Worried your child might be a bully? Psychotherapist shares 8 powerful ways to change this dynamic, and #4 might take some courage (but is so worth it)

You'll need to work with yourself and your kid to see a change

Mother and daughter having a conversation at the table
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Worrying your child might be a bully is an understandable concern no parent wants to think about. A psychotherapist has urged parents not to panic, sharing powerful strategies that can help reverse the narrative.

While plenty of consideration is given to how to raise resilient kids, and how to raise confident kids, most would assume their parenting strategies will produce caring children. A rising suspicion that your kid could be a bully, will likely induce panic and dread in parents who've gone out of their way to raise happy kids who are sensitive to the happiness of those around them. 

Should you feel your child is engaging in bullying behaviours, child and adolescent psychotherapist Zara Kadir, urges parents not to show alarm. Sharing her thoughts to Instagram, Kadir wrote "Please don’t panic, but do reflect. One of the most common reasons for bullying, is feeling bullied. If your kids are calling their siblings awful names or physically picking on them, this is bullying. It being a sibling doesn’t change that."

She added "If you’re constantly threatening your child and disempowering them, this can also be bullying. Show self-compassion, you’re not doing it on personal terms but perhaps need to work on your skills and regulation as a parent to change this dynamic." The psychotherapist then went on to share eight strategies parents can use to facilitate positive change in themselves, and their child.

8 ways to help your child if you're worried they might be bullying

  1. Don't redefine your child. Don't use this negative behaviour to redefine your little one. Kadir said "They are still the same wonderful child you know and love. Doing a bad thing doesn't make anyone a bad person, your child is learning and you need to step into a guiding role."
  2. Be curious, not judgmental. Kadir suggests "Open a conversation based on genuine interest in their experience. If you come into it hot, full of judgment and shame, your child won't open up to you."
  3. Remind them they're safe. This is something all children need to hear, no matter what the circumstances. "If your child is worried about you coming down hard, they'll lie," the post read, continuing "Preserving themselves means preserving their attachment with you." Kadir suggested parents say: "Whatever you tell me, I will believe and I will try to understand."
  4. Normalise their behaviour. For this fourth strategy, parents will need to look into themselves and might need to share some uncomfortable truths. It reads "Tell them of a time that you were unkind, perhaps some of your moments as a parent have been bullyish and you can reflect on this with them. We have all had moments where we weren't our best, and knowing this stops your child feeling alone."
  5. Explore reasons for their behaviour. If this is a sudden change or really out of character for your child, you'll want to know what's happened. Kadir suggests saying to your little one: "I'm going to share some reasons kids bully, you can tell me if something feels like it fits or just think about it without telling me. Remember whatever you say, I love you and know you're a good person."
  6. Possible reasons. Kadir shared possible reasons parents can ponder and reflect on, as a basis for understanding their child's behaviour. She wrote that reasons to consider include: "Fitting in and impressing other bullies, being bullied at home by parents or siblings and acting out. Wanting a connection from teachers and using negative attention. A natural leader learning how to use their power. Poor understanding of social skills and feeling threatened."
  7. Offer alternatives. Once you've chatted about or reflected on reasons for bullying behaviours, it's time to offer different ways your child can manage their feelings. "Once you've gained some insights into why, you can show them positive ways to get attention and have their needs met," the post read, continuing "You can role play being powerful in a kind way, or being assertive and saying 'no' to someone who's egging them on."
  8. Be educational with consequences. Not always easy, but Kadir suggests turning negative behaviour into a teachable moment, sharing "If they're cyberbullying then losing their phone/internet privileges for a set period of time is logical. However, make this too long and they'll never be motivated to earn it back. If they're bullying in person, encourage and support them in apologising and making it right."

One commenter strongly agreed that being curious was a strategy they valued and would find useful. Overall, the suggestions made by Kadir are simple, and the straightforward guidance offered should make them easy to implement with practice.

Being a parent presents many challenges, and while a lot of conversation focusses on nurturing positive elements of kids' personalities, it's heartening to see acceptance and reassurance when difficulties such as a bullying child present themselves. These conversations are an equally important part of being a reflective parent who responds to all of their child's needs, which isn't always easy.

For more on bullying, we have everything you need to know about cyberbullying, and also share the best books about bullying for children and parents. Sadly, bullying can continue into adulthood, and one mum shares her experience of being bullied at the school gates.  

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.