ASK THE EXPERTS

My 9-Year-Old Is a Bully

By Dr. Michelle Alvarez, Consulting Educator

Question:

My 9-year-old granddaughter is a bully. She starts arguments with others and upsets the entire classroom. She disrespects the teachers and has a terrible attitude. Can you give us some suggestions to help overcome these problems?

Answer:

Parenting style and family experiences can often contribute to a child's bullying behavior at school. Children who bully often have difficulty managing their own emotions and getting along with others. They bully as a means of regaining back a sense of control.

It is important for the school and the parents to work together to intervene and change this behavior. Your granddaughter must learn what behavior is expected of her and she needs to know the consequences if she engages in bullying. These consequences must be implemented with consistency. By working with the school, consistency is created between the home and school. This will require ongoing meeting as a result of incidents and between incidents.

It is important to also identify times when she is not bullying and foster this behavior by praising her during for appropriate behavior.

Your granddaughter needs to learn to acknowledge her actions, as well as the results of her behavior on herself and the effect it has on others. This can be accomplished by talking with her about what happened and how it affected the other child. If she takes responsibility or recognizes the impact of her behavior on the other child, praise her for taking responsibility for her actions and talk about ways she could have handled the situation differently.

Here are the questions you might want to ask:

  • What did you do?
  • Why was that response or action a bad choice?
  • Who did your actions hurt?
  • What were you trying to achieve?
  • In the future, how will you achieve that goal without hurting other people?

If these strategies do not work, ask for assistance in helping your granddaughter. Consider working with one of the student services professionals in her school (school counselor, school social worker and/or school psychologist) to develop strategies to address the bullying behaviors.

Since your granddaughter spends so much time at school, implementing the same strategies at home and school can provide her with the consistency she needs to change behavior, and provide you and other family members support in helping eliminate the bullying.

Dr. Michelle Alvarez is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Indiana and project director of Safe Schools/Healthy Students for the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation. A former school social worker in Pinellas County, Florida, she is co-editor of School Social Work: Theory to Practice and chair of the National Association of Social Workers, School Social Work Section. She is also the parent of a special needs child.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.