Home » Health & Safety Channel » Ten Ways To Tell If Your Child Is A Bully

Ten Ways To Tell If Your Child Is A Bully


The National Education Association estimates that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.  Could they be skipping school because of your child? Erasing bullying with heart shaped red eraser

How can you tell if your child is the bully? Here are ten common behaviors:

  1. Lacks empathy, meaning that he* does not understand (or care about) how another person might feel in a situation, or be able - or willing - to put himself in another child's shoes. A further extension of the ability to empathize with another is the understanding of how, given a set of circumstances, two people might feel differently.
  2. Does not accept responsibility for his behavior. He always has an excuse for things that happen and it's rarely, if ever, his fault. As a matter of fact, when confronted about his part in incident of aggression, whether it is physical, verbal or online, he often demonstrates little emotion, and may act as if the victim somehow deserved it anyway.
  3. Lacks remorse for hurting, humiliating or violating his target. When caught dead-to rights-wrong, it's not uncommon for him to express a false apology so as to appear compliant as well as to keep out of trouble. He's not sorry for what he did, he's only sorry that he got caught.
  4. Disregards the rights of others, but demands that his rights be respected. For instance, no one is allowed to go into his bedroom or to use his things, but he's free to take what he wants from his siblings, you or others.
  5. Manipulates others and needs to get his way when he has not earned it. For example, his homework or chores have not been completed, but he tries to negotiate a deal with you, even after he's been told, "No."  When manipulation is unsuccessful, he's easily frustrated. Aggressive children are invested in winning and can't tolerate feeling like a loser. They don't get the benefits of cooperation or the concept of shared victories. They put their own desires over the needs and desires of others.
  6. Dominates and control others, including peers, you and sometimes other adults.  He won't back down in a power struggle. You give in because it's easier than dealing with your child or teen's meltdown, aggressive behavior, threats or moodiness. The balance of power has shifted and the family dynamic has changed. Under these circumstances, the child or teen wins and everyone loses. 
  7. Disregards rules and defies authority figures. Examples include breaking curfew, incomplete homework assignments, accumulating speeding tickets, etc. These children often act as if the rules do not apply to them. 
  8. Acts or plays aggressively with others, including siblings, classmates, girlfriends or boyfriends. Someones always getting hurt, feeling left out or feeling badly. Oftentimes, other less-powerful children try to befriend the aggressive adolescent in order to raise their own social status or to avoid becoming targets.
  9. Possesses too much money or other expensive items that are likely taken from other children, teachers or parents.
  10. You receive calls from other parents or from school administrators. No parent wants to hear that their child is causing problems. However, where there's smoke, there's usually fire.  These calls may be some of the most important warning signals you get, and they need to be taken seriously.  Never say never, because if you do you, your child and their victims may live to regret it .

Remember, that in order to reduce bullying, the problem needs to be understood and addressed in a comprehensive way: at school, in communities, online, and even on sports teams. 

* Although written in the masculine, all of these indicators apply equally to boys and girls.


The Essential Guide to Bullying book cover

Cindy Miller, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, school social worker, educator, and parent consultant, and the co-author of new book, The Essential Guide to Bullying, which provides tips to parents, teachers, doctors, and community leaders to effectively recognize, prevent and intervene in bullying situations.