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March 23, 2017
by Christie Hunter

Playground Bullies: When Your Child is The Bully

March 23, 2017 04:55 by Christie Hunter  [About the Author]

This is part of a series on bullying.

The effects of Bullying On A Child. - Just how do bullies operate? How many different effects does bullying have on children?
Signs your child is being bullied.
The Psychology of Bullies

We often hear about the children who are victims of bullies, but what if you are a parent and your child is the one who is bullying others?  Parents need to know that they are not society's enemies and there are resources and help available.  In the end, all children are important and if a child is hurting others, this is a dire situation that must be dealt with swiftly, lest a child grow up and hurt others as an adult and wind up with a troubled life or worse.  It is no surprise that people who are violent and aggressive as children display the same behaviors as adults, and often in degrees that are far worse.

First recognize that nearly every school in your country will have a strict policy against bullying and your child will most likely be suspended or expelled for ongoing aggressive or demeaning behavior.  In many districts you as a parent can be fined, and this is only widening.  Children have committed suicide over bullying so this is not an issue to take lightly.  If your child is harassing someone else, you as a parent need to intervene, there is no other option.    

While the name calling may sound insignificant, often bullying can lead to more aggressive behaviors if they are not stopped when they are noticed. Due to the rapid advancements in technology, it is possible to bully or harass others from the privacy and safety of one’s own home, often keeping the identity of the bully a secret, which in turn, makes discovering the action that much more of a challenge for parents. While it may be difficult for parents to identify bullying behavior in their own children, it is important for parents to be aware of the warning signs and types of bullying their children may be taking part in, either at school or from behind their bedroom doors. Despite schools across the nation adopting a variety of anti-bullying programs, including comprehensive training programs, they often fall short on addressing the issues that arise on school campuses.

Types of Bullying

There are a variety of ways bullying can take place, each with their own unique characteristics. While the types may be different, the aim and goal is similar: to inflict pain, either emotionally or physically, upon another individual. Some of the methods utilized by bullies include (Sawyer, Mishna, Pepler, & Wiener, 2011):

  • Direct Bullying: teasing, taunting, threatening, physically hitting the victim, typically involves behaviors that are observable
  • Verbal Bullying: name calling, spreading rumors
  • Physical Bullying: hitting, spitting, kicking, destroying property belonging to the victim
  • Verbal (non-physical) Bullying: threatening, excluding from activities, threatening e-mails or text messages
  • Sexual Harassment: intended to humiliate or embarrass the victim based on their gender or sexual orientation
  • Cyber Bullying:  Hurting others using the internet or social media.
  • Regardless of the type of bullying, the effects can cause lifelong damage, to both the bully and the victim, and with as many as 70% of students reporting being affected either directly or indirectly by bullying (Beaty & Alexeyev, 2008), the likelihood of a child being a bully are not as far off as some parents might think.

How to Tell if Your Child is a Bully

Sometimes changes in behavior of a child or adolescent is a challenge, as it could be normal fluctuations or signs of being a bully. It is important for parents to keep abreast of their child’s behavior in order to address the possible issue, since if bullying behavior is allowed to continue, it can easily get out of hand. Some warning signs to be aware of include:

  • Getting into physical or verbal fights
  • Have friends who are known bullies
  • Used to getting their way at home via aggressive responses.  If a child replies to a parent's directive with aggression and the parent "gives in", this reinforces in the child that he/she can get their way with hostility.  
  • Is a victim of a bully.  A child who is bullied by an older sibling, for example, may start to bully others as well.
  • Is a victim of adult abuse.  A parent who is abusive to their child is a high risk of inflicting their vicious cycle onto their child.
  • Have friends who are known bullies
  • Destructive towards fragile things that don't belong to him/her, such as flowers, books, toys in public places, etc.
  • Increasingly aggressive behavior (hits walls, throws toys, punches a parent, ect).  Responds to rules with aggression.
  • An increase in time spent with the principal or in detention
  • Unexplained money or belongings (signs of stealing).

