Society is saturated with information on bullying. Each time you turn on the TV or flip open newspapers there are stories, articles and hotlines for bullying—that is the victims of bullying. Conversely, little or nothing in these same media venues addresses how to deal with the bully. So…where do we go from here? What can parents do when their kid is the perpetrator of bullying? If they choose to do nothing will they just “grow out of it”?

When bullying is left unchecked potentially negative outcomes, if not very damaging ones lurk on the horizon! Bullying attitudes and behaviours in children appear to become more serious and more difficult to prevent and may be carried into adulthood where their potential dangerousness and consequences increase exponentially (McAdams & Lambie, 2003). Is it any wonder so many bullies become delinquent, wind up with lives connected to street crimes and gang violence? Research demonstrates that students who bully in middle school have been found to be up to four times more likely to be involved in later criminal activity than those who do not (Cole et al., 2006). Those are staggering statistics moms and dads!

The key to fixing and stopping bullying behaviours is to nip it in the bud. As a social psychologist, professor of education and volunteer for several children’s organizations the commonality to treating bullying is preventing it from escalating to a level where it gets out of control for all involved—the victims, the bully, parents, teachers, counsellors and sometimes police officers/courts. It is extremely important to identifying bullying as “a problem” which is half of the battle, and then addressing it by dealing with it appropriately. Just how is this done?

In order to help the bully it is imperative to identify their underlying need and motivation for bullying. Why do they feel the need to bully other kids? When it comes to bullying, children bully for one of two reasons; Fear or Gain! Some experts on bullying will classify these as reactive and proactive aggression respectively. In reactive aggression, the bully believes that some sort of misperceived threat exists whereby someone is out to harm them. This is usually a by-product of past experiences where they were wronged, threatened or hurt and an adequate or reasonable resolution to the unfortunate event was never achieved. Furthermore, adults (parents) never taught them or modeled them to have the amicable skills for dealing with similar and future events. Instead, bullies who operate from this premise behave from this irrational frame of reference. In fact, once each situation gets some sort of resolution or restitution, bullies are often times deeply remorseful for how they behaved. Consequently, they are most likely to react out of fear in similar situations which arise.

In proactive aggression, the bully usually acts out based on greed… to get an “upper hand”. They believe bullying will get them what they want on their terms. Unfortunately, most bullies who use this as their modus operandi do so from modeling experiences based on watching their parents—monkey see monkey do! They believe and are sometimes taught that the only way to get ahead in the world is by hurting and/or taking advantage of others. Survival of the fittest! And this is where parents come in—Hopefully!

Parents need to identify, learn and understand the underlying motivation for their child’s bullying behaviours. Why are they doing it? In order for this to occur, parents need to open up the lines of communication, not only talking to their children but listening as well. By asking “heart of the matter” questions, parents will get to the root of the problem. With that said, parents need to be prepared to identify or accept that they may be contributing to the problem. This is sometimes very hard to do when one’s ego gets in the way!

Having regular discussions with kids is a good idea. Having daily discussion with children who are bullies is even better! Did you know that some estimates assert that the average amount of time parents engage in daily discussions with their children range from 2 ½ to 6 ½ seconds? Is it any wonder that children lack communication skills, especially bullies? Besides discussions, supplemental options to consider are support groups for bullies, self-esteem support groups, and individual counselling. Furthermore, getting children who are bullies involved in organized sports or activities that interest them are great ways to teach them social skills, especially discipline and respect, both for other people as well as themselves. Interestingly, martial arts is an exceptional venue for teaching kids, especially bullies all of the aforementioned as they are taught violence is not the answer!

If parents want to fix a child who is a bully, they need to realize that perhaps they are contributing to the problem or causing it. Interestingly, in most instances of bullying, parents or lack of parenting is the common denominator. If you are a parent then you are a large part of getting the equation corrected!