Is my child a bully? How to tell the signs and what to do about it

Is my child a bully?

If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, chances are that you might have seen behaviour in your child that brought on the concern. Or, someone might have brought to your attention an issue about your child’s behaviour.

I was at a friend’s house a couple of days ago when I witnessed something that had me shaking my head in awe. My friend Sharon* had just gone inside the house to attend to a call when I was left alone on the balcony. The balcony was overlooking the back garden where Sharon’s two kids were playing with two other kids from the next house.

To pass time, I decided to entertain myself to the children’s fun activities. It did not take long for me to paint a complete picture of what was going on with the kids. Andy, the second eldest of the bunch appeared to be in absolute control of everyone and the activities they engaged in. At eleven years old, Andy was the pride of Sharon’s heart. He was the exact replica of his father, in both form and character.

“No, we build the castle first and then fix the ninjas,” I heard Andy commanded the lot.

“But we built the castle already and you destroyed it,” nine year old Virginia lamented. She was the next door neighbour.

I had actually watched Tesa and Henry celebrating their triumph over succesffuly putting the Lego pieces together. I had missed the part where Andy dismantled the pieces because I had been deep in conversation with Sharon at that time.

“If I say we build the castle, then we build the castle. This time I’m doing it alone.” Andy sternly fired back.

After ten very long minutes, the three other kids gave up fighting the unflinching and commanding Andy. They ended up reluctantly doing his bidding. Two minutes into building the Lego castle (again, if I must add) the two kids from next door gave up playing for the day and went home.

This not being the first time I had witnessed Andy do something of the sort, I decided to voice my concerns to Sharon.

“I think your son is a bully,” I remarked to my friend when she finally joined me again.

Sharon chuckled softly. “No way,” she said. “That boy is too headstrong like his dad. Unlike other kids, he knows what he wants and he speaks his mind. It is not like he beats them or anything. They’re just too weak to stand up to him.”

Sharon’s nonchalant reaction to her child’s bullying ways made me realise something. It is hard for certain parents to acknowledge that their kids might be the problem that other parents worry about when it comes to the safety and well-being of their kids at school or at the playground. Sharon, like most unsuspecting parents, is not well informed about what really encompasses bullying.


What is bullying?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a bully as;

Someone who hurts or frightens someone else, often over a period of time, and often forcing them to do something that they do not want to do.

Types of bullying

The official website for the US government that deals with bullying, identifies three types of bullying:

  1. Verbal bullying: This involves saying or writing mean things, teasing, name calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting, and threatening to cause harm.
  2. Social bullying, sometimes referred to as relational bullying, involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Some examples are; leaving someone out on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone, spreading rumours about someone, and also embarrassing someone in public.
  3. Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. This can be; hitting, kicking, pinching, spitting, tripping, pushing, taking or breaking someone’s things, and making mean or rude hand gestures.
  4. There is a forth type of bullying called Cyber Bullying. This involves online activities such as spreading rumours, sending or emailing hurtful posts, images or videos,  etc.

Bullying in Kenya

Standard Media wrote an article in 2017 that highlighted the prevailing rates of bullying in Kenyan schools. Using data from the World Health Organisation who had conducted a survey on Global school-based health, the media outlet surmised that violence among adolescents in Kenya is highly widespread in schools.

The survey, which was also a collaborative surveillance project with the United States Centres for Disease Control (CDC) ranked Kenya among countries with the highest levels of bullying. These rates were between 43 per and 74 per cent among adolescents aged 13-17 years who claimed to have been targets of bullying at least once in two months. At the national level, bullying in schools in Kenya stands at 57 per cent for students who are bullied on one or more days in a month.

What you can do as a parent

  • Do not ignore, brush off, or explain away behaviour after hearing comments made by others about the behaviour of your child, especially if more than two people have voiced the same concerns.
  • Take time to observe your child yourself without prejudice.
  • Remember that just because your child behaves like a bully does not mean they ought to be punished, at least not right away and sometimes not in all cases.
  • Be patient, get to the bottom of the issue. There is always a reason behind bullying behaviour. Find out what could be the driving force behind your child’s before confronting them.
  • If you’re not sure about the right approach to use, seek help from someone you trust or a professional.
  • Sit down with your child and explain their behaviour to them. Let them know that there are consequences to their actions.
  • Lead by example. Children learn best through observation. Be the prime example of positive behaviour for your child. Teamwork is encouraged for mothers and fathers.
  • Where necessary, use positive and negative reinforcement to encourage good behaviour and discourage bad behaviour.
  • If the behaviour persists, seek professional help.
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