What if my child is a bully? A parent’s guide to end the bullying

When Samantha was 10 years old, she was bullied by a classmate. Read her story.

It’s a busy day at work. Your phone rings, and the principal at your child’s school tells you your child is bullying other students. What do you do?

Popular media tends to focus just on the children who are bullied. So, what about the children who are bullies? According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, approximately 30 percent of young people admit to bullying others. Research also shows that bullies are at greater risk for delinquent behavior and may experience adverse physical and mental health consequences including poor academic achievement, depressive symptoms and more.

Here are some tips to help parents start the conversation, and stop the bullying:

Acknowledge the bullying.

It is so easy for parents to get defensive about their children. No one wants their child to be a bully, and no one wants to hear their child is hurting another child. Take a deep breath, and be grateful that you are now aware of this behavior. Sometimes just acknowledging the behavior is the toughest hurdle to overcome.

Develop understanding.

It is important to understand why your child is bullying others. One child may seek attention from his or her parents. Another may be bullying because they themselves are being bullied or mimicking violent behavior they have seen elsewhere. Moreover, another child may have developmental issues, which may impede learning and cause the child to act out at school.

Work with your child’s school.

Talk to and work collaboratively with your child’s school administration, teachers and guidance counselor. The school is an essential resource and partner.

Communicate with your child’s pediatrician.

Research shows there are negative health effects associated with children who are bullies. Bullies have increased depressive symptoms and are prone to substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. Children who bully may also exhibit physical symptoms, including headaches, abdominal pain and insomnia. A pediatrician can help by first making sure there is no other underlying medical condition and then offer guidance and support to parents and children.

Have a conversation and teach kindness.

Talk to your kids. Make it clear that hurting others’ feelings is not OK. Discuss what it feels like to be bullied and the importance of kindness towards others.

Serve as an example.

Children are incredibly observant. Be aware of your own behaviors. Do you or others in your home bully? The home should be a place filled with respect for all.

About the author: Jessica W. Tsai, MD, PhD, is a resident physician in the Boston Combined Residency Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center. She is pursing a career in pediatric oncology and has written about bullying in the New York Times. You can follow her on Twitter @jestsai.

If you suspect your child is bullying others, reach out to Boston Children’s Bullying and Cyberbullying Prevention and Advocacy Collaborative (BACPAC).