Could Your Child Be a Bully? Signs to Look For and Questions to Ask

by | Aug 22, 2009 | Anger Management

Michele Borba

REALITY CHECK: One recent study prepared for the American Psychological Association showed that 80 percent of middle school students admitted to bullying behavior in the prior 30 days. Another survey found that 40 percent of nine to thirteen years old admitted to bullying. Beware: research also shows that an eight year old who bullies has a one in four chance of having a criminal record by the age of 26. 


 My son’s teacher says he bullies a classmate by saying cruel things, deliberately slamming or tripping him. He denies being mean, and says the other kid is just a “wimp” and deserves it. My husband says this is just a phase and a “boy thing.” Do I believe my husband or the teacher?


 No matter the age, gender, religion, or ethnicity, any child resorting to bullying needs an immediate behavior intervention. Do not make the mistake of thinking this is just “a phase” or a boys rite of passage. One study found that nearly 60 percent of males who were identified as chronic bullies in middle school had at least one criminal conviction by the age of 24. The consequences of letting this go unheeded are disastrous to your child’s character and conscience. The good news is because bullying is a learned behavior it can also be unlearned. First, you need to know what bullying is:

Bullying is intentional cruelty and always contains these four elements:

  1. It is an aggressive act that is usually repeated
  2. The bully has more power (strength, status, size) than the victim who cannot hold his own
  3. The hurtful behavior is not an accident, but intentional. The bully usually seems to enjoy seeing the victim in distress
  4. The bully rarely accepts responsibility and often says the victim “deserved” the hurtful treatment.

Once you understand the definition of bullying (and that it is different from teasing) watch your child to look for signs that he may be bullying. Keep in mind that your child may be acting differently outside your home. That’s why it’s important that you do listen to the teacher. Here are signs to watch for (and to ask the teacher):

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS  (from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries page 332)

Look for repeated and intentional patterns of verbal, emotional or physical aggression.

  • Excludes or shuns another child
  • Taunts, intimidates or harasses
  • Spreads vicious rumors verbally an or electronically that hurt or ruin another’s reputation
  • Physically aggressive (hits, punches, kicks, slams, chokes) or threatens with force or fear
  • Damages another child’s property or clothing
  • Takes pleasure in seeing a child (or animal) in distress, unconcerned if someone is upset
  • Finds it difficult to see a situation from the other person’s point of view
  • Refuses to accept responsibility or denies wrong doing when evidence shows guilt
  • Blames the victim or says the child “deserved what he got”
  • Targets those who are weaker or younger or animals

Questions to Ask the Teacher So You Can Create A Plan to Stop Bullying

My advice: Take the teacher’s word and work with her to develop a full-blown plan to stop your child’s bullying ASAP. Bullying should never be considered “just a phase” or a “boy thing.”  Sit down with that teacher and listen carefully. Gather facts and try to be objective. Here are things to find out:

  • What does the teacher define as bullying? Does the teacher’s definition match the four characteristics above?
  • What specific behavior is your child doing? Ask her to describe the behavior that she says is bullying. 
  • How frequently is your child  engaging in this behavior (once a week, twice a day or more)?
  • Who is he doing this behavior towards? Is it the same child or a number of children? Is he with other children who are egging him on or does the teacher consider your child to be the perpetrator?
  • Where and when is this happening? Hint: Bullying usually happens in the same locations–mostly spots that are not adult supervised and 120 feet away from a building. Hot spots for bullying are bathrooms, back of buses, corners of playgrounds, hallways.
  • How is the teacher handling the situation? Is your child being disciplined? Is the behavior increasing or decreasing?
  • How will you and the teacher continue to monitor this behavior to ensure it decreases?
  • Does the teacher have any feelings as to why your child may be bullying? Every child bullies for a different reason. 

To change this behavior you need to figure out WHY so you can turn it around).  This is a learned behavior and with results-driven parenting you can turn this around. Do not let this go: research shows that a child who bullies repeatedly at age 8 has a one in four chance of having a criminal record by the age of 26. Roll of up your sleeves, and GO PARENT FOR REAL AND LASTING CHANGE. 

Get more Parenting Solutions by following Michele Borba @MicheleBorba on Twitter or at her website: Michele Borba

Portions of this article are adapted from Michele Borba’s latest book,The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass) on sale now