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Is your child a bully?

By Lylah M. Alphonse
Globe Staff / February 18, 2010

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Dr. Elizabeth Englander, director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State College, says that it’s difficult to know if your child is being a bully because many of the signs are so general. “When you’re a parent, and you have two children and you know they fight on and off, and one is being more cruel to the other, you’re not sure how to respond,’’ she says. “Maybe that’s normal? That’s how sisters are? I can’t jump at every little thing - when do I intervene?’’

Here are some red flags to watch for:

1. Look at how they behave with their siblings. “Children who are nasty at school often develop it as a habit, and they’ll bring it home. You’ll hear it with their siblings,’’ Englander says. Whereas a normal sibling relationship “is an ambivalent relationship, it runs hot and cold,’’ ongoing abusiveness of one child toward another is cause for concern. “If you see your children being abusive to each other, even if they’re fighting mad, you should draw the line and make it clear that it’s unacceptable,’’ she says.

2. Look at how your child treats his friends. Has he dropped old friends whom he’s played with for years? Does he talk about his old friends in a condescending or derogatory way? Kids who may be bullying “may flip through their friends a little too quickly,’’ Englander says.

3. Look at how they respond to troubling situations. If they’re watching a movie in which a character is being picked on, how does your child respond? “Do they respond with empathy, or do they justify the behavior?’’

4. Tell the child how you would feel if you were the parent of the bully. If you find that they’re responding to a situation unsympathetically - saying “That loser deserved it,’’ for instance - tell them that no one deserves abuse. “I was really disturbed that you seem to think that it was OK,’’ Englander suggests saying. “There’s never an excuse for behaving that way.’’

Questions for kids

to ask themselves

Jennifer Castle, creator and producer of “It’s My Life,’’ a PBSkids.org website for tweens, offers simple questions for kids to ask to determine whether they’re being a bully:

1. Does it make you feel better to hurt other people or take their things?

2. Are you bigger and stronger than other people your age? Do you sometimes use your size and strength to get your way?

3. Have you been bullied by someone in the past and feel like you have to make up for it by doing the same thing to others?

4. Do you avoid thinking about how other people might feel if you say or do hurtful things to them?

- LMA

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