What if my child is a bully?

Every day I read another tragic news story about a child who has lost their life to suicide as a result of bullying. Pointless, mindless cruelty that the victim can do nothing about. What child is strong enough to stand up to big groups of children ganging up to make them feel worthless?

As an adult I know what it feels like when you don’t fit in. When you walk into a room and nobody speaks to you or there are giggles and cruel comments about the way you look. It’s heartbreaking. I’m a big girl, I deal with it. Ride it out, walk away or just face up to them.

But what about a child who experiences this every day, or a teen who has been made to feel like an outcast for years? They haven’t developed a thick skin, become hardened to the harsh words or learnt coping mechanisms to get them through it.

And that’s where parents come in. I don’t mean parents of the victims, but parents of the bullies.

Could my child be a bully?

The thing that concerns me most about the bullying epidemic we’re facing is that parents are often to blame. We are responsible for teaching our children how to behave. We do what we can to teach them right from wrong. And we think we’re doing a good job because our children are little angels.

We accept that they might be a bit naughty. The odd missed please and thank you, occasional lapses of concentration in class. But they’d never be unkind to another child because we’ve taught them better than that.

The apple of our eye is gentle, loving and kind so they’d never upset another child. Our little angel has been bullied themselves so there’s no way they’d do that to somebody else. We don’t need to check their social media to make sure they’re not being unkind to anyone because they’d never do it.

But we’re wrong. All of us. Bullying doesn’t come naturally to a child. They’re not born with a propensity to be unkind. Something happens along the way. They want to fit in, they don’t want to be bullied themselves and so they go along with it. Your kind, gentle child who would never intentionally upset someone has become a bully. And you’re so busy burying your head in the sand that you don’t even realise.Could my child be a bully?

What can I do?

I’ve read up on this because it has been playing on my mind. I see the way my children speak to each other. Normal sibling banter, repeating things they’ve heard at nursery or school.

You’re not my best friend anymore.

I don’t like you.

You smell of poo.

I know, it’s just siblings being siblings. But what if they’re saying these things to somebody at school? Stomp Out Bullying tell us that the first thing to do is to admit there’s a problem, then you can start to address it. But I think it starts before that.

I think the first step to eliminating bullying comes with all of us being open to the fact that our child could be the perpetrator. At any time. Not just when they’ve been in a fight or someone has complained.

Every time my daughter mentions that she’s fallen out with someone or moved to a new friendship group, I worry that she’s being bullied. I should be just as worried about whether she’s the one doing the bullying.

Why it matters

When I was at school there was a girl who nobody liked. She hadn’t done anything wrong and yet for years she was treated like an outsider. I don’t ever remember her having any real friends.

But we all wanted to fit in so none of us were willing to go against the grain and befriend her. Even now I think about her sometimes. I wonder how she’s doing and whether she’s okay. I wonder whether years of being shunned by her childhood peers effected her as an adult.

Every time I think of her, I wish I’d been a stronger person. I wish I’d had the confidence to be the one that stood up to everyone else and sat next to her in class. I was never actively unkind to her but I didn’t speak up, so I was just as bad.

Years later, I was working in a job that saw me speaking to school children after a classmate had hung himself. He’d been bullied, an outcast who didn’t have any friends. Each child I spoke to told me that when they heard what happened, they knew it would be him. They all knew and still stood by and let it happen. Just like I had all those years before.

And that’s why it matters. My child could be a bully and so could yours. They might not be the ringleader but that doesn’t make it okay. You might think that empowering them to stick up for someone who is struggling will put them at risk of becoming a victim. But if you don’t, your children could end up living with years of guilt. The guilt of knowing that they stood by and let somebody suffer, let somebody die.

When all they needed was a friend.

11 thoughts on “What if my child is a bully?

