Helping Girls Become Confident Leaders

Contributed by Michele Borba
Parenting advice on how to raise strong, confident daughters from the inside out based on research by the Girl Scouts of the USA

What parent doesn’t want his or her daughter to be a leader? After all, that top role – be it debate captain, head cheerleader, newspaper editor, play director, student body president – is deemed the epitome of success. These are the kids whom adults applaud and peers look up to.

Make no mistake, each leadership success is one more step up a ladder, and each rung up the ladder gives girls that needed “edge” to be accepted to their choice college, win that scholarship or lucrative job. But even more important: those positions are the best ways to build our daughters’ character, integrity and confidence.

There is some truth to that old “We’ve come a long way, baby” slogan. Our girls have come a long way in overcoming the “’Boys Only’ Leadership Club.”

But we still have a ways to go in helping the female gender reach its leadership potential, and interestingly, it’s the girls themselves who tell us we must do more to help them reach that goal.

What Girls Say Impedes Their Potential

The Girl Scouts of the USA conducted a national study of almost 4,000 youth ages eight to 17 on a broad array of issues related to leadership. Their research (entitled Change It Up!) offers important clues as to what our girls say is impeding their potential to leadership. Here are just a few critical findings from the report:

  • Girls say the greatest single barrier to leadership is their self-perception: They lack self-confidence in their own skills and leadership competencies.
  • Girls say that providing supportive environments in which they can acquire leadership
    experience is essential.
  • Girls say that a successful leadership program must address their need for emotional safety, and desire for social and personal development.
  • Girls report that environments in which they can develop leadership skills are scarce. They want more leadership opportunities offered at younger ages.

All four of our girls’ key concerns are solvable. Positive leadership traits are also teachable, though as girls themselves would say, the earlier we begin the better.

Solutions to Boost Girls’ Leadership Abilities

There are proven ways to help kids follow less and lead more. But the best news is that these same leadership traits will help boost your daughter’s potential for success in every arena of life both now and forever. So what are you waiting for? Here is how to apply those findings from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, to help our daughters succeed:

Be a Leadership Example
The Girl Scouts of the USA study found that regardless of age, regions, or income, girls identify immediate family members and relatives—most particularly their mothers—as those they most admire. Be the example you want your daughter to copy.

Push the pause button on your behavior just this past week. How would your daughter describe your leadership style? Do you…

  • Speak up at home and in public?
  • Help out in causes that concern you?
  • Share your opinions with your family?
  • Stay current with what’s going on in the world and talk about them with your daughter?
  • State your political opinions (and listen to hers)?
  • Vote?
  • Bring your daughter along to charitable events you are organizing?
  • Let her know you believe in her traits and boost her confidence?
  • Share examples of women who are strong leaders?
  • Watch media shows that portray confident, strong women?

Don’t undermine your power! Our girls are watching and copying our actions.

Break Those “Sexism” Stereotypes, Pronto!

Girls–and boys–must understand that gender is not a barrier to leadership. Period! We’ve come a long way, but the report shows we still have work to do.

It is crucial that we catch a stereotype (i.e. “Women can’t be leaders…”) before it becomes an engrained belief, locks in doubts, and derails a girl’s confidence for a lifetime.

One way to dispel a stereotype is by starting a family rule: “Anytime a family member says a sweeping generality such as ‘Girls can’t…’ or ‘No woman ever…’ say: “Check that!” The sayer must then give evidence to counter the view.

For instance, your daughter says: “Women can’t be leaders.”

You say: “Check that! Let’s think of women who are! What about…” And then give her an example of a strong woman leader who counters that stereotype.

Here are a few female leaders-past and present-to get you started (and keep adding to the list).

  • Queen Elizabeth II of England
  • President Pratibha Patil of India
  • Queen Margrethe 2 of Denmark
  • President Mary McAleese of Ireland
  • Governor-General Hon. Dr. Dame C. Pearlette Louisy of St. Lucia
  • President Cristina E. Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina
  • President Tarja Halonen of Finland
  • President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines
  • President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia
  • Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany

Stress “There are different leadership styles”

Girls need to learn that there are different leadership styles from active, reflective and supportive.

Provide various examples of strong women leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, and Golda Meir in books, magazines, videos, or in the news.

Point out the quiet, compassionate leadership styles such as a Mother Teresa vs. supportive, team-building styles of others such as Pat Summitt of University of Tennessee.

Help your daughter identify her own leadership style.

The key is to emphasize: You don’t have to be strong and pushy to be a good leader. In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that the traits of sensitivity and caring are strengths – not weaknesses – for women leaders.

Stress “You need to find your own unique strength and talent, then lead from it. Don’t copy anyone else. Be true to yourself!”

Encourage Her Voice

Girls say their fear of public speaking (followed by shyness and embarrassment) is the biggest obstacle to assuming leadership roles.

