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10 Warning Signs Your Child Is a Bully

Updated: Mar. 07, 2022

With one out of every four children getting bullied this year, it's a growing epidemic. But what if your child is the bully? Experts share the signs that indicate your child might be the one causing the trouble.

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They justify bad behavior

Bullies may attempt to shift blame to the victim rather than themselves. Jay Clark, a licensed professional counselor in La Crosse, Wisconsin, says a behavior that tends to correlate with bullying is when a child fails to recognize their actions may be contributing to a problem. Emotions may quickly escalate in intensity in a child with bullying tendencies, and they feel justified in treating another child badly. They may feel the other child “has it coming.” These are signs your child is being bullied.

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They have friends who act aggressively

Children who bully often don’t have a shortage of friends. In reality, they usually have a large network of friends and a smaller, intimate group that encourages bullying behavior, according to the Pacer Center. No parent wants to find out their child is ill-behaved toward other students. However, if your child’s friends are mean toward other kids, or if they engage in some other type of bullying, your child might be participating in bullying as well. Follow examples of kindness; this town stood up to antisemitism together. 

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They have difficulty sleeping

A 2011 study by the University of Michigan, which was published in the Sleep Medicine journal, revealed children with aggressive or bullying tendencies were twice as likely to exhibit sleep-disordered breathing problems like snoring or daytime sleepiness. While this study doesn’t prove sleep disorders actually cause bullying, it does show a possible link between sleep problems and contentious behavior. A lack of sleep impairs mood and decision-making. If you think your child has sleep issues, a visit to the doctor might be a beneficial step to curb potential bullying.

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They get in trouble at school

When Tori Cody received a call from the assistant director of her son’s preschool telling her she needed to talk to her son because he was “messing” with another boy, she felt shocked, saddened, and embarrassed. “How could my four-year-old be a bully?” she asked. Realizing she needed to take his aggressive behavior seriously, she sprang into action. She began frequent talks with her son challenging him to consider how he would feel if someone behaved toward him in the same manner he behaved toward his classmate. Though it’s a work in progress, Cody has seen an improvement in her son’s actions at school. Read about this teacher’s remarkable strategy to stop bullying in her classroom.

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They have behavioral problems

“Certain behaviors, if elevated, tend to correlate with bullying,” says Clark. Children who are hot-tempered, easily frustrated, impulsive, prone to fighting, and lack empathy toward others have a higher risk of being bullies. Some children may even brag about handling conflict by fighting.

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They live in a violent home

If a child is in a home where they’re seeing violence, or they too are victims of violent behavior, they are more likely to react violently in pressure situations.  Frustration builds up in kids who experience violence, Clark reports. When an explosion of anger is modeled in the home, similarly, they might be inclined to take out their own anger on other children.

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They have experienced bullying first-hand

Occasionally, children who have been the target of bullying will become bullies in an effort to regain some control over their lives. This was the case for Mischa van Loder, an Australian mom, whose seven-year-old daughter began getting in trouble after she was the victim. Van Loder credits encouraging her daughter into friendship groups with positive role models as a key to curtailing her daughter’s behavior. “Parental presence is everything in this situation,” she says. “Without support, love, and lots of investigation, the problem is difficult to solve.”

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They act aggressively toward their siblings

Clark suggests if you have more than one child, monitor how they’re treating the other siblings. If they display aggression towards other siblings, it’s likely they may also demonstrate aggression toward their peers.

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They spend a lot of time online

With cyberbullying on the rise, Clark cautions parents to monitor their child’s internet use. There’s a level of anonymity that occurs online, allowing children to say things they might not otherwise say to another child face-to-face.

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They’re intolerant toward children who are different

Carmen Berzinski, licensed independent clinical social worker in Winona, Minnesota, says some children she works with show a lack of ability or willingness to accept kids that are different (diverse ethnic backgrounds, gender, disabilities, sexual orientation, etc). In an attempt to exert some control over these differences, a bully might engage in name-calling, sending harsh messages via text or social media, and fighting. For parents, Berzinki has this advice, “Nurture empathy and create opportunities for your child to do good. Reward your child for the positive steps forward they take.”

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What can a parent do to help their child who is bullying?

Get involved in your child’s school and dialogue with the teachers. Also, get to know your child’s friends and reinforce those relationships that are positive and inclusive to other children. “One thing that can alter a behavior more than anything else is when a parent carves out 20 minutes a day to spend one-on-one with their child,” says Clark. If your child’s bullying tendencies continue, it may be time to consider the help of a qualified professional.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest