What to do if your child is a bully

Food for thought: The bully is as in need of help as the person being bullied. Much too often, the bully is side-stepped, while all eyes, ears and hearts are with the victim. Let’s look at the flip side.

 What if your child is the bully? How should you approach the situation to prevent your child from harming others (physically and/or psychologically)? We chatted to an educational psychologist, Dr Ronelle Venter, to find out what you as a parent can do if you suspect that your child is a bully.

Why children bully others

“There are a variety of reasons why children bully others,” Dr Venter explains. She provides a list of possible reasons why children would want to bully or harm other children.

Aggression at home

If one or both parents handle conflict with violence, the child will learn that violence is the way to handle disagreements.

Physical abuse towards the child at home

Consequently, the child may act out and take out his anger and frustration on more vulnerable children.

Lack of self-esteem and self-worth

Children that feel powerless might turn to bullying to give them a sense of power and control.

Attention-seeking behaviour

Bullying is a way for children to seek attention from adults like parents or teachers. Encouragement by their peers may also lead to a feeling of acceptance.

Bad friendships

Children often encourage disrespectful behaviour towards others.

 What to look out for if you think your child is a bully

There are a few things that you can look out for if you’re worried that your child is bullying others. Dr Venter lists the following warning signs:

  • Aggressive behaviour towards siblings (verbally and/or physically).
  • Cruelty towards animals.
  • Regular utterances of feelings of worthlessness and self-rejection.
  • If your child is short-tempered and prone to verbal outbursts and/or over-sensitiveness.
  • If your child is being bullied, he/she might bully others as a form of retaliation and/or self-protection

How should you discipline your child to ensure that they don’t bully others?

If your child shows any of the above-mentioned warning signs, don’t panic. “There are a variety of managing strategies,” Dr Venter explains. She lists a few strategies that you can use if you suspect that your child might be a bully.

  • Discipline is an integral part of a good, sensible and balanced upbringing. Children should be showered with love and acceptance, and feelings of warmth and security.
  • Teach children norms and values, and how to respect others from a young age.
  • Teach children to respect all living beings.
  • Handle conflict between siblings sensibly.
  • If you resort to physical abuse to punish your child for his/her behaviour, you will strengthen the idea that bullying is okay. Rather teach your child – with words and by example – how to handle differences, without resorting to physical violence.
  • Create an open communication channel with your child. He/she must have the confidence to speak to you about anything that worries them.
  • Help your child to choose good friends. Teach them what qualities to look for in a friend.
  • If you are unsure of how to deal with your child’s negative behaviour, consider consulting a professional. An educational psychologist can help your child develop positive coping mechanisms.

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Elmien Ackerman

Elmien Ackerman

Elmien Ackerman, a self-proclaimed "wordaholic" who loves words and language and cringes at the thought of a missing apostrophe. She writes for Impaq Education, a curriculum provider for home and tutor education.

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