  1. Laura - dear bear and beany

    This makes me sad to read, because I know that it’s all true. This is the world that we live in and sometimes as a parent I feel powerless. We had a friendship issue at preschool with Alice and it broke my heart. I addressed it with the teachers and I was relieved that they had already identified it and they were dealing with it. It sorted itself out and now Alice is at school it’s no longer an issue. But I hope I don’t have to experience it again and I will do everything I can to make sure Alice is always kind to others. X
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  2. Natalie Streets

    I suppose all parents don’t want to think of their child as a bully. We often talk to Oliver about the way he behaves with other children and the way they behave with him. We also encouraged him to talk to new children at nursery at the start of the year because they wouldn’t have any friends yet. We reminded him how nice it was for him when his little friend came and held his hand and looked after him when he started. We talk about helping other children be happy when they’re sad too. I really hope it all sticks with him and we will keep reminding him over the years too.
    Natalie Streets recently posted…Window sill – ReviewMy Profile

  3. natalie

    It is such a worry – school is tough. I too like you wish I had gone against the grain and stood up for the person being teased or the person with no friends but I guess I just wanted to fit in. I teach my girls to be kind, if someone is on their own go and play with them, be brave and don’t follow the crowd but it is hard. I would be heartbroken if my girls were bullied but also equally heartbroken if they were they were the bully. Great post lovely x

  4. Pinkoddy

    You know I think my son has been the bully and I worry so much about it. As parents there is only so much you can do and lead by example but there just doesn’t seem to be the help and support out there. Now there’s talk of fining the parents – I really can’t see how this is going to help.
    Pinkoddy recently posted…Stressed Parents RelaxMy Profile

  5. Agent Spitback

    This is such an important issue and thank you for sharing it. It is true that we should look at that sometimes our own children could be the bully and sometimes that’s not even intentional. They may not even realise they’re bullying, especially when of a verbal nature. Children should be monitored and taught what is and what isn’t. That part sure doesn’t come naturally.
    Agent Spitback recently posted…To The Child Who Will Not SleepMy Profile

  6. Farmerswifeandmummy

    This is such a powerful piece and very much good for thought. I think as parents we worry so much about our children being bullied that the thought of them becoming one never crosses our minds. Until now.
    All parents should read this. You are right they copy us and see how we deal with things every day. Even down to shouting at a silly man when driving to school. I too will be checking on sibling rivalry.

  7. Sarah MumofThree World

    This is such a moving post and so true. I don’t think any parent thinks about the possibility of their child being a bully. I think we can all remember a child who didn’t have any friends and I’m sure my kids know people like that now. It’s sad that even kids who are good or nice won’t go against the grain and include these kids.
    Sarah MumofThree World recently posted…The choreography concertMy Profile

  8. Nell (the Pigeon Pair and Me)

    It’s so difficult to know what goes on behind the school gates – I remember from my own childhood that it’s a huge world of experience, that parents know nothing about. The best thing you can do, I think, is begin at home, encourage your children to be kind and challenge any unkind behaviour or language between siblings. I make sure we have lots of playdates at home too, and I observe the kids to get a handle of where they’re at, socially. I think good relationships with other parents are so important, too – that way you can head off problems before they get too big. Mine are only 4 and 6 though. I’m sure it gets so much more complicated when they’re older and away from parents for more of their time.
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  9. Louise (Little Hearts, Big Love)

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s so important to think about how we can help to encourage our children to stick up for others and to befriend those who are on the receiving end. I think many of us have been guilty of holding back and allowing bullying to happen as children – I know I did at times and it does make you wonder what a difference could have been made if you’d stepped forward and been the one to try to make a difference. It’s natural as parents for us to worry about our children being bullied but it is just as important to think about whether our child could be on the other side of it – whether by passively allowing it to happen or by actively encouraging it. It’s certainly given me food for thought.
    Louise (Little Hearts, Big Love) recently posted…This is our normalMy Profile

  10. Louise Pink Pear Bear

    Gosh what a powerful post Nat. This is so well written and so very true. It is too easy to go along with the bullies to avoid making yourself a target, even when it goes against your very core beliefs to be unkind to someone. I have been in the same position as you at school, as well as being bullied, and I think quite a big part was ‘I’m just glad it’s not me’.xx
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  11. Debbie

    Hi Nat, bullies are always somebodies child. And it must be a horrible thing to have to acknowledge that it is your ‘angel’ that is the bully.

    My main concern was my son being bullied as he is obviously ‘different’ and doesn’t fit into how other children would expect their peers to be. But he was so lucky and had great classmates throughout his school years.

    Because of Greg’s differentness I did find it easy to encourage both of them to try and befriend that person in the playground on their own (although that was usually my son). I talked to them about how they would feel if they were the one left out or new. Which at times was an awkward situation because it was Greg’s who was one of the ones left out or on his own (even when encouraged to join in he rarely did as he didn’t know how so he fluttered in the background).

    Bullying is the pits and should never be taken lightly. One small act of kindness can make all the difference.

    Great post!

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