Dealing Effectively with Your Bullying Child

Potential Causes of Bullying Behavior

Bullying is often an attempt to increase self-worth at the expense of a smaller or weaker child. Bullies are often not fully aware of what they are doing, thinking that the force and pressure they apply is “deserved.” It is important for parents to realize that although the child may be bullying other children, he or she does not necessarily enjoy it. A child trying to fit into a particular social ring may bully a smaller child, yet feel extremely guilty. However, he may feel validated in his behavior because of his peers’ social acceptance.          

The bullying of a sibling might also be explained by Alfred Adler’s “birth order” theory. This concept suggests that each child strives for a special role in the family that only he can fulfill. Thus, according to Adler, if one child is particularly gentle and kind, another child may take on the role of the bully to gain identity in his family. 

A child may bully because she is “modeling” behavior she has witnessed in adults or other children in her acquaintance. Or she may feel negatively toward another child because of an earlier conflict. She may be at the top of a hierarchy in a peer group and thinks she must exhibit power. She could be displacing aggressive feelings toward parents or other adults onto smaller siblings or peers. 

The Alternative

Of course, your intent at this point is to help your child leave the bullying stage behind. Rather than bullying other children, you want him to be the kind of child who:

  • Treats other children with respect and kindness.
  • Behaves gently with other children, especially those weaker and smaller.
  • Handles disputes justly by “talking it out” rather than fighting.

Your child needs to learn that it is not moral behavior to bully. Parents need to strengthen the relationship with the child as they accomplish the task of teaching.  Without keeping that thought in mind, you might use one of the several less-effective techniques in disciplining.  Spanking, and other types of physical punishment, teach the child that using violence to control another person is acceptable. Removing or withholding affection teaches the child that his bad behavior is more important to you than he is. 

School-aged children are cognitively able to understand relationship concepts. This is particularly true as the child approaches age ten or eleven. You may need to begin more basically with young children, becoming more complex as the child matures. For example, when a child is six, parents may ask, “How would you feel if someone pushed you down?” At age eleven, however, parents may explain how bullying may affect another's self-esteem.

Loving feelings between the parent and child may help lessen the frequency of bullying behavior. Feelings of affection from parents are a powerful antidote to acting aggressively, especially when the child knows his parents disapprove of aggressive behavior. If you take the time to find out the underlying reasons for your child’s behavior, you will be better able to understand and resolve the situation through effective discipline.