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Is Your Kid a Bully? What Happens Next?

Interview with Jayne Bellando, PhD, child psychologist, Arkansas Children’s & UAMS

No one wants to believe that their child can be a bully, but sometimes parents suspect that there may be a problem.

Parents and educators can work together to stop bullying.

We asked Jayne Bellando, PhD, a child psychologist with Arkansas Children’s and UAMS, how families can detect and appropriately address bullying with their children.

What are some factors that might make a child bully/tease or hurt other children?
First, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Is the child being bullied/have they been bullied previously?

  2. Do they feel powerless and this is a way to feel back in control?

  3. Do they have trouble empathizing with others?

  4. Do they have trouble with impulsive control or anger issues?

  5. Do they see bullying behavior from others in their environment/TV?

If you suspect or get notified that your child is being a bully, what should you do?
Don’t make excuses, listen to what others are saying about your child.  No one wants to think that their child is doing things that would put others in harm.  However, making excuses gives a very dangerous message to your child- that they can do whatever they want without consequences.

Get more information! Talk to your child to get their view of the situation. Talk to teachers, other adults.  It is also good to talk to the parents of the child who may be accusing your child of bullying. 

This can be hard to listen to, but if you can do it with an information-gathering mindset, you will have more real insight to weigh as you think about the situation.
 

What should you do if you think your child has been wrongfully accused?
Be a good role model and deal with the problem in a way that fosters communication and good problem-solving.  Educating others and finding ways to reach “common ground” can be important.
 

If you have evidence that your child has been bullying, what should be your next steps?
There are a few important things:

1.  Become more “hands on” with your child.  Talk with them. Listen to them. Be more involved in their communication (e.g. social media, texts).
 

2.  Learn more about your child’s friends and their social life.  Have they friended children/teens who are a bad influence on them? Talk with your child, set limits and find ways to get your child out of those potentially dangerous relationships.
 

3.  Work with the school to find ways to help monitor your child’s behavior. Reward more appropriate interactions and let your child know that adults care and are watching.
 

4.  Teach positive interactions. Teach compassion, like putting themselves in other’s shoes.
 

5.  Take a good look at your family and people in your life to see if your child is learning some of this from their environment.  If so, then make decisions about how to turn this around to show your child a better way to interact.
 

6.  Set rules and clear expectations for your child about how your family treats others and what is unacceptable. 

 

What can parents do if their child continues to bully or act out?
If you feel that your child is not responding to these attempts, consider seeking professional counseling.  Research shows that children who are bullies and consistently breaking rules, showing little remorse have a higher chance of being involved in criminal convictions as they mature. 

Where can parents find more info on this topic?
There’s lots of excellent information out there. These are a few resources we suggest to parents in our clinical practice:

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