I think my child is a bully, what should I do?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – We hear a lot from parents whose kids are bullied, but what should you do if your child is the bully?

Bullying has been going on for centuries, and now, kids are finding new ways to bully.

“I would say that I definitely hear about it more frequently and it’s changing as well. I mean there are still common forms that we hear about of course, with physical bullying that people are sort of more commonly familiar with, but we’re hearing much more about the social and cyberbullying,” said Stephanie Eken, M.D. Regional Medical Director at Rogers Behavioral Health.

Dr. Eken says she sees kids on a daily basis who have had some experience with bullying. She says social and cyberbullying can occur through texting, negatively posting about others, excluding them from conversations, or not “liking” posts and pictures.

She said, “Things are changing and kids are using it in different ways to bully and to check in and do these things that I think we don’t always keep pace with and don’t even understand. And then some kids perceive it as bullying.”

Bullying can also be physical, and it can start early.

“If you look at like national statistics, bullying is sort of at its highest rates in middle school, but it can start in elementary school definitely. And we can see you know disruptive behaviors when kids are in preschool but it’s more easily handled then,” said Dr. Eken.

She believes that is when parents should step in and put a stop to it.

“I think they should say something just for the fact of, it’s so changeable at that point in time you know for that child who’s engaging in that behavior, and also for the child who’s being pushed, if that was repetitive for them, that’s also not a pattern that you want to continue for them because that could also have long-lasting effects,” she said.

Experts say if you see your child pushes another child on the playground, for example, address it immediately, and don’t just chalk it up to kids being kids.

“There are so many reasons why a kid might go push another. Perhaps like that child hasn’t been socialized as much,” said Dr. Eken.

And there are signs you can look for at home in children who might be bullying others.

Dr. Eken said, “They may be more irritable. Kids who bully you know we see depression and anxiety in them as well. Some of them struggle socially as well. They may not understand social cues very well, so that’s something if you see them when they’re around groups of kids and they seem to miss social cues. Honestly too, if there’s a lot of anger and hostility in the household, that’s important to recognize as well as a parent because you’re modeling for them too.”

According to Dr. Eken, kids who come from a home where there is aggression, or who have experienced abuse or trauma are more likely to engage in those kinds of behaviors because it’s been modeled for them. And it’s not uncommon for children who are being bullied to become bullies themselves, possibly because they’re just tired of getting picked on.

She said, “Those kids who are both bullied and become bullies, are the kids who have the worst outcomes of anyone. So they’re the group that we worry about the most for their long-term mental health outcomes in terms of like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, those kinds of things.”

Dr. Eken says it’s normal for parents of children who are bullies to be in denial. But communication is key.

She said, “I think parents feel like they don’t know what to do sometimes, especially if their child is the bully, right, because that, it brings up so many of their own concerns, you know, what did I do as a parent, what did I not recognize, is there something I can do? But we definitely can get these kids help and we should take it seriously you know when we hear it, both if they’re being bullied or if they’re the bully, talk with the school, find help in the community if they’re not responding to your interventions in terms of communicating and trying to understand what’s going on.”

Parents should check in with their kids each day to see how things are going at school, be approachable, and keep an open door policy. And when it comes to social media, talk to your kids about the dangers of being in their emotional brain and posting instantaneously.

If you’re concerned about your child not being themselves, if things are changing in terms of their academic performance or activities with their friends, if there are safety concerns, or if they just don’t want to go to school, you’re encouraged to talk with a professional. Be proactive, and let your kids know you care. 

Dr. Eken says she believes there should be consequences for inappropriate behaviors, and that the consequences should be in line with the behavior. For example, if a child was cyberbullying, they shouldn’t have access to social media for a predetermined amount of time, and when they regain access, there should be oversight. She also says to keep in mind that the punishment should not be for such a prolonged period that it’s ineffective.

Click here to watch this report.

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