How to Identify if Your Child is a Bully

Maybe it’s the extra money your child came home with. Or the fact that he’s losing his temper more often. Does she deflect responsibility for her actions, especially if those actions are earning disciplinary consequences at school? Children who bully often exhibit certain behaviors, and it’s important as parents to be able to identify the warning signs.

Bullying behavior isn’t just a phase children go through; it can mean that they’re beginning the path towards long-term behaviors that can damage their futures. In fact, research has shown that socially, boys who were identified as bullies in middle school were over three times as likely to have multiple criminal convictions by their early 20s, and higher self-reports of drug and alcohol use (Olweus).  Research has also shown that bullies are more likely than their peers to be involved in other antisocial, violent, or troubling behavior, like fighting, vandalism, stealing, weapon-carrying, school drop-out, and poor school achievement (Olweus). Immerging research points to long-term effects for society as well, since those who bully others are known to access public welfare systems, pass through the criminal justice system and generally contribute less productively to society over time. (Highmark Foundation, 2012.)

Even if your child seems relatively well-adjusted and does not exhibit any severe antisocial patterns, there is a fine line between assertive and aggressive behavior. Our overall goal as parents should be to raise healthy children who contribute positively as adults. Think about how your child’s current behavior would be accepted in the work place when they’re older. Are you seeing any patterns that concern you?

Certainly the long-term risks warrant a conversation with your child. Be on the lookout for:

Bullying behavior at home: Are they physically or verbally bullying their siblings at home?

Friends who bully: Are their friends bullies? Has your child recently joined a new social circle? Learn more about those friends and how they treat others.

Discipline at school: Have they been sent to the principal’s office or received detention frequently?

Blaming others: Do they often blame others for their behavior?

Aggression: Have they become aggressive recently – at home or at school?

Exclusion: Do they exclude others? Are they overly concerned with popularity or their reputation? Do they call other kids “weird” or “losers?”

Hurts Animals: Have they become aggressive with pets or animals?

Are you concerned that your child may be engaging in bullying behavior? What sort of warning signs are you noticing?

Published on: March 11, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Shiryl Barto M.Ed
Shiryl Henry Barto works for the Center for Health Promotion & Disease Prevention (CHPDP) at the Windber Research Institute as the director for bullying prevention initiatives.
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