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My Child Is A Bully

When it comes to bullying, the impact is much bigger than people may expect - for both the child being bullied and the child doing the bullying. In instances of bullying it is clear that both children are struggling in different ways and it would be better for everyone involved to resolve the issue as quickly as possibly.

Two people sitting down and talking over coffee

That is why we sat down with Margot, a parent who has two teenage children who have both bullied their peers to varying degrees throughout their childhoods. This unique, and often not shared perspective gives a glimpse into the mind of a parent of a child who is bullying another child. By being vulnerable and sharing her family's story Margot sheds light on her experience, offering insights that can help other parents navigating the complexities of bullying.

"We adopted my sons at 3 and 5 and a half. They came from a neglectful and likely abusive beginning. They went from a biological family to foster care where they were not taken care of properly either. They had a very rough start." said Margot.

"My oldest started bullying his peers when he was 7. He was already exhibiting maladaptive behavior before then but didn't lash out to other kids until he was 7. My younger son began bullying as soon as he started kindergarten, so he was 5. It was primarily physical aggression, but as they grew older, it evolved into name-calling and riling others up." Margot reflects.

The trauma that Margot's children faced early on in their young lives played a impactful role in why and how they would bully their peers. Margot explained that for her children bullying was a way to try and control an unpredictable environment like school. "In our case my son was afraid of the kids he was bullying. Because they were smart or looked at him in a way he didn't understand. He thought it was antagonistic and it wasn't. That comes from neglect - you just don't trust anybody."

A young child frustrated with their school work

"My youngest son is 15-years-old now and reads and does math on a 2nd grade level. We are still struggling with his education because they were always all about his behavior and not his education. So, nobody really taught him. He would bully kids because it gave him a sense of control. He felt so out of control in the classroom, because he has a learning disability and both of my sons have ADHD. We're not talking the ADHD where parents just want their children to calm down. My kids cannot sit in their seat because they start to shake. My son didn't understand what the teacher was saying. He couldn't read, he couldn't write, so he felt like bullying gave him some control."

"My immediate reaction to hearing about the bullying was that I hoped the other child was okay. I also hoped that the school had an understanding of why a kid bully's. That was not usually the case. We as parents, are very informed and have always talked with the school. They knew our children had challenges, they knew where they were coming from. Schools have basic bullying plans that don't allow any real understanding or support for the kid who is bullying. It is very rigid."

"Even for typically developing kids - there is a reason why these kids are doing it. So you cannot expect to tell the family, or the kids, 'You have to stop bullying.' Sometimes they don't even give you a chance - they just say "We're suspending your kid." That is not a deterrent for kids. They don't want to go to school if they are very uncomfortable there."

A family at therapy

"Frequently the parents of the bullies are struggling mightily not only with bullying but with whatever else is going on with their kid, especially if they've had a hard beginning. We were always watching our kids and trying to manage the situation. It might be play therapy, talk therapy, all of it. All types of interventions to help our children understand that this is how society works and that they need to figure it out somehow to be a part of society. It is not simple." said Margot.

When asked what kinds of discussions she had with her children about their bullying she explained; "You know, they understood it on a certain level but there wasn't anything they could do about it. It came from the challenges they have. They would try mightily but nobody can see that. To us it looks like "So, you tried for 5 minutes and couldn't do it anymore?" but for them it's a safety and security issue. Which sounds counter intuitive. They understood it but they didn't."

"That's the other thing people need to understand. We're talking about children here. When you're talking about bullies these are developing children. You gotta give them a break too. You have to find out what is at the core of it because they are struggling." said Margot.

As Margot's children got older she mentioned that these conversations with her children, her partner, and everyone else have evolved. "When it was early it was easier. There was always a hope that we could get through it and they could figure it out. Maybe this new therapy we're trying can help. There are all these maybes. So then I leaned on friends that understand. But I'll tell you there are not a lot of people who understand. They say "oh that's what my kid did, that's just the teenage years."

A mom experiencing isolation

"So as they are getting older the isolation gets worse. When they're younger you can talk about it more and talk about the maybes. Now that they are teens we don't talk about it anymore because it is too difficult. I don't even tell casual people I meet that I have children. Because I don't want to talk about them. Because I don't want to lie but I also don't want to tell them how hard it is. I don't want to hear them say; "Oh, that's typical!" Because if this was typical than the world would be a mess."

"At the beginning I leaned on people, I come from a large family. I have 5 siblings and now there are only 2 that I can talk to about my children. The other 3 do not understand. That is very hard to not be able to talk about what everyone else talks about. Everyone else talks about their kids and we just don't." said Margot.

Margot has felt isolated in her parenting journey for a very long time. "It's very embarrassing to be the parent of a child who bullies. In our case, we have been struggling for 12 years with our children. Every day is a constant stress. We don't know what's going to happen."

"We moved once because of our neighbors. Our kids would go out and they would bring all their kids inside. It was horrible. I can't tell you how horrible. Then you have to try and explain this to your kids. You don't want to tell them that it's them. That they have to buck up or they're screwed. Because they don't understand that and they can't buck up because they don't have the skills and the maturity to do that because they are still struggling."

"Parents of bullies who are in this struggle don't have the joys and the hopes that a typical family has. We don't do college visits. Our kids don't go to college. We don't know if they're going to be productive adults in society ever. We don't know because they are atypical thinking and acting. They may get into trouble and there might be nothing that we can do." said Margot.

One particular mom stands out in Margot's mind as someone who saw her and her children's struggles and with empathy was able to resolve that particular instance of bullying.

a woman on the phone

"I guess my son was in kindergarten or first grade and a mom who was very understanding approached a friend of mine. She maybe knew that approaching me wouldn't be the best way to do it so she was watchful on the playground and saw that there was this woman I was getting along with really well. Our kids were all in the same class."

"She talked to this friend and said "How can I help Margot.". The friend talked to me and I told her to have the other mom call me and told her it would be great to talk. She didn't start by saying anything negative. She just said; "I think you're struggling and I understand that. What can I do to help?"

"I asked her, because the school was giving me lots of blowback on trying to get my son some specific help. That's what people have to understand - the school has to pay extra to get extra help for children who are atypical or struggling. They don't want to do that because everything bites in the budgets. I asked if she would write a letter to the principle telling them what your child has had to manage with my kid and that you think that he would be better served outside of the typical school setting."

"That letter is what got my son into a different school. This was after like 2-2 1/2 years of me trying. The school wanted to do this test, and that test, and tell me he was fine. But once you involve another parent, especially a typical parent - that is what moves the needle."

"Anyway, my point being, I'm not saying that's what parents should do. But, the fact that a parent reached out and asked "how can I help?" was awesome."

As mentioned earlier, bullying is very complex. While Margot offers a unique perspective she, like every other parent in the world, doesn't have the perfect solution. She recognizes that instances of bullying need to be addressed and resolved for the benefit of both children and all parents involved.

We agree with Margot that bullying MUST be addressed and resolved promptly. The impact on both children's mental health can be immediate and long lasting. If you are a parent who is dealing with bullying, in any capacity, we want to help get it resolved.

Reach out to one of our FREE and CONFIDENTIAL (free and confidential) Family Support Partners here or give us a call at 570-664-8615.


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