What If Your Child’s the Bully?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No parent wants to learn that their child is being bullied. But it may be even harder to hear that their child is the bully. What does a parent do when they’re told?

“Take a deep breath and don’t panic,” advises Sally Kuykendall, Ph.D., assistant professor of health services at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “Resist the temptation to respond defensively with ‘not my child.’ Understand that your child may be testing behaviors.”

“Parents need to consider their child’s social skills and whether or not they’re mimicking violence they’ve been exposed to in the media, at home or in the community,” Kuykendall suggests.

Kuykendall highlights the need for parents to engage in conversation with their child and to keep that conversation going. “Confront excuses. Don’t allow them to tell you they were ‘just joking.’ Set clear and consistent limits. Let your child know what is socially acceptable behavior. Don’t let your child blame the victim or rationalize the attacks,” she warns.

Some bullies, Kuykendall explains, are actually victims who have reacted to being bullied with counter-aggression. She refers to these individuals as provocative victims. “If you think that your child is the provocative victim, you must get involved,” urges Kuykendall. “Provocative victims are at higher risk for depression, school threats and drug use. Try to remove your child from the situation so that he or she is not put in a position where control is lost and attacks are imminent. Identify a caring adult who will keep an eye out and stop the behavior when it occurs.”

Kuykendall stresses the need to follow up. “Teaching children to treat others with respect is an ongoing conversation,” she says. “Don’t expect to say it once and never have to say it again.”

Media Contact

Kuykendall can be reached at sblack@sju.edu or by contacting the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222.

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