Help! My child’s a bully – what do I do?

Help! My child’s a bully – what do I do?

It starts with a phone call from your child’s school.

You’re told they’re in trouble because they’ve been bullying another pupil.

It’s a shock and seems so out of character.

It’s so easy to get defensive and deny that your son or daughter could ever be a bully.

The reality is any child is capable of becoming a bully – even the most seemingly angelic youngster.

Being in denial won’t help.

We must put our emotions, including our understandable protectiveness towards our children, to one side. We must look at the evidence.

If it’s clear and your child has bullied someone else, the sooner you accept it, the sooner you will be able to work towards fixing the problem.

Why do children become bullies?

There are several pressures which could lead a child to bully a classmate.

Some children bully others in a misguided bid to maintain popularity or power among their peers, while others feel the need to ‘even up’ the hand they’ve been dealt if it’s been bad or difficult.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as being learned behaviour which a child has seen in a group of friends or family, or even on television. They simply don’t understand that it’s wrong.

What you can do

  1. Acknowledge the problem

The first step for any parents is to acknowledge that the bullying has been happening and that it’s a problem for the other youngster and your child.

In a calm manner, sit down with your child and ask him or her what happened and why it happened.

You need to listen carefully to what your child says. You need to be a good listener who doesn’t apportion blame while you’re finding out the facts.

You need to give your child permission to admit their mistakes, even if they are serious.

What they say will also give you a good idea of the root cause of the problem – what’s driven your child to behave like this.

Ask questions to lead your child gently to the understanding their behaviour is not acceptable.

Questions you could ask include: “Did your behaviour hurt him/her?”; “How would you feel if someone did that to you?”; “Would you want someone to do that to you?”.

Stress why that behaviour isn’t acceptable by explaining why. You could say: “We don’t do that at home because we respect other people, and we want people to treat us well so we treat them well.”

  1. Impose consequences

Once you’ve listened well, it’s time to move onto dealing with the consequences.

Your child needs to understand that he or she is accountable for their behaviour and actions.

So, it’s time to write down those consequences and revisit them regularly to reinforce them.

That might be the removal of a Play Station for a week or a month or refusing permission for an outing they’d been anticipating. It might be writing a letter of apology.

Turn the situation into a teachable moment by talking about how your child can avoid consequences like this and handle situations with other children differently.

  1. Work with the school

It’s important that good messages about behaviour are consistently reinforced at home and at school, so work with the headteacher and teachers to help your child improve.

Be a proactive parent. Don’t be afraid to ask for help because you fear being seen as a bad parent. Schools are happy to work with parents who sincerely want to improve their child’s behaviour.

Some schools operate a Family Values Scheme which promotes good behaviour and improves social skills.

The scheme encourages good two-way communication between parents and children as the bedrock of good behaviour.

That helps children understand and manage their feelings.

Parents and children plan and carry out fun tasks and challenges in the home to promote responsibility, friendship, and trust.

Tasks might include planning a family meal together or researching homework together at the library.

If your child’s school operates the scheme, ask to be involved. If not, ask whether a scheme could be introduced.

See our Family Values Scheme pack for schools here:

  1. Build your child’s social skills

Help your youngster gain communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution skills.

Look for activities outside school which help them build confidence and resilience – from scouts or guides to street dance or judo.

Use effective praise to help your child develop a growth mindset. Praise their effort and the process of whatever they’re taking part in, rather than the results.

NSM Training & Consultancy provides expert training for headteachers, teachers, and school staff. Read more about the work here:

The company was established by international education consultant and teacher Nicola S Morgan. She developed a reputation for excellence in dealing with the most difficult pupils and now runs training courses for schools and parents and is a published author in the field.