What to do if your child is the aggressor

Q: I am worried my son is bullying kids at school. What should I do?

A: First, thank you for your concern and recognition that children can act differently in home and at school. It can be hard to see our kids engaging in behaviors that we don’t condone.

It is important to look at why kids become bullies. Bullying can happen at any age, and it can happen in person or online. Younger children may present with aggressive behaviors toward others as they are learning how to control their emotions and respond to conflict. Some kids mimic behavior they have seen in different social settings, while others use it as self-defense, especially if they have been a victim of aggressive behavior themselves. Family conflict can be a contributing factor. It is very possible that the child doing the bullying is struggling emotionally and hasn’t learned to deal with social situations without trying to control others. He may not know that bullying can cause others emotional harm.

What can you do to help if your child is exhibiting bullying behavior?

Talk with your child often and listen to what they have to say. Let them know you care about them and are there to help. Having conversations regularly increases the chances that they will share with you. See what they are gaining from bullying and help them understand that it is often harmful to others. Model and teach empathy and positive behaviors to your child, including respectful and kind actions and healthy conflict resolution. Monitor your child’s behavior at home and with peers to provide positive reinforcement for positive changes to behavior. Immediately and calmly address aggression when necessary. Establish and reinforce clear, consistent rules and appropriate consequences about bullying in your home. Be realistic and patient in your expectations of behavior change, as these things can take time but will get better. Let them know you love them, even if they make a mistake. Collaborate with your school on addressing concerns you may have about bullying. They can be your ally in helping your child improve behavior. Find ways to encourage your child to build their support network and involve them in activities at school or in the community to foster connections and feelings of value. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. School counselors, therapists, other parents and trusted sources of information such as stopbullying.gov and englanderelizabeth.com/downloads can be useful in navigating this area.

Always consult your child’s pediatrician concerning your child’s health.

For more pediatric health news parents can use, visit our blog: 700childrens.nationwidechildrens.org.

John Ackerman, Ph.D., is the suicide prevention coordinator for the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research (CSPR) at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.