We can be quick to hit the panic button when we hear the word ‘bullying’, so it’s important for us, and our children to understand just what that means.

What is bullying?

Bullying is repeated, ongoing and often systematic targeting of a person by another. There is usually a power differential involved. It can be physical, verbal or even psychological, and we’re seeing it occur at an all-encompassing rate, with the advent of social media and digital technology. It is not one-off incidents, or when mutual disagreements and name calling happens. We need to be clear on what bullying is, so our children can identify it- both within themselves and in others. 

Bullying can develop through group dynamics, peer pressure, self-esteem issues and even when a child is bullied themselves. Although we would think a child who is bullied would know not to bully others, sometimes it is their way of regaining a sense of control over their social settings. 

How do we know if we have a bully in our midst? 

If a child is bullying, you might hear them talking about other kids in an aggressive manner, or they may come home with random toys or money, or talk about buying food at the canteen, when you know you didn’t give them any money. Children may also mock others in conversation, struggle to understand others’ feelings or express their own, blame others for issues that arise, or talk of ‘getting even’.

The hardest part is that there may be no signs that we can see. Your child may be happy, going well at school, and not be bothered by anything or anyone. Instead it might be reports from teachers or those around your child who are noticing bullying behaviour. 
Mother talking with daughter

What can we do if we find out our child is bullying? 

Staying calm is the first (but very hard) step. While we might want to react harshly, or chastise our child for bullying behaviour, that’s not going to help.  We need to listen to what they have to say, and ensure we get both sides of the story. Acknowledging the role your child plays in the situation is a tough but important part. 
 
Working with the school, or facility where your child is attending, is important. Kids need to see there are consequences for their behaviour, and that it is consistent across settings. Many schools take a restorative justice approach; that is, trying to repair and rebuild relationships amongst those who are bullied and those who are bullying. It is about moving forward, while acknowledging the damage and hurt. 
 
One of the most important things we can do for our kids is be open and upfront about behavioural expectations, and how we treat others. The golden rule ‘treat others the same way you would like to be treated’ is paramount. Sometimes children may not realise the impact their behaviour has on others; they may be swayed by peer pressure, or they think they’re being ‘funny’. Research suggests that parent communication is one of the key factors in helping to prevent bullying.
 
We want our children to move forward from such behaviour, so it is vital to have them focused on what they can do next time, and to learn to solve problems in a positive manner. We also want them to see the benefits to being compassionate and empathetic toward others. Helping children to volunteer, or to be of service to others can help develop a deeper understanding of how our actions can impact others in a positive manner. 
 
As parents, it’s important for us to seek support in such instances. It can be tough dealing with the news that our child is bullying. There are some great resources available around bullying, with the Australian Institute of Family Studies providing a guide for parents to help their children stop bullying
 
And finally, remember that sometimes these things happen because of a number of factors all combining together. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent if you discover your child has been a bully. By staying connected in with your child’s environment, and encouraging open and empathic behaviour.
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