Bullying has become a national epidemic. According to recent data, between 1/4 and 1/3 of school children say they have been bullied. And, according to surveys, roughly 30% of young people admit to bullying others.

While much research has gone into how we can prevent bullying, and many programs have been implemented and tested in schools, the results have been modest at best. These results leave many wondering if prevention must start at home.

Home Life Plays a Large Role in Creating Bullies

Research suggests that family life can increase the risk of someone becoming a bully. Certain home-life characteristics are more commonly found in youths who bully others compared to those who don’t. The following trends can serve as warning signs that trouble may lie ahead:

– Harsh discipline (shaming, insulting, physical threat or harm)
– Lack of warmth or tenderness between parent and child
– Excessive teasing from siblings
– Domestic violence between other family members
– Drug and alcohol abuse
– Prejudice or hatred against others shown by parents or other family members
– Emotional neglect
– Excessive pressure to meet expectations or perform well in the world

The hopeful news is that research has shown that intervening to prevent or end these risk factors in the home can greatly reduce bullying and other youth violence.

Communication

If another parent or teacher has told you your child is being a bully, the very first thing to do is sit down and talk with your child. Don’t scold them right off the bat, but rather tell your child you would like to hear their side of the story.

Depending on how old your child is, he or she may open up and admit to the bullying and also offer an explanation, such as they want to fit in and be liked. Many children with low self-esteem bully to feel empowered and noticed.

Some children may not be able to express their thoughts or feelings easily. This is particularly true of younger children who may be struggling with anxiety or other mental health issues. If you find you are having trouble communicating with your child, consider seeking the guidance of a child psychologist who has experience evaluating behavior.

Remain Vigilant

If your child is a bully, changing their behavior won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight. But remaining vigilant is important.

Continue to build an open channel of communication with your child. This will help you recognize signs of trouble. Check-in with them daily and ask about their day – what they have planned, something that happened that they enjoyed, and something that happened that they didn’t enjoy.

Laying this foundation of communication is vital. Once kids know they are expected to share details of their lives on a regular basis, they become more comfortable opening up even into adolescence.

If you or someone you know is the parent of a bully and would like to explore counseling options, please reach out to us. We would be more than happy to discuss how we might be able to help.

Priscilla Hurd, LPC, M.Ed.

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