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Our Favourite Ways to Find Support if your Child is a Bully

Every year we reflect on Anti-Bullying Week from a different angle. In the past, we've looked at cyberbullying and ways to deal with bullying; this year we asked how to tell if your child is the bully


A wide variety of approaches have been attempted over the years to tackle bullying behaviour in children and many schools are committed to safeguarding their pupils' wellbeing and prevent bullying. As most of these initiatives understandably focus on supporting those who have been bullied, we asked Simon Walsh of Family Lives to shed light on what to do if your child is the bully.

It's important to consider how we can support children who bully - to change their behaviour, to address and ultimately explore the root causes of why they exhibit bullying tendencies.

How to tell if your child is a bully

Previous focus groups run by Family Lives have stated that some parents of children who bully felt alienated from anti-bullying services, reporting that services including helplines seem to be geared towards supporting the victims of bullying.

They also felt that otParenting techniques can helpher parents were generally less sympathetic towards children who bullied, showing little consideration for any underlying causes which could explain why a child chooses to victimise others.

Describing to Family Lives' support workers the emotions they felt when they found out about their child's behaviour, it was clear that many of these parents would have benefited from practical and emotional support.

Many said they had faced an ongoing struggle to change their child's behaviour and needed guidance and external support; otherwise their actions were doomed to fail as they had tried everything they could think of to support their child to change:

"You try things, they don't work and you think, then what? I'd have tried anything," said one parent.

Family Lives' support helpline for parents

Over a two year period, Family Lives' free 24 hour Helpline (0808 800 2222) received 67,983 long calls, of which 3,331 calls concerned bullying - in essence, 5% of all long calls.

In 8% of these cases, the caller's child was the perpetrator involved, and in the majority of cases where the parent had called to talk about their children's bullying behaviour, it involved bullying at home.

One parent told us:

"My child has been displaying some negative behaviour at school recently. This involves spitting and throwing sand. He tells me other children are not nice to him. How can I tell if he is being bullied and therefore retaliating or the problem lies with him? He has come home with scratches and bruises, but so far I have put it down to boys playing rough."

It is also clear that despite the parent's view that the behaviour may be in retaliation, there is a desire for help to ensure that the bullying behaviour stops. One parent confided:

"My 13 year old son has progressed from being "bullied" to being a bully. His behaviour has deteriorated over the past 12 months or so - lies, poor academic marks, and fights at school and so on. My wife and I need help - we have no idea what we are doing wrong or how to rectify this behaviour. Any suggestions would be much appreciated."

Supporting the parents of children who bully

Family Lives offers a free helpline for parentsThere are real concerns that life outcomes, both for children who are bullied and for children who bully others, are significantly poorer than for those children who do not bully and are themselves resistant to bullying.

In a three year pilot, Family Lives worked with wider families to tackle bullying behaviour.

New approaches to communication and discipline

One element of the project aimed to prevent bullying and difficult behaviour in school children by working to support their families to manage, challenge and change their child's unacceptable behaviour. Amongst other activities, there was a focus on reducing the impact of bullying by working with families to build emotional resilience in their children, enabling them to resist and cope with bullying behaviour in others and prevent them from treating others in a way they themselves would not wish to be treated.

Feedback from the families of those children, who were on the point of exclusion because of their bullying and challenging behaviour, has shown that learning some new parenting skills and different approaches to communicating with and disciplining their child has helped a number of families to turn their child's behaviour around. In some cases, this change in their child's behaviour has prevented them from being excluded.

Families have found that, with the support of a dedicated parent support worker, they could turn their child's life around and divert children as young as six years old away from a certain path to permanent exclusion. Others have found Family Lives' group telephone and one-to-one support sessions to have been invaluable.

Reasons for bullying and how to spot the signs

Being able to identify whether or not your child is a bully is not always easy. Equally, it's just as hard to know if your child is being bullied. Children displaying bullying traits very often harbour their own worries and anxieties perhaps because they have faced bullying themselves.

Children may bully for the following reasons:

  • Being bullied in the home environment by other family members
  • Undiagnosed or diagnosed Special Educational Need (SEN) which may cause the child to be resentful or angry and struggle to integrate with peers
  • They may not yet possess social skills to resolve 'playground differences' diplomatically so may find it easier to be physical or to verbally intimidate classmates or siblings
  • Bullies themselves may have low self-esteem, so project this on others
  • Problems may arise at home if parents are divorcing, separating or going through other issues such as employment or financial problems.

Signs that your child is a bully may include the following:

Being bullied can lead to bullying behaviour
  • Reluctance and refusal to include certain children in home, school or sports activities
  • Continues to display an obstinate attitude even when 'told off' by teachers
  • Erratic and dysfunctional parental behaviour can impact greatly on a child's life as they are seen as role models and parents are the primary teachers
  • The acquisition of toys, video games and other items not bought by a parent or relative
  • If a child is verbally or physically aggressive towards a parent or other adult carer.

If you think your child is a bully and want help understanding the support and techniques you can use to turn their behaviour around, don't be afraid to ask for help (Family Lives' Helpline).

You might also be interested in our articles on cyberbullying and helping a child who's being bullied.

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