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What are some strategies for adults to redirect bullying behavior?

60-second answer

When a child is bullying others, it’s important that parents and educators take action. It is equally important for adults to recognize that bullying is about behavior, and they should choose responses that acknowledge behavior can be changed. Reframing the focus from labeling a child as a “bully” to referring to them as a “child with bullying behavior” recognizes that there is capacity for change. While children who are bullying others should be given appropriate consequences for their behavior, adults should be talking with their children to learn why they are bullying others. Children need to understand the impact their behavior has on others and realize the hurt they are causing. With adult guidance, redirecting bullying behavior toward an understanding of differences, as well as the practices of kindness and inclusion, are good strategies for reshaping a child’s behavior.


Bullying is a learned behavior — and it can be “unlearned” and replaced with more positive behaviors. By talking with your child and taking action, you can teach your child more appropriate ways of handling feelings and responding to peer pressure and conflicts.

While it is important to look into any report of bullying and have it stopped quickly, it is good to remember that children are still developing an awareness of the skills they need to maintain healthy relationships. Their behavior can and does change throughout childhood as their identity is formed.

Finding strategies to assist with the development of positive behaviors can influence bullying behavior in children, at home, or at school. If you suspect or know that your child has been bullying others, here are some things to do right away and on an ongoing basis:

  • Talk with your child. Children may not always recognize their behavior as bullying. They may see it as “just having fun” and not realize the impact it has on another child. Help them understand what defines bullying and emphasize that this behavior is never appropriate.
  • Explore reasons for the behavior. Find out why your child is behaving in a manner that is harmful to others through an open, nonjudgmental discussion. Here are some helpful tips on having that conversation.
  • Confirm that your child’s behavior is bullying and not the result of a disability. Sometimes, children with disabilities who have certain emotional and behavioral disorders, or are in the process of developing social skills, may act in ways that are mistaken for bullying.
  • Develop an action plan. It’s important to think through the steps that work for you, your child, and your situation using the Student Action Plan Against Bullying, along with a helpful guide for parents and educators.
  • Teach empathy, respect, and compassion. Children who bully often lack awareness of how others feel or understand how their actions impact someone else. Try to understand your child’s feelings and help your child appreciate how others feel when they are bullied. Let your child know that everyone has feelings and that feelings matter.
  • Make your expectations clear. Let your child know that bullying is not okay under any circumstances and that you will not tolerate it. Let them know that there will be consequences for their behavior. Take immediate action if you learn that he or she is involved in a bullying incident.
  • Provide clear and consistent consequences for bullying. Be specific about what will happen if the bullying continues. Try to find meaningful consequences that fit the situation, such as loss of privileges or activities. If the behavior does not change, consider increasing the significance of the consequences.
  • Teach by example. Help your child learn different ways to resolve conflict and deal with feelings, such as anger, insecurity, or frustration. Teach and reward appropriate behavior.
  • Provide positive feedback. When your child handles conflict well, shows compassion for others, or find a positive way to deal with feelings, provide praise and recognition. Positive reinforcement can help improve behavior and is usually more effective than punishment.
  • Be realistic. It takes time to change behavior. Recognize that there may be setbacks. Be patient as your child learns new ways of handling feelings and conflict. Keep your concern and support visible.

Speaking with school personnel and developing a collaborative relationship with school staff can also be very helpful in changing a child’s behavior. Reach out to those who work with your child at school and share information about your concerns.

Here are some other tips for establishing relationships in your child's school or community:

  • Establish good communication with your child’s teachers and coaches at the start of the school year.
  • Speak with school staff. Talk to the principal, dean, counselor, or social worker to determine if the school offers a bullying prevention program and how your child might be involved.
  • Research ways for your child to be involved in groups that encourage cooperative relationships and focus on working with others.
  • Seek help from your community. It’s important to find resources in both the school and community. Your child’s doctor, leaders of youth groups, coaches, or mental health practitioners can help you and your child learn how to understand and deal with bullying behavior.

What You Can Do If Your Child is Showing Bullying Behavior? PACERTalks About Bullying Season 3, EP 11

Ask Us: What Motivates Someone to Bully? PACERTalksAboutBullying, Season 2, EP 20

Posted April, 2017

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