5 Signs You're Raising A Little Bully — And How To Get Back On Track

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Woman concerned she's parenting a bully

No child is perfect. Most parents have seen their child be mean to other kids. If you’re worried your child might be a bully, there are some subtle signs you should know.

Maybe you’ve gotten a phone call from your child’s school. Your kid has pushed another kid’s face into some pasta at lunch. They have been reprimanded and are in trouble again.

Or you saw your kid be snarky at a classmate’s birthday party and heard them say snide things, like “We can see you’re a genius” or “I’m trying to picture you with a personality” to other kids.

Perhaps your child’s peers do their bidding, or you overhear another child tell their mom, “Casey says I can’t be a Sweater-Saurus at Halloween.” You wonder, “Wait, is that MY child telling other people what to do?” You think, “Heck, no, this is not happening.”

No one ever thinks of themselves as the parent of a bully; no parent wants their child to be a bully to others.

Related; 9 Ways To Support Your Kid When They're Labeled The 'Naughty One'

Here are five signs of bullying behavior to watch out for

1. Lack of empathy for others

Kids who display difficulty walking in other people’s shoes or don’t display feelings of understanding around the fairness of someone’s emotions or reactions are a sign to watch for. Additionally, kids who don’t show compassion or empathy and don’t think about other people’s feelings or experiences may have a struggle in front of them.

These kids often blame other people for their experiences and outcomes. They also tend not to take responsibility for their actions.

If your child, more than their peers, does not seem to worry about the feelings of other people or their impact on others, they are showing signs of lacking empathy for others. This is a tell-tale trait that we work on with kids who are accused of being the classroom bully.

Empathy is a skill that grows with maturity. A two-year-old shouldn't be expected to show empathy the way a seventh grader does or the way we expect from an 18-year-old. Empathy as a skill grows over time. Being self-focused is normal for young kids. When the child is older and does not recognize the pain of others, you want to start to pay attention to potential bullying behaviors.

2. Obsessed about fitting in

Some kids are very acutely aware of the social hierarchy and social status. They feel tremendous pressure to fit in. They may try to manage and orchestrate control and are obsessed with their social image and social media, and they spend a lot of time (potentially too much time) worrying about how they are perceived.

This can lead your child to make choices to fit into the crowd. When these choices are not in the best interest of others, your child included, it can lead to bullying behavior, especially when the child perceives a risk to their “status” if they don’t fit in. This kind of anxiety can lead to bullying behavior even though they don’t mean to.

In this case, the real issue is the anxiety or worries about not being popular, fitting in, or being picked/chosen as the “best” or “most important” in whatever arena they are fixated on. The bullying behavior must be addressed, but that alone won’t resolve what motivates the bullying behavior.

To resolve this kind of challenge, parents have to get to the “why” behind their child’s behavior to help manage the reasons underlying the behavior.

RELATED: How To Help A Kid Who Is Being Ostracized

3. Previous experiences with anger, violence, or bullying

If your child has witnessed and experienced bullying behaviors, violence, anger, and punishment, they are inherently more susceptible to becoming a bully themselves. Once a person has been pushed around and seen aggression and punishment as the answer to their problems, it can become a coping skill for the future.

That is not true for everyone, but witnessing this behavior can create a vulnerability for the child. Since your child has been victimized, has experienced injustice, or observed adults using aggressive behavior, they may turn to this as their go-to reaction. It might not be their intention, and as a parent, you can help them find another way.

Like the obsessive drive to fit in talked about above, once the bullying behavior has been addressed, truly resolving this kind of bullying behavior comes down to understanding the child’s template for resolving emotionally tense or anxiety-ridden situations.

4. A tendency to put other people down

Some kids tend to put other people down while building themselves up. When you notice this, watch for a child who points out flaws in others, makes cruel jokes about others, or outright insults kids who keep following their lead.

What’s underneath this is low self-esteem, fear, and even feeling overwhelmed by life/friendships. This internal pressure can make some kids dismissive and put others down. This is a sign that your child needs your help feeling better about themselves so they don’t bully others to help “fix” feeling low/less than others.

5. Recurring behavior problems

If your child struggles to control their emotions, this can be a sign of bullying behavior. But, in and of itself, it can be a misread sign because many neurodiverse kids have up and down moods, as do kids with depression and anxiety. You must read emotions deeply and not react to the first sign of a mood swing with the assertion that your kid is a bully.

That said, if your kid has a history of behavior problems and you notice their friends also share these characteristics, this is something to explore, and you want to watch for signs of aggression.

In boys, this stereotypically manifests as fighting, pushing, or loud arguments. A kid who plays a physical sport where aggression is “valued” may have carryover behavior into their non-sports life that can be addressed and might not be bullying.

In girls, bullying can be stereotypical “mean girl” behavior like putting down others, shaming, and kicking friends out of their circle.

If these behaviors land your kid in the principal’s office or detention, you have signs their behavior is getting them into trouble and needs to be explored. Are they acting impulsively? Is this a “reaction” or an “intentionally mean thing done to hurt someone else?

As with all bullying behavior, you have to look at your child’s intention. Did they “plan” to behave this way? Or was it just a reaction? If your kid is impulsive during fights or other aggressive actions, this may lead them to act like a bully even if they don’t operate like a bully for the rest of their life.

RELATED: How To Help A Teen Who Has Very Few Friends & Is Suffering With Loneliness

Parenting a bully

We spend a lot of time thinking about those who are bullied, but as a parent, one of the loneliest experiences is to be the mom or dad of a child you suspect may be bullying other kids. It’s common not to know where to turn or what to do.

I have worked with many children who were dubbed a bully. The term bully is overused. As an expert in this field, I want to it clear that bullying involves intention. It involves a persistent desire to humiliate or belittle someone or to cause physical harm.

Not all kids labeled a bully are acting with this kind of intention. But even being called this creates a ripple effect. When your child or teen is accused or labeled as a classroom bully, it shames the kids and parents. While some people are bullies, there are also kids with ADHD and other behavioral challenges that do not mean to hurt anyone. They act impulsively, and that lands them in trouble. The child didn't intend to harm, but as a parent, you still have to cope with this situation.

It’s common for kids who have experienced bullying to turn to this kind of behavior as a reactive measure. And this shows us that the bully, the bystander, and the victims all need help.

Children who turn to bullying others often do not mean to be cruel, but things happen that may lead to them eventually putting others down.

There are many reasons this can happen, and they include:

Low self-esteem

Struggles at home

Bullying behavior modeled by parents, siblings, or influential friends/acquaintances

Impulsivity or impulse control

Poor relationships or models for how to create healthy relationships

Lack of support from others

Limited connection to others

Poor control over their emotions

Social discomfort

A desperate need to fit in

Regularly being punished

Witnessing violence or aggression

Struggles at school

Being aggressive can become a lifelong pattern that will hurt your child’s future. Part of being a parent is playing detective and trying to figure out what your child needs even when you have little to go on other than other people reporting that they’re behaving in “bullying ways.

Bullying is a complex issue, and parents are not necessarily to blame.

If your child is struggling and you’re either being told or witnessing them becoming a bully, you can help by spotting the signs when they are acting up. Parenting a bully isn’t easy. But, as a parent, you can help them pick themselves up and adopt better behaviors, so putting other people down doesn’t become a life-long habit.

RELATED: How To Teach An Outspoken Child To Show Respect (Without Dimming Their Light)

Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed. is a personal coach who works with children with ADHD and the families who support them.

This article was originally published at Author Website. Reprinted with permission from the author.