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Health Matters: What to do when your child bullies other kids

Bullying is a behavior that can be changed and doesn’t define your child. Here’s how to approach the situation.
by Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD /
Two Boys Fighting
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These days, there is lots of guidance and resources available if your child is being bullied. But there is much less information available about steps to take when you suspect (or have been told) that your child is a “bully.” That situation can be difficult to process and accept. But most importantly, the first step is to understand that bullying is a behavior that can be changed and doesn’t define your child – it’s not a permanent personality trait. There’s good news out there for parents who need help.

Causes of bullying behavior

There are multiple reasons why a child might show bullying behavior. They might be feeling upset and powerless. Or they might feel bullied at home and act this way for self-protection. Most parents are really in the dark about why this is happening. That’s when it’s time to seek out some help – first on your own – then with a professional who might need to work on other more general behavioral issues.

Action plan for bullying behavior

It’s most important to remain calm and ask questions to get a better idea of what your child is experiencing every day, both at home and at school. Discuss various problem-solving solutions to help your child feel more empowered and in control, which can be one of the primary reasons causing this behavior.

Seek advice from family and friends who know your child. Often, other points of view can help you gain insight into bullying behavior.

But if your own attempts are not working, it’s not a failure on your part. It means a professional – like a child psychologist or psychiatrist – needs to provide some science-based behavioral change models to treat these negative behaviors. Understand that this takes time and patience, but don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD is the NBC News Health Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.

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