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What If My Child is a Bully | Overview

It’s a busy day at work. Your phone rings, and the principal at your child’s school tells you your child is bullying other students. What do you do?

Popular media tends to focus just on the children who are bullied. So, what about the children who are bullies? According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 30 percent of young people admit to bullying others.

Research also shows that bullies are at greater risk for delinquent behavior and may experience adverse physical and mental health consequences including poor academic achievement, depressive symptoms, and more.

If you suspect your child is bullying others, Boston Children’s BACPAC program is here to help. BACPAC Director Peter Raffalli, MD, offers guidance to help identify and treat children who exhibit bullying behavior.

Bullying is a symptom and not a disorder

It is important to treat the underlying condition that is leading to the symptom if one can be found. For example, children with certain conditions can be more prone to bullying behavior.

A thorough medical, developmental, and psychological history is the starting point when trying to determine if there is a treatable underlying condition that makes the child more apt to bully. However, sometimes a child experiments with bullying. If this is the first time your child has exhibited such behavior, then it may not be an indication of a serious problem.

Assessing the ‘whole child’

Our experts look to determine whether your child has a history of developmentally-related issues. These may include a history of inattention, hyperactivity, low frustration tolerance, and impulsivity, which may signal the possibility of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Kids with ADHD are at higher risk for bullying behavior and they are also at higher risk for being victimized.

Examining the psychological characteristics of a child

Raffalli says sometimes children with unemotional traits have difficulty understanding how other people feel, which may prompt bullying. Kids or teens with oppositional-defiant behavior may also bully others, even sometimes their teachers. These types of psychological traits are treatable with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Parenting strategies

Have parenting strategies been consistent between the parents? Studies show lack of parental warmth or involvement can increase the risk of bullying behavior. Has one or both parents been too permissive of aggressive behavior and/or allowed the consumption of violent media entertainment? Studies show that physical punishment or explosive outbursts by parents increase bullying behavior in children.

Finding the proper psychological diagnosis

Early onset psychiatric problems are treatable, and the earlier a child is treated, the better the prognosis. Examples of problematic behavior may include:

  • a strong family history of mood or other psychiatric diagnoses
  • difficulty managing anger or engages in rage episodes
  • a history of other antisocial behaviors such as stealing, vandalism, or early substance abuse

If you believe your child is bullying others and in need of support, call the BACPAC program at 617-355-6388.