Ways to Get Bullies to Take Responsibility for Their Actions

Steps for getting bullies to take ownership of bullying behaviors

Teacher talking to bullied young girl.
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Nothing can be more challenging than learning that your child is a bully. But with proper intervention and the right skill set, bullies can and do change.

The key is to respond to your child’s bullying behaviors quickly and efficiently. This early intervention involves not only disciplining the bully for his poor choices but also equipping him with the ability to take ownership of his choices.

Don’t make excuses and blame others.

When parents discover their child is a bully or that their child is a cyberbully, they often want to make excuses or provide explanations for their behavior.

The problem is that blaming others doesn’t help your child learn important behaviors like self-control and anger management. Blame also prevents you from seeing your child objectively. Remember, your child will have to function in an adult world someday. It is better that he learn how to behave in ​a socially acceptable manner now rather than later. As hard as it may be, you have to accept that your child is a bully.

Don’t allow victim thinking.

The problem with allowing victim thinking is it allows your child to believe his actions were in someway justified because he was victimized in some way. It also falsely communicates that he is not responsible for his choices. Allowing victim thinking prevents kids from growing and changing. It also creates a sense of helplessness. And kids who are allowed to see themselves as victims have a very difficult time living a healthy and productive life.

Remind them bullying is a choice. ​

Bullying is not caused by something the victim said or did. And bullies need to learn to take ownership for these choices. They also need to be able to recognize that what they did was wrong and how it made the victim feel. Stress that no one “made” them do it. Even in situations involving peer pressure, group bullying or bully-victim cycles, the bully is responsible for his choices.

While there are many different ways to get a bully to take ownership, the key is that he can verbalize what he did wrong and sincerely take responsibility for his actions.

Make being honest easy.

If you want to get to the bottom of your child’s choices to bully others, you have to remain calm when expressing your dissatisfaction with his poor choices. What’s more, being calm makes it easier and more likely that he will admit to his mistakes and have an honest conversation with you. This makes for an easier discussion of the impending consequences, making amends and doing things differently next time.

Enforce appropriate consequences.

When determining how to discipline your child for bullying, it is important to be sure the consequences are in line with the severity of the offense. Additionally, you should support any disciplinary actions the school has handed down.

Demonstrate ways to make amends.

One way to get your child to take ownership of his choices to bully is to be sure to communicate how those choices impacted the victims of bullying. Doing so will help your child develop empathy and see that bad choices hurt other people. While most people assume that apologizing is the best way to make amends, this is not always the case.

Sometimes a victim is so traumatized by the bullying that any interaction with the bully will be counterproductive. If you do want your child to apologize, a nicely written letter might be helpful. You also could encourage your child to volunteer his time to an anti-bullying organization. Other options include requiring him to raise funds to help with bullying awareness, doing research on bullying and its effects or serving as a mentor for younger children.

Spell out the rules.

Sometimes bullying occurs when parents are too permissive or lack established rules. Be sure your child has a set of guidelines regarding everything from schoolwork and outside activities to respect, digital etiquette and time spent online.

Also be sure he knows what will happen if he doesn’t follow the rules. For example, if he cyberbullies other kids, he will lose his technology privileges. Or, if he engages in sibling bullying, he will be grounded. Then, be sure to follow through if a rule is broken. In the long run, your consistency will cause change in your child’s behavior.

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