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Behavior Makeover: Bullying

Use the following steps as a guide to eliminating bullying in your kid.

Step 1. Recognize That Your Kid Is a Bully
The first and most important step to eliminating bullying behaviors is to admit your kid has a problem. Data show that this behavior does not go away on its own: you must intervene. Here's a list of warning signs of kids who are bullies. Check the ones that apply to your child:

Warning Signs That Your Child Might Be a Bully

  • Uses aggressive behaviors: shoves, hits, kicks, says mean or insulting names
  • Impulsive: easily frustrated or quick to react; may break things when upset
  • Thinks aggression is an acceptable way to solve problems
  • Need to dominate or control others
  • Humiliates or makes fun of others and sees nothing wrong with this behavior
  • Is cruel with pets or other kids; often rough with toys or possessions
  • Lacks empathy: insensitive to others' feelings and concerns
  • Takes no responsibility for actions; shows little remorse; blames others
  • Deliberately provokes or annoys other people
  • Self-centered: concerned about his own pleasure, not about others
  • Friends who have been over don't come back or return a phone call

Step 2. Set a Zero Tolerance for Bullying, and Use a Consequence If It Continues
Your child must learn that bullying is totally unacceptable, and it's up to you to teach him. This is time for serious talk. Begin by explaining firmly your disapproval of his behavior. Never allow him to take his cruel actions lightly, blame others, or dismiss them as a joke. If he says, "It wasn't any big deal!" Respond: "It was a very big deal to her. You caused her a lot of pain. Don't ever treat anyone that way again." Then tell him that any time you see or hear that he is acting like a bully, there will be a consequence. Tell him you will also be in contact (daily, if needed) with all immediate caregivers in his life – relatives, teachers, baby-sitter, day care – so you can monitor his behavior. Be sure to ask them to inform you of any bullying. Everyone must be on-board and consistent in enforcing the stipulated consequence if you are to squelch this behavior. Be vigilant, and don't give in!

Step 3. Promote Empathy and Concern for Others
One powerful way to squelch bullying is by nurturing empathy. Think about it: if you can feel how your victims might feel, treating them cruelly would be unthinkable. Empathy is teachable; that means you can increase your kid's feeling for others. Here are ways:

  • Switch roles. Bullies need to realize that their actions hurt, so ask him to imagine being the victim. "Pretend you're that boy. Tell me what you think he's thinking. How does he feel?"

  • Gain a new point of view. Find ways for your kid to encounter different perspectives: visit – even better, volunteer at – a homeless shelter, pediatric ward, center for the blind, nursing home, juvenile hall, or soup kitchen. The more your kid experiences different views, the more likely she will be to empathize with others.

  • Demand reparations. Studies show that parents who call attention to the harm done by the kid and encourage reparations increase their kid's concern for others. Require your kid to do something to ease his victim's emotional pain and make amends for his behavior – for instance, sincerely apologize, repair or replace damaged property, pay for any financial damages, tell peers to befriend her.
Step 4. Model Self-Control and Conflict Management
Data show that bullies believe that aggression is an acceptable way to solve conflicts and often show little remorse for their cruel behavior. It's up to you to prove him wrong and show him appropriate alternatives to remedy problems peacefully. Here are a few possibilities:
  • Teach self-control. Bullies tend to be impulsive and aggressive, so teach him suitable ways to control his impulses and anger. Praise him when he shows any attempts to control his aggressive behaviors and act in a considerate way.

  • Monitor media consumption. Be aware of the ratings for violence on television, music, movies, and video games. Set clear standards for what you will allow your kid to watch, and stick to them.

  • Express disapproval for violence. Whenever you see or hear violent and cruel actions displayed on TV, movies, nightly news, musical lyrics, video games, as well as in real life, firmly voice your disapproval and state your reasons to help him learn new beliefs.

  • Watch out for negative peer influence. Steer him away from overly aggressive friends.

  • Teach conflict resolution skills. Studies show that bullies often solve problems aggressively because they don't know other options. Also, model peaceful resolution. If your kid sees you using dialogue rather than force to get your needs met, he'll be more inclined to do the same.


From No More Misbehavin' by Michele Borba, Ed.D. Copyright © 2003 by Michele Borba. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Buy the book at www.amazon.com.

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