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When it comes to bullying behaviour, your child might be the one affected. Or – shocking as this might be – your child might be the one doing the bullying. Stepping in early is the key to helping your child learn how to get along with others.
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According to research, children who bully:

  • are at risk of developing long-term problems with antisocial behaviour
  • might also be victims of bullying
  • have a higher risk of engaging in workplace harassment, child abuse, sexual harassment and substance abuse in later life
  • are more likely to have children who bully.
 

If your child’s behaviour includes pushing other children who can’t defend themselves, saying nasty things about them, or generally making them feel bad, it might be time to talk to him about bullying.

Bullying: the basics

  • Bullying can involve physical violence or it can be psychological. It might involve teasing somebody, or leaving that person out of a group or activity. It can be face-to-face, or might happen by SMS or instant messaging via computer.
  • Both boys and girls use name-calling when bullying. This is common because it’s harder for other people to notice than physical aggression.
  • Boys are more likely to take part in bullying behaviour. Boys are also more likely to be bullied.
  • Some children might not begin a bullying episode, but might join in later or encourage the bullying. This is also bullying.

Signs that a child is bullying

If your child is bullying, someone will probably tell you – a teacher, another child’s parents, or one of your child’s siblings.

If you suspect your child is bullying, you could look out for the following signs:

  • your child talks about the other kids at school in an aggressive or negative way
  • your child has money, toys or other things that don’t belong to her.

Neither of these signs means your child is definitely bullying, but you might want to talk to your child’s teacher to find out if there have been any problems at school.

What to do about your child bullying

It’s important to tell your child you think his behaviour is unacceptable and that you want it to end.

  • Explain to your child what bullying is. Try to be calm about it. Talk with your child about what he’s doing and why he might be doing it.
  • Monitor your child’s use of the internet and mobile phones.
  • Talk to the school (or organisation where the bullying is happening) about its approach to bullying. Ask what you can do from home to support the approach. Call back regularly to check how your child is behaving.
  • Some children bully because they themselves have been bullied. Listen to your child for clues that she might be a victim of bullying.
  • Sometimes children join in a group that uses bullying behaviour to avoid being bullied themselves. If your child is bullying so he can fit in, talk to the school or organisation about strategies he can learn to resist joining in.

It’s best to do something about bullying sooner rather than later. You can have the most influence on your child’s bullying behaviour while she’s still young – the younger she is, the more likely she is to change the way she acts.

You might be tempted to congratulate your child on ‘standing up for himself’, but making positive comments about bullying will encourage him to keep doing it.

What to do if your child continues to bully

If it’s not the first time your child has bullied, and you’ve already tried the suggestions above, you might need to take further steps. If the bullying is happening at school or a sports club, working with the organisation will give you the best chance of changing your child’s behaviour.

  • The school or club will probably have a policy on bullying, and they’ll use that to decide the consequences for your child. The most effective thing you can do is support the organisation’s decision.
  • You can also set up a ‘behaviour contract’ for your child. The contract is made with you, the school and your child, so she knows you’re all working together. The contract can include things like what will happen if she bullies and what will happen if she stops bullying. You could also include things she could do instead of bullying.
  • Talk to the school about whether your child needs counselling to help him stop bullying, and whether the school can either offer it or refer you to someone else. Counselling is particularly useful if your child is having trouble with self-esteem, dealing with anger or controlling his impulses.

How to stop bullying

  • Preventing bullying is about teaching children how to get on well with others, helping them learn empathy, respect and how to support their friends. With these skills, children are much less likely to bully. Our article on connecting with your school-age child has tips for helping your child develop social skills.
  • Building your child’s self-esteem can help. You could let her try lots of different activities, and encourage and support her in anything she likes. It might be sports, art, music, drama or something entirely different.
  • Research has found that children whose parents give them positive attention are less likely to bully. Children who feel unloved or who experience violence in their family are more likely to bully others.
  • Using authoritative discipline can help too – this means setting limits and using non-physical discipline if your child doesn’t stick to them. If you want your child to learn how to resolve conflicts without bullying, it’s important you also learn to manage your own conflicts constructively.
Why children bully: the research
Most children tease others at some stage. As they get older, children learn how their behaviour affects other people’s feelings, so the behaviour tends to stop. Children who haven’t developed empathy might continue the behaviour and become bullies. Some children have a temperament that makes them more likely to bully, while others come from families where violence and ‘put-downs’ are common.
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  • Last Updated 01-10-2009
  • Last Reviewed 01-08-2011
  • Craig, W., & Pepler, D. (2007). Understanding bullying: From research to practice. Canadian Psychology, 48(2), 86-93.

    Rigby, K. (2002). A meta-evaluation of methods and approaches to reducing bullying in pre-schools and early primary school in Australia. Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department, Canberra.

    Roberts, W.B. (2000). The bully as victim: Understanding bully behaviors to increase the effectiveness of interventions in the bully-victim dyad. Professional school counseling, 4(2), 148-155.

    Smith, J., Schneider, B., Smith, K. & Ananiadu, K. (2004). The effectiveness of whole-school antibullying programs: A synthesis of evaluation research. School psychology review, 33(4), 547-560.

    Stassen Berger, K.(2007). Update on bullying at school: Science forgotten?, Developmental Review 27, 90–126

    Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Winter, A., Oldehinkel, A., Verhulst, F. and Ormel, J. (2005). Bullying and victimization in elementary schools: A comparison of bullies, victims, bully/victims, and uninvolved preadolescents. Developmental psychology, 41(4), 672-682.