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my son is a bully

FWP: My Son Is a Bully

first world problemsPROBLEM: My 8-year-old son is a bully. I’m not sure how he became this way. We’ve always tried to teach him to share and be nice. But I see him bullying other kids, treating them badly, and I am ashamed. Sometimes, even I am afraid of his outbursts. What do I do?


KB: Does his school have a support system for this? That would be my first stop. But if it doesn’t, and this is a family issue to manage, remind yourself that he is struggling with something. These outbursts are not happening because he’s a bad person, or because you have failed, they are happening because he’s upset or frustrated, or not feeling validated. I’m not an expert on children’s behavior, but I do know that punishing him won’t work as well as looking for the root cause of his anger and frustration, and trying to alleviate that.

SB: I agree with KB, I know you’re feeling at a loss, but remember that so is he, and punishment won’t change that for him. Try to get to the root of the behavior so you can understand it further. Take a look around and see if there is anywhere that he could be learning this way of reacting, as usually bullying responses are learned from family, friends or media.

Regardless of whether you figure out where this is coming from, make sure to talk to your little man about it anyway. Try to build some empathy in him by helping him understand how other kids feel as a result of his actions. Validate his feelings as well and help him understand that how he feels isn’t always a choice — but how he acts is. Help him to problem solve what he could be doing to express himself instead of bullying.

LG: First, I’m going to direct you to some of our site resources that delve into why a child bullies, to help you potentially understand what he’s going through. I’m far from an expert, but the one thing that seems clear is not to treat this as a ‘phase’ or something he’ll grow out of — otherwise, he’ll think this behaviour is acceptable and won’t know what to grow into. If his outbursts scare even his parents, they need to be addressed by finding out what’s driving them. And on a final note, to make you feel better, at least your child isn’t doing this:

via GIPHY

(If he is, and you’ve just taken The Road More Euphemised in your note to us, then my advice changes to: Douse yourself in holy water and run fast.)

RT: I was a big bully myself between the ages of 8 and 11. All of that anger and need to intimidate came from being ostracized in school by the uber-rich kids who went there. When you are ignored in certain scenarios, you over impose yourself in others.

Maybe he is lashing out because he doesn’t know how to deal with his feelings of social rejection or hurt. Like KB and SB said, talk to him and make him aware of his own bullying behaviour. He might not even know how bad it has gotten and how it might make others feel. He’ll turn around with time when he understands emotional control better; I know I did.

MM: I think everyone’s got it covered. You’re already on the right track, observing the problem and wanting to get to the bottom of it. And while you’re navigating through this, please remember not to blame yourself. It’s possible you might encounter some folks who push your buttons of self-doubt, but stay strong! This is between you, your kid, and the support system you choose to work with.

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