Very Bad Behavior

The Schoolyard Bully

Whether he's throwing punches or calling a classmate fat, your child could be inflicting serious damage.

Who does it? School-age children

What they're thinking Kids who act out this way at school are often looking for attention. If they see that hurting someone works, they'll continue to do it. So find out why your child craves the limelight so badly--and address that issue promptly. Hitting or spreading rumors could also be a sign that he hasn't yet learned self-control. "We all have innate aggressiveness. We just don't act on it because we understand how our behavior affects others and because of our social consciousness and value system," Dr. Maidenberg explains. "Sometimes kids don't yet have the turn-off switch."

How to deal It's important to understand what your child's motivation is, and the best way to find out is to ask. Dr. Hertenstein suggests something along these lines: "Your teacher told me about how you've been tripping Owen in the hallway. What makes you want to do that?" Next, use the how-would-you-feel tactic. Say, "You make fun of Nate because he doesn't play sports, but how would you feel if people made fun of you because you don't like sleepovers?" Once you know what's going on in his head, practice techniques to help him with his self-control, like taking deep breaths or counting to ten prior to taking action. While getting to the bottom of what?s provoking him and providing alternatives are crucial, so is providing consequences. Whether it's no TV or an early bedtime, taking away privileges shows that this behavior is never okay. Also make sure your child's teacher is as serious about the issue as you are. "There should be a zero-tolerance policy in the classroom," says Dr. Hertenstein.

When to call an expert It's one thing if your daughter makes fun of someone because she's been riled up by her group of friends. But if she's made a habit of generating gossip with the sole intention of hurting people, there might be reason to worry. "You have to look at the frequency and the severity of the behavior," says Dr. Hertenstein, who notes that a kid who is bent on inflicting pain and who isn't responding to discipline might have oppositional defiant disorder or antisocial disorder. No matter what, if physical bullying is involved, there's always cause for concern.

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