What to do if Your Child is a Bully

If you discover that your child is inflicting physical or emotional pain onto others, it can be a disheartening experience, and it is an urgent and serious one.   However, with swift and effective interventions to prevent the bullying behavior from continuing, it can be addressed and stopped before it progresses even further. Parents may feel responsible or angry, but it is important to remain calm, because if parents allow their emotions to rule their behavior, there is little likelihood that progress will be made when talking with the child or school officials.  Intervention through counseling is often an absolute necessity otherwise a child bully has a significant chance of growing up with horrible character traits that eventually lead to criminal behavior.  

Avoid Automatic Bias And Defense Of Your Child

It may be easy for parents to be biased against hearing the negative things that others may say about their children.  When someone says "your child hit my child" a parent may want to immediately deny it and point fingers and defend their child.  "MY child wouldn't do that.  Your child must have instigated it.".  Responses like this are exactly what not to do.  Be warned!  This snap reaction may actually end up encouraging your child to further bully others because the parent actually is the one making excuses and defenses for it.   We are not saying to automatically believe an accusation, but on the flip side, don't automatically discount one.  By listening to both sides of the story it may be easier to understand the behavior and not point fingers, as that will not bring about resolve.

Explaining to children the impact their behavior has on those who they bully, in addition with teaching empathy are two very important steps in helping bullies to see the way their behavior has hurt others, both physically and psychologically. It is important to present the information in a manner that will convince the child who is bullying that changing their behavior is in their best interest (Carter, 2011). Additionally, it is important for parents to act as positive role models, which extends to the stories that are told in the house, even when parents don’t think their children can hear or understand the context, which includes gossip. If the bullying is being conducted via the internet, parents may want to move the computer to a more central location.

Remove the Potential Causes

If you noticed, many of the signs we listed above of a child bully directly relates to other people in his or her life.  If your child is being abused by a parent or bullied by an older kid or sibling, then nothing is going to 'fix' this problem outside of removing the abusive environment.  If your child is hanging out with other bullies (bad friends), then this must immediately stop and contact with them should cease.  "How do I tell my child to not hang out with those bad characters?  He/she wont listen."   Well if worse comes to worse, you MOVE.  Yes, your child is worth that kind of extreme response.   And while this question is another topic entirely, any answer to that question should come under the guidance of a licensed therapist.  If you are enabling aggressive behavior in your child by "giving in" when he/she turns hostile, then its time to change your parenting, get a strong backbone and do not relent when your child tries to get their way.   No means no, and you must actually mean it when you say it.  

 While the blame does not fall squarely on the shoulders of the parents of the bully, some research has suggested that bullying behaviors are often associated with a difficult home environment, overprotective parents, lack of supervision, and domestic abuse (Bibou-Nakou, Tsiantis, Assimopoulos, & Chatzilambou, 2013). By increasing the awareness over the items parents can control, such as the aforementioned aspects, the bullying behavior can be identified and addressed.

It is the formal recommendation of Theravive that if your child is displaying aggressive behavior towards others, that you seek professional counseling.  A child bully is at risk to live a life riddled with failure, broken relationships, and broken careers, and perhaps worst of all, wind up in criminal violence, or if they have children, being at risk to continue the cycle of abuse on them.  We hate using harsh sounding words like that, but statistics back it up, therefore please seek a therapist and stop this right away, while there is still great hope for your child.


Beaty, L. A., & Alexeyev, E. B. (2008). The problem of school bullies: What the research tells us. Adolescence, 43(169), 169-180.

Bibou-Nakou, I., Tsiantis, J., Assimopoulos, H., & Chatzilambou, P. (2013). Bullying/victimization from a family perspective: A qualitative study of secondary school students' views. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 28, 53-71.

Carter, S. (2011). Bullies and power: A look at the research. Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, 34, 97-102. doi: 10.3109/01460862.2011.574455

Sawyer, J. L., Mishna, F., Pepler, D., & Wiener, J. (2011). The missing voice: Parents' perspectives of bullying. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(10), 1795-1803. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.05.010

About the Author

Christie Hunter

Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at -

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