My Kid Is Turning into a Bully. What Can I Do?

Some kids are bullies, and others are the targets of bullying. And no parent wants their child on either side of this equation.

At Primrose, we nurture traits like kindness, compassion and generosity because we strongly believe that who children become is just as important as what they know. 

The truth is that young children can fall into unhealthy social behaviors when they observe parents and other family members who routinely don’t communicate with sensitivity or respect or take into account another person’s feelings. 

At the same time, children who develop a foundation of empathy and conflict resolution from a young age are more likely to become kind and considerate people and are less likely to participate in bullying behavior.

Here are some ways you can help your children build the foundation they need to form healthy relationships:

Model empathy and respect

Little eyes and ears are always watching and listening, and children will repeat the words and actions they observe. Help your child learn kindness and consideration through example.

  • Talk about the feelings of others with care and concern. For example, “Oh, it looks like you’re feeling really frustrated with that task. I understand it’s hard to keep trying and not be able to get it just the way you want it.” Intentional conversations like this will help your child learn empathy.
  • Teach good manners and respect for others in your interactions. When you’re out running errands with your child, offer sincere thanks to the store clerk or bagger for helping you. Be kind and patient toward servers. Hold the door for others. Compliment others and ask your child to do the same.
  • Approach arguments with respect and openness. When there is a disagreement at home, express understanding of the other person’s perspective and feelings. Listen to his or her side of the argument and offer a solution. Avoid stubbornness.

Talk about your emotions

Help children develop their emotional vocabulary. Providing context for children’s emotions helps them learn to recognize their own feelings and the feelings of others.

  • Acknowledge your feelings. Express your emotions aloud. For example, “I am feeling sad because Grandpa is sick in the hospital” or “I feel frustrated because I can’t get the lid off this pickle jar!”
  • Relate to your child’s feelings with empathy. You might say, “You feel disappointed that we can’t play outside today because it’s raining. I wish we could play outside, too.”
  • Talk through emotions you see. As you’re reading books before bedtime or watching your child’s favorite show, call out the feelings the characters are experiencing: “She feels scared because it’s dark in that room” or “He feels mad because his sister won’t let him play with her.”
  • Redirect negative behavior. When you witness bullying in children, share examples of how to show kindness instead. 

Seek solutions to conflicts

Conflict is inevitable, but problem-solving can be learned and practiced. When an issue arises, talk through the situation and prompt solutions to foster this skill in your little one.

  • Name the problem. “We have a problem. You want to go outside barefoot, but I want you to put shoes on your feet to keep them from getting hurt.”
  • Acknowledge that there could be a solution. “What could we come up with that would solve this problem?”
  • Help them out. Your child may not be able to consider a solution at first, so make a problem-solving suggestion. “I know. What if I carry you to the soft grass and let you run around barefoot in the grass for a few minutes? Then we can put on your shoes so you can ride your bike and keep your feet safe.”

Intentionally nurturing these skills in children can help them develop healthy habits when practiced at home on a regular basis. If your child has an incident at school involving bullying behavior, you’ll have a strong foundation to help him or her learn from the experience and make healthier choices next time.

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