What if YOUR Child is the Bully?

Image courtesy of Johnny Goodtimes

When I think about bullys, I have a vision about their home lives.   It looks something like this:

  • abusive or at least neglectful parents
  • struggling financially
  • parents aren’t well educated
  • outspokenly prejudiced parents

Basically, I have this picture of an out of work redneck man sitting on a front porch chair with a can of Bud Light in his hand, wearing a wife beater t-shirt and saying things like “Boy, get your tail over here, boy.” , and maybe kicking the hound dog laying at his feet.

This week I learned that my picture is wrong.  All I had to do to envision the type of parents that raise bullys was to take a look in the mirror…


There has been a lot of attention given to bullying this week in response to the tragic death of the Rutgers University student. I have read wonderful articles about bullying written by parents that discuss what do to if your child is the victim of bullying.

While in the midst of reading this article by Amber at Mile High Mamas, my cell phone rang…

“Hi, this is Principal B over at your son’s school. Do you have a minute?”

“Um, yes, now is good.” as I got up to shut my office door.

“First of all, everyone is fine. Your son is fine. But we had an incident this morning with your 1st grade son.”


“Apparently your son asked another boy in the class to give him a High 5. The other boy refused and your son slapped his cheek.”

“Gasp! What? MY son? He did what?”  That is what came out of my mouth.  The immediate thoughts in my head were much closer to…

I swear we don’t model that behavior.  Neither my husband or I have ever slapped anyone.  Where in the world did this come from?  OMG – MY child is the bully!   I am such a FAILURE as a mom.

The principal was very gracious about everything and explained the conversation he had with my son about the poor choice he made, that you can’t force someone to give you a high 5, etc. 

The Principal felt like my son “got it” because he was crying pretty hard during the lecture and his teacher, Mrs. W, said she was very surprised and would never have expected something like this because Tev is usually so well behaved.   Phew, maybe not COMPLETE failure, maybe just 98% parenting failure.

They made Tev apologize to the other boy.  The boy accepted his apology and followed it with “But don’t do it again.”, which was  incredibly appropriate.  I thanked the Principal profusely for handling it so well, for providing the lecture, and especially for calling and bringing it to my attention.

Now what? 

I hung up the phone and sat dumbfounded in my chair for some time. 

Where did I go wrong?  What should I have done or said differently that would have made it clear that slapping someone is NOT acceptable?  What can I say to Tev that will change his behavior so not only won’t he slap someone again, but won’t do other unkind/bullying things either? 

We talked about it later that night.  I lectured him about the normal things “It is not ok to hurt another person. How would you feel if someone slapped you?   You can’t force someone to do something they don’t want you to do.  You made very bad choices and I’m very disappointed in you.” etc.

He made excuses for himself in between crying.  “I just gently touched his cheek.  It was an accident.  I don’t know why I did it.  I couldn’t stop myself.”  

I believe we responded the right way.  We talked to him about his behavior.  Discussed consequences and making different choices next time.  Talked about putting yourself in other people’s shoes (empathy), etc.

But, throughout this process I have this great fear that he doesn’t get it.  That somewhere along the way we’ve missed the boat on teaching our son empathy and compassion for others. 

I’ve taken him with me volunteering for underprivileged families.  We talk about right vs. wrong choices.  But what if my son IS a bully?  What if he lashes out again?

What do I do?

Do you have any suggestions on things I could or should have done differently?  Do you have any parenting moments like this that made you feel like a parenting failure?  What are your thoughts after reading this story?

8 Responses to What if YOUR Child is the Bully?

    • Thanks Chris. When I told the men I work with they all laughed. I didn’t really see what was humorous about it and seriously worry about whether we’ve done a good job parenting. I swear Mom = Guilt in the dictionary!!

    • Thank you Amber. I really appreciate your thoughts and support. Yes, we are engaged. Yes, we have a parent with our children at all moments that they aren’t in school. But is that enough? Are we failures as parents? I guess I can’t really answer that question until my children are retirement age and are ready to reflect on their lives and decide if they’be benefited society or not.

      My children are my world. All 5 of them. Please, oh God, please, let me be a worthy parent to my children….

  1. Hi Daria–

    We’ve all been there as parents. It’s awful to get that phone call. My third grader has had a couple ‘infractions’ (nothing serious, thankfully) at school, and each time favorite toys/activiites were taken away for a significant amount of time. I think in addition to discussing with him his options, empathy conversations, and writing letters of apology (in one case to the child’s parents), the message was driven home.

    Also, good old-fashion monotoring at school (including non-structured time) never hurts…

  2. Daria,
    Breath its ok.. Kids are going to do things that they shouldn’t and that even surprises us. That does not make them bad kids, or mean that you some how failed. All it means is they are kids and they are learning. As long as there is no repeat behavior it is a learning experience. Your son sounds like a great kid and this was just a bad decision on his part. You’ve made them two a time or two im sure. I know i have. All you can do is handle it the best you can, talk to him and try to make him understand why that was a bad decision. It helps kids grasp if you have them tell you why it was a bad decision, to make sure that he understands.
    You did everything right! You are an awesome MOM!!!

    Tiffany @ Wyatt Family Farm

  3. Thanks guys for the reassurance. I am pretty sure that this is an isolated incident and that it does not mean my son is headed toward a life of crime (pretty sure).

    I do have these thoughts running through my head in moments like these though, and wonder if I just need to get a shot of mommy confidence, or of it is the way most moms react (at first) to poor choices by their kids.

    And Tiff, you are SO right – I certainly have made plenty of bad decisions (say drinking a box of wine Wed night) and hope I learn from them. It is only fitting that our kids learn from their mistakes too…

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