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Bullying: When Your Child is a Bully

What is bullying?

Children who bully act aggressively toward others. The aggressive acts can be physical, sexual, or verbal. They can also be done through social media or online (cyberbullying). Those targeted are called victims.

  • Physical bullies may hit, pinch, kick, shove, bite, or pull a victim’s hair.
  • Sexual bullies may make sexual comments or threaten unwanted sexual acts. Sexual bullying may also include unwanted touch, such as snapping a bra strap.
  • Verbal bullies may insult, start or spread rumors, tease, and make threats.
  • Cyberbullies use the Internet, social media, cell phones, or other devices to send or post text or pictures meant to hurt or embarrass another person. The text or pictures can reach hundreds of people.

How can adults tell the difference between horseplay and bullying? It helps to look at the actions from the victim's point of view. Does the victim consider the bullying to be fun? Or is the victim upset or in physical or emotional pain?

What is the cause?

Children and teens who bully do so for many reasons. They may:

  • Be bored and want excitement
  • Bully others to feel powerful
  • Not be able to understand how others feel
  • Want revenge or to hurt others because the bully feels upset
  • Pick on others to become more popular or to get what they want
  • Target anyone they see as different

Many children who bully have parents who verbally or physically abuse them. Some children who bully have parents who let them to do anything they want. When parents give in to their child's demands, they show their child that bullying works.

Males are more likely to be physical bullies and females are more likely to be verbal bullies. Bullies are likely to be poor students. They are also more likely to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. Bullies are typically not loners and misfits. They are usually popular and often get others to go along with them.

What can I do to help my child stop being a bully?

Here are some ways to prevent or stop bullying:

  • Accept that your child could be a bully. Take the time to get all the information and listen to the people involved. Take it seriously. Don't treat bullying as a passing phase. If another child is being hurt, act right away.
  • Look at what happens at home. Do you allow siblings to abuse each other? Do you insult, threaten, or get aggressive with others? Are you showing your child how to be a bully? It helps if you don’t yell or hit your child. Use time outs or take away privileges to discipline your child. You cannot teach your child to stop bullying if he is being abused or scared by siblings or adults.
  • Watch your tone of voice and the words you use when talking to your child. Criticize the behavior, not the child. It is not helpful to label your child as “good” or “bad.”
  • Clearly tell your child that bullying must stop. Let him know the consequences for future bullying. Insist your child apologize to his victim and replace any damaged property.
  • Talk with your child about how it might feel to be bullied by others. Help your child understand that other people dislike bullies.
  • Develop healthy ways for your child to express angry feelings without taking them out on others. Help your child release energy with activities such as sports, martial arts, or dance. Teach your child to talk about feelings, or to draw or paint to express how he feels.
  • A good way to change behavior is to notice and praise your child when he behaves well, rather than only noticing when he misbehaves.

Bullying can lead to serious school, social, emotional, and even legal problems. If your child continues to bully others, get professional help. Ask your child's teacher, principal, school counselor, or healthcare provider for a referral.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-30
Last reviewed: 2014-06-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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