Why Your Child May Be Bullying At School

Karen Phillip

Relationships Expert

Bullying is an insidious behaviour that is learned. Children are not born a bully; they learn this behaviour; it is often modelled from a parent, sibling or significant other in their life. There is a saying ‘Bullies are not born; they are raised’.

A bully acts out to obtain control. The child models what they see and learn this behaviour as acceptable and normal. The child is often bullied at home, usually by a parent. They feel they have no control over their life. They witness how the stronger intimidates, affects and bullies the weaker, quieter or younger victim, often them. They experience fear, powerlessness and self-esteem issues. These children are often overlooked as an integral or respected member of the family, feels nobody cares about them and they often miss out on the love of at least one parent. They feel voiceless, powerless and can become resentful, angry and a bully.


They often select a smaller person, one that is nonaggressive or shy and they do what they can to make that child feel as bad as they feel. They often select a person who has attributes they want. This child may have close friendships, abilities or a stable family. It may be a close, loving relationship with a parent that the bully is unable to obtain for themselves that results in the targeting of the victim child.

It is important to remember that children who bully are still children. They are acting that way for a reason. They need help and guidance from adults, parents, educators and counsellors. They need to understand the reason why they are behaving in such a way and to learn different ways to feel better about themselves and not use another child as their catalyst. Bullies do not have resilience, good social skills, empathy, or coping abilities. Unless corrected, this has the potential to lead to a life of relationship problems, parenting difficulties and problems with the law.

Following are some tips for parents who have either recognised or been advised their child is acting like a bully.

These tips can work on building positive relationships:

– Notice the child and praise them often.  Praise their accomplishments as well as the efforts they make
– Listen to them when they need to be heard
– Assist them to resolve a problem by asking them how they think it should be resolved. Offer them a couple of good choices and allow them to choose the one for them
– Encourage positive relationships with their friends
– Avoid ever comparing your child to others including siblings
– Set boundaries and hold them accountable for their behaviour
– Model empathy, care, concern and patience every day
– Set aside some special time with each child and spend that time doing something that you both enjoy
– Talk with them often. Talking by looking at them directly uninterrupted so they feel worthy of your time
– Remain as calm as you can be and model healthy conflict resolution skills, especially with children and partner

It is important to accept the comments of others and the school if your child is labelled a bully. You may not see this behaviour at home but rest assured people do not usually make this up unless there is a legitimate basis. No parent ever likes to hear their child is anything but good. If however you do recognise this information as true, what can you do with your child? Do all the above as often as you can and also take the time to discuss your child’s behaviour. The child is likely to dismiss or negate the stories as completely untrue and this may be due to the fact they do not see their behaviour as bullying, it may be normal to them.

The essential points to discuss with your child are:

1. Their interpretation of what a bully is
2. The feelings they believe it creates in another
3. Reasons why they feel their behaviour is justified
4. The reason they enjoy being feared
5. Better ways to act so people like them not fear them
6. And the reason they feel unloved, unappreciated or scared in their home – this can be very confrontational yet it is an essential conversation to have.

If the child is strong enough to discuss this with you and encourage that strength, do not take it as a personal attack. It is their feelings and emotions, and our perspective becomes our reality even if the adult sees it differently. Remember they are a child and have a child-like interpretation of events. Learn their interpretation, never tell them they are wrong as their interpretation is right – to them.

Learn what it is they feel and think and discuss ways to adjust this. Ask the child what it is they need for a change to occur. It is amazing when a child is asked they can often respond very well, as long as the environment you set up is safe and non-judgmental.


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