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When your child is the bully

Word on the playground is that there is one kid in particular to watch out for. Sometimes he uses words to get his way. And sometimes he uses his fists. Naturally, as a parent you would be concerned about your child’s well-being. But what do you do when your child is the bully?

Just as the victims of aggressive children need guidance, so, too, do the aggressors. And often, bullies and victims are one and the same—bullied one day and bullying the next. In fact, children who fall on either or both sides of the bully-victim equation often suffer from problems such as depression and anxiety.

In some cases, bullies who are also victims may suffer from attention deficithyperactivity disorder, which may cause them to become irritable and combative. Their behavior may make them a target of aggressive behavior. The cycle continues when they turn this aggression on others.

Research also suggests that many bullies mimic what they see at home. If you suspect your child may be learning aggressive behavior from you or another family member, seek therapy immediately.

Defusing a bully

  • Never use physical or verbal abuse as punishment: It only reinforces the idea that the world is a harsh place where you have to hurt others to receive a response. Instead, restrict special privileges or assign household tasks as a consequence of combative behavior.
  • Explain to your child why he or she must apologize to the victim.
  • Encourage your child to talk to you about his or her feelings and listen attentively.
  • Develop your child’s empathy by teaming him or her up with younger or weaker children.
  • Role-play new behaviors: Have your child act out the ways he or she could confront certain situations, such as asking to borrow a toy or expressing anger in a nonabusive way.
  • Ask your child’s teacher to keep a daily record of all his or her positive and negative conduct for your review. All positive behaviors receive a star. When your child has earned a certain number of stars, he or she receives a reward. This can range from a trip to a favorite park to a night out at the movies.
  • Don’t ignore your child’s bullying behavior. If necessary, enlist the aid of a child therapist to get to the root of the problem.