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Beat bullying: Signs your child may be a bully and what to do about it

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MILWAUKEE -- October is Bullying Prevention Month -- and that's why we've called in Rebecca Michelsen with Penfield Children's Center to talk about what to do if you think your child is being bullied -- or may be a bully.

• Bullying, the act of willfully causing harm to others through verbal harassment (teasing and name-calling), physical assault (hitting, kicking, and biting) or social exclusion (intentionally rejecting a child from a group) used to be an issue, parents didn`t encounter until the 'tween' years (between the ages of 10-12).
• Some research suggests that tormenting has actually become more common among 2- to 6-year-olds than tweens and teens. 'Young kids are mimicking the aggressive behavior they see on TV shows, in video games and from older siblings,' explains Susan Swearer, Ph.D. and co-author of Bullying Prevention & Intervention.
• Students with a disability are 2 to 3 times more likely to be bullied than their typically developing peers.

If your child is using bullying behavior:
• Talk with your child. First, talk to your child about the incident and get her side of the story. Children do not always realize that their behavior is considered bullying and they may see it as 'just having fun.' Help them to understand what bullying truly is and the impact it has on another child.
• Determine the reasons for the behavior. Have an open discussion with your child to try to help you figure out why she may be acting this way. Things you may want to ask your child are: how she is feeling, if she is being bullied by someone else, or if friends who use bullying behaviors are pressuring her to bully too.
• Teach empathy, respect, and compassion. Once you get your child`s side of the story, help her understand how she might feel if someone did the same thing to her. Help your child remember that everyone has feelings and that feelings matter.
• Make your expectations clear and provide consistent consequences for bullying behavior. Let your child know you will not tolerate bullying behavior and that there will be consequences if she continues. Make sure to be specific about what will happen if she continues to use bullying behaviors and make sure that the consequences fit the situation.
• Develop an action plan. Behavior can be changed, but it will take time and work. Think through your action plan and consider options that work for you, your child and your situation. Also, think about who needs to be involved, such as your child`s school, your child`s doctor, coaches or mental health professionals, just to name a few.
• Be a role model. Bullying behavior is a learned behavior. As parents, we need to remember to model appropriate behavior for our children, especially when it comes to resolving conflict and dealing with our feelings such as anger, insecurity or frustration.

Signs your child might be friends with a child exhibiting bullying behaviors:
The other child might:
• Encourage classmates to exclude certain children
• Tease and call people names
• Purposefully talk to classmates about playdates or birthday parties they were not included in
• Act out in a physically aggressive way toward peers

If you feel your child has become friends with a classmate who exhibits bullying behavior, should you try to stop him from being friends with that child?

While it would be nice to have that control over your child`s friendships, it`s not always possible. In fact, telling your child who he can and cannot hang out with might actually have the adverse effect you were hoping for.

• Start a conversation with your child about the qualities that make up a good friend and those that don`t. Kids are pretty good about being able to list these qualities. This will allow your child to actually think, "Is Billy being a good friend to others?"
• Encourage your child not to ignore the behavior. Instead, tell him how important it is to stand up and say something if his friend is bullying other children. If he sits on the sidelines, he could get lumped into being labeled a bully as well.
• Roleplay "what if' scenarios to give your child practice responding to bullying. Build your own child's self-confidence and coping skills, as bullies look for power and control and a confident child is less likely to get picked on.
• Reach out to your child`s teacher. Tell him/her that you are concerned about the situation and ask how the school typically handles bullying situations. He/she might also be willing to take steps to limit the time your child and this friend spend together by encouraging them to pick different partners for school projects and/or bringing in a guest speaker to address bullying issues at the school.

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