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How to Tell if Your Child is a Bully
Filed under: Bullying, Development: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Development: Big Kids, Behavior: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Big Kids, Development: Tweens, Behavior: Tweens, Expert Advice: Tweens
You might think that your kid is sweet and kind and respectful of everyone. But what if you're wrong? What if your child is a bully?
ParentDish's AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, tells us in a phone interview that you should have some indication that your child is acting out. "Ideally, you're going to hear from the school or another family, or your child is going to drop hints," Stiffelman says.
"If a child is a bully, all it means is that he's acting out, externalizing stuff that he's frustrated or angry about," she says. "It's unlikely that he's not saying a single word about it."
This frustration can lead to aggression.
"When a child is frustrated, there are only two outcomes for that ... either he's going to become aggressive or adapt. If you have a child who is a bully, he's probably chronically frustrated."
Stop Bullying Now!, a federally-run site, notes some common characteristics among bullies:
Children Who Bully Can Be:
- Impulsive, hot-headed, dominant
- Easily frustrated
- Lacking empathy
- Having difficulty following rules
- Viewing violence in a positive way
- Physically stronger than other children (this is more a characteristic of boy bullies)
In an email to ParentDish, she writes, "Often, kids who bully are relatively immature. The prefrontal cortex -- the part of your brain behind your forehead that's responsible for managing impulses, thinking cause and effect and governing inhibitions, among other things -- appears to be less developed in kids with ADHD and impulse challenges."
Even if a bully seems to focus his aggression a specific child, it's usually not about that target at all.
"It usually has very little to do with the child who's the victim -- it's just that he has unwittingly become a target ... because he does the things that promote the bullying behavior," Stiffelman says.
If you determine that your child is, in fact, a bully, it's important to address more than the outward aggression.
"The real solution is to deal with the root," Stiffelman says. "If you ignore the root of it ... then you're just wrapping duct tape around a thing that's going to burst at some point.
There is no single cause of bullying among children. A host of different factors can place a child at risk for bullying his or her peers. However, it has been found that children who bully are more likely than their non-bullying peers to come from homes with certain characteristics.Of course, family influences a child's behavior, so check out these risk factors to see if your home life is increasing the likelihood of your child becoming a bully.
Family Risk Factors for Bullying:
- A lack of warmth and involvement on the part of parents
- Overly permissive parenting (including a lack of limits for children's behavior)
- A lack of supervision by parents
- Harsh, physical discipline
- Bullying incidences at home
Stiffelman says that kids who bully aren't as tough as they seem.
"Once they come in my office and the door is closed, they're almost always insecure and cowardly children or teens. Underneath the tough exterior is a kid or a teen who is in pain."
She says, "When you really give a kid who's upset ... the chance to feel heard and you demonstrate, 'I can listen, I don't have to rush in here with a fix" ... that's when you get a chink in the armor and that's when you actually have a possibility of hitting the root."
Related: Bullying: How to Spot It and Stop It
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