July 02, 2015

Q: My ten-year-old daughter seems to be a bit of a bully. I've tried to talk to her about this, and have bought her age appropriate books with stories that relate to this, but nothing I do seems to help. Please tell me how to help her before she loses all of her friends.

A: We all need to learn to get along with others –well, unless you become a member of Congress, I guess – and there are definitely things that a parent can do to help a child learn to do so.

Teach, praise and practice positive, alternate skills Kids don’t have the knowledge or experience that adults do, and so may only know and use a limited number of ways to get what they want. It is important to teach children alternate, acceptable ways to achieve their goals.  For example, parents can work with a child on learning how to ask nicely for something; what to tell himself if they can’t get what they want (e.g., “That’s o.k.; maybe next time”); and how to wait on things (e.g., finding something else to do to occupy your time).  Then, a parent should role-play with the child in “pretend” situations.  Right before an actual situation is about to arise, the parent should remind the child of the skills to use and practice them.  These skills should be practiced over and over with the child (or with the Congressman, whichever the case may be), and parents should catch the child “being good” and praise, praise, praise when the child acts appropriately.

Increase empathy Many children have difficulty seeing the point of view of others and understanding how things affect others.  When parents are watching television or a movie with their child, or when they read about something in the newspaper or hear about something that happens in real life, parents can ask the child questions like “Why do you think that person did that?” or “How did that person feel?”, in order to help kids get into the habit of thinking about and caring about the thoughts and feelings of others.  When a child shows kindness or caring or empathy, praise him for this.

Model You are your child’s role model; your actions speak volumes.  Make sure that you as a parent display the behaviors and values that you want your child to adopt.  And be sure that the other adults in his environment do, too.

Set a zero tolerance policy for bullying  Parents need to make it known in no uncertain terms that bullying of any kind is not acceptable for their children (this also means between siblings!) and that there will be consequences (e.g., no television or video for a certain number of hours) any time the child bullies.  Discuss with your child your expectations on an ongoing basis, and follow through when he does bully.

Use good Behavior Management Parents control an awful lot of what a child cares about.  While a child may enjoy bullying another child or may want something the child has, the parent is in control of things the child likes and wants even more.  So make the things he really values – t.v., video, and so on – contingent upon his treating others right.

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Answered by Dr. Wayne Fleisig



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