This article first appeared on Your Tango and has been republished with permission.
No child is perfect. Most parents, at some point, have seen their child be mean to other kids. But if you're worried that your son or daughter might be a bully at school because they seem to have a habit of putting others down, there are some subtle signs of bullying you should watch out for.
Maybe, in the past, you've gotten a phone call from your child's school. Your son has pushed another kid's face into some pasta at lunch. He has been reprimanded and is in trouble again.
Perhaps your child's peers do his bidding, or you overhear a comment from another child to her mother at a coffee shop — "Casey says I can’t be a sweater-saurus at Halloween" — and you wonder, "Wait, is that like MY child telling other people what to do?"
Overall, you think, "Heck, no, this is not happening." But sadly it is.
No one ever thinks of themselves as the parent of a bully; no parent wants their child to be a bully to others.
We spend a lot of time thinking about those who are bullied, but as a parent, one of the loneliest experiences is to be the mom or dad of a child you suspect may be bullying other kids and not knowing where to turn or what to do.
Children who turn to bullying others often do not mean to be cruel, but things happen that may lead to them eventually putting others down.
This can be their own low self-esteem, struggles at home, impulsivity, poor relationships and connection to others, poor control over their emotions, social discomfort, a desperate need to fit in, their experience being punished all the time, seeing violence or aggression, or struggles at school.
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Being aggressive can become a lifelong pattern that will hurt your child's future. Part of being a parent is playing detective and trying to figure out what your child needs from very little signs.
If you're worried your child is a bully, here are 5 signs of bullying behavior that signal your kid needs help.
1. A lack of empathy for others
You notice your child does not try to walk in other people’s shoes. They don't show compassion or empathy and don't think about other people. They may blame other people and tend not to take responsibility for their actions.
More than their peers, your child just does not seem to worry about the feelings of other people or their impact on others. This lack of empathy may be a sign that your child is a bully.
2. Obsessing about fitting in
Some kids are very acutely aware of the social hierarchy and social status. Thus, they feel tremendous pressure to fit in. They may try to manage and orchestrate control and are obsessed with their social image, social media, and they spend too much time worrying about how they are perceived.
This can lead your child to make choices to fit into, making them turn into a bully, even though they don't mean to.
3. Previous experiences with anger, violence, or bullying
Your child has experienced and witnessed bullying, violence, anger, and punishment. They've been pushed around so they see aggression and punishment as the answer to their problems.
Since your child has been a victim or has experienced injustice or witnessed adults using aggressive behavior, they may turn to this as their go-to reaction. This may not be their intention and as a parent, you can help him find another way.
4. A tendency to put other people down
You notice your child tends to put other people down while building themselves up. They point out flaws in others and jokes about them, as well as insult them.
Low self-esteem, fear, and even feeling overwhelmed can make some kids become dismissive and put other down others. This is a sign that your child needs your help feeling better about themselves so they don't resort to bullying others.
5. Recurring behavior problems
Your child struggles with controlling their emotions. They have a history of behavior problems and you notice their friends also share these characteristics.
Behavior problems may mean that your child doesn't mean the actions they take. Instead, they are impulsive during fights, leading them to act like a bully.
Bullying is a complex issue and parents are not to blame.
If your child is struggling and becoming a bully, you can help by spotting these 5 signs when he or she is acting up. As a parent, you can help them pick themselves up and adopt better behaviors so that putting other people down doesn't become a life-long habit.