If this is your daughter, find ways to build her confidence in speaking up so she is less likely to be intimidated. Here are ways:

  • Enroll her in speech and debate or theatre.
  • Hold family meetings at home in which she learns to share her feelings.
  • Put her in supportive learning environments (girls say such an atmosphere is critical to building confidence).
  • Reinforce her views. Encourage her views. Let her speak!
  • Don’t speak for her!
  • Let her know you value her opinions.
  • Encourage her to find friends who aren’t always the bossy, domineering type so she can
    learn to find her voice.

Provide Early Leadership Opportunities

Girls say that environments in which they can develop crucial leadership skills are scarce. And when we finally do provide those leadership opportunities, they are often “too late.”

The Girl Scouts study found that a girl’s desire to be a leader changes with age. It peaks at 44% among eight- to 10-year-olds, then drops to 36% for 11- to 13-year-olds, rises to 40% for 14- to 15-year-olds, and drops back to 36% for 16- to 17-year-olds.

The crucial lesson: Find ways for your daughter to practice leadership skills earlier so that she finds ways to be in charge, gain confidence and practice those crucial leader skills.

Also, don’t think of leadership roles as only elected positions such as class president or team captain.

Any opportunity for your child to lead another is fine.

For example: babysitting, tutoring the neighbor child, watching a younger sibling, or teaching a small Sunday school class.

The size of the group also doesn’t matter; the opportunity to lead is what does.

Also, watch out that you don’t enroll your daughter in too many adult-supervised, highly-structured activities. Girls will never be able to practice leading if someone always leads them.

Find Ways to Help Your Daughter Make a Difference

The fact is any leader—young or old—can’t lead without a cause.

Start by identifying your daughter’s passions or concerns–polar bears, cleanliness, fossil fuel, graffiti..or whatever!–and then expand her knowledge about that issue.

Cut out news articles, check out library books, surf the Internet, but increase your child’s interest and understanding about that issue.

Encourage her to be in charge of the church clothes drive for the women’s shelter, raise money for flood victims, volunteer to do community service, plan a garage sale for the homeless, or stop the bullying epidemic at her school. Find her passion!

Also, encourage your daughter to develop a plan to connect with like-minded kids to voice their concerns and lead a group–whatever the size–and make a difference through positive leadership.

Then cheer her on and on and on.

In fact, don’t stop cheering!

Let’s keep finding those leadership opportunities and keep cheering our girls on until we can finally say without any reservation: “We really have come a long way, baby. In fact, we’re there!”‘


Resources for this Blog:

Girl Scouts Research Institute, Change It Up! What Girls Say About Redefining Leadership. New York: Girl Scouts of the USA, 2008. National online survey of 2475 girls and 1514 boys between the ages of 8 and 17 years fielded from June 22, 2007 to June 29, 2007.

Need for single-sex, safe environments for girls to confide in trusting adults and others girls: Girl Scouts Research Institute, Feeling Safe. New York: Girl Scouts of the USA, 2003.

K. Mishra, “Your Older Sibling Really is Smarter, Study Says, More Time With Adults May Be a Major Factor,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 22, 2007.


19 Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied and What to Do about It

Contributed by Michele Borba

Warning signs that your child is being bullied

If your child is bullied it means that a peer or peers are intentionally causing her or him pain. Peer abuse! Just the thought can send shivers down our spines.

But the fact is 160,000 children skip school every day because they fear being attacked or intimidated by other students. Reports also confirm that bullying is starting at younger ages and is more frequent and aggressive than before. And the cruel behavior increases with age. Chances are your child may be bullied.

Also troubling is that our children don’t always tell us that they have been bullied. I’ve spent many a meeting with kids who were repeatedly victimized and in clear emotional pain.

“Why didn’t you go to a trusted adult for help?” I’d ask.

Their replies were concerning:

“I did tell my mom. She didn’t believe me.”

“I tried to tell, but I got too embarrassed.”

“If I told my dad he would have only made things worse by yelling at the bully.”

“Why bother? The stuff my mom told me to try wouldn’t work.”

Repeated bullying causes severe emotional harm and can erode a child’s self-esteem and mental health. Whether bullying is verbal, physical or relational, the long-term effects are equally harmful. Both boys and girls report high levels of emotional distress and loneliness as well as lower self-esteem, loneliness, anxiety and depression. Some situations the outcome is tragic: the child may take his or her own life.

So it’s time to get savvy and learn the warning signs of bullying. Bullying is always intentional, mean-spirited, rarely happens only once and there is always a power imbalance. The victim cannot hold his own and often will need adult help. Your child may not feel comfortable telling you about his pain, but if you know these signs your child is being bullied and tune in closer, you might be able to start bullying prevention in your home.

Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied

Here are possible warnings that a child may be bullied and needs your support. Of course, these signs could indicate other problems, but any of these warrant looking into further. See my blog, Signs of Cyber-bullying for signs of electronic bullying. Every child is different and any child can have an “off” day, so look instead of a pattern of behavior that is not typical for your child.
 1. Unexplained physical marks, cuts, bruises and scrapes
 2. Unexplained loss of toys, school supplies, clothing, lunches, or money
 3. Clothes, toys, books, electronic items are damaged or missing or child reports mysteriously “losing” possessions
 4. Doesn’t want to go to school or other activities with peers
 5. Afraid of riding the school bus
 6. Afraid to be left alone: wants you there at dismissal, suddenly clingy
 7. Suddenly sullen, withdrawn, evasive; remarks about feeling lonely
 8. Marked change in typical behavior or personality
 9. Appears sad, moody, angry, anxious or depressed and that mood lasts with no known cause
 10. Physical complaints; headaches, stomachaches, frequent visits the school nurse’s office
 11. Difficulty sleeping, nightmares, cries self to sleep, bed wetting
 12. Change in eating habits
 13. Begins bullying siblings or younger kids. (Bullied children can sometimes flip their role and become the bully.)
 14. Waits to get home to use the bathroom. (School and park bathrooms, because they are often not adult-supervised, can be hot spots for bullying).
 15. Suddenly has fewer friends or doesn’t want to be with the “regular group”
 16. Ravenous when he comes home. (Bullies can use extortion stealing a victim’s lunch money or lunch.)
 17. Sudden and significant drop in grades. (Bullying can cause a child to have difficulty focusing and concentrating.)
 18. Blames self for problems; feels “not good enough”
 19. Talks about feeling helpless or about suicide; runs away.

What to Do if You Suspect Bullying but Aren’t Sure

Kids often don’t tell adults they’re bullied so you may have to voice your concerns. Review the signs of bullying and then ask direct questions.

“You’re always hungry: have you been eating your lunch?”
“Your CDs are missing? Did someone take them?”
“Your jacket is ripped. Did someone do that to you?”

Watch your child’s reactions. Often what a child doesn’t say may be more telling. Tune into your child’s body language. Silence is often powerful.

If you suspect bullying and your child won’t talk to you, then arrange a conference with a trusted adult who knows your child. If your child has more than one teacher you may need to meet with each educator or coach. Keep in mind that bullying usually does not happen in all school settings and in all classrooms. The trick is to figure out if your child is bullied and then where and when it is happening so you can get the right help for your child.

Hint: If your child has a classmate, you might be able to gain more information from the pal than your own child.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on your child. Children who are embarrassed or humiliated about being bullied are unlikely to discuss it with their parents or teachers and generally suffer in silence, withdraw and try to stay away from school.

Stress to your child you are always available, are concerned and recognize bullying may be a problem.

Emphasize that you believe your child and you are there to help.

Please seek the help of a trained mental health professional if the signs continue, intensify, or your gut instinct tells you “something is not right with my child!” Please!


Nurturing Tolerance to Reduce Bullying

Students at Livingston Park Elementary School, New Brunswick, NJ

Contributed by Michele Borba

How teaching children tolerance can curb bullying and peer cruelty

REALITY CHECK: Did you know that today’s American youth is displaying intolerant actions at alarming rates – and at younger and younger ages? The FBI tells us most hate crimes are committed by youths younger than nineteen.

Tolerance is a powerful virtue that helps curtail hatred, bullying, violence, and bigotry while at the same time influencing us to treat others with kindness, respect, and understanding.

While tolerance doesn’t call upon us to suspend moral judgment, it does require us to respect differences. This virtue is what helps our children recognize that all persons deserve to be treated with dignity, justice and respect even if we happen to disagree with some of their beliefs or behaviors. And it is a critical component of moral intelligence that we must build in our children.

Intolerance can be demonstrated in many ways – verbally, physically, or in combination – but in every case, the perpetrator displays cold-hearted disrespect for his victims targeting their race, ethnicity, age, religion, disability, beliefs, gender, appearance, behavior or sexual orientation. Whatever method the perpetrator uses, an act of intolerance always causes the victim pain.

Why Intolerance Breeds Bullies

Research shows that a key reason for the escalation of bullying is due to intolerance. My work with hundreds of student focus groups across the country verifies that research. After students confirm to me that bullying is indeed a “big” problem, I ask: “Who do bullies choose for their victims? Is there a specific trait they look for?” The number one word I hear: “Different.”

“What is so different about the victim?”

The “different” terms kids list for children more likely to be bullied are endless: Too fat. Too thin. A speech problem. Band kids. Too shy or quiet. A different race. In the special ed class. Gifted or too smart. Cries easily. A loner. Gay. Too pretty. Too poor. Dresses funny. Too artsy. Just moved. Teacher’s pet. In short, any kid who doesn’t fit in or blend in…any child who looks or acts a little bit out of the norm. Bullies too often target a victim based on race, ethnicity, age, religion, disability, beliefs, gender, appearance, behavior or sexual orientation.

 Tolerance: The Missing Piece to Stop Bullying

I was in the Portland, OR airport last year and witnessed one of the most powerful yet simple lessons of tolerance I’ve ever seen. About two dozen preschool children and their teachers were on an airport field trip. All were walking hand-in-hand and wearing t-shirts that read “Children Are Not Born Racist.” It was quite an image. Other passengers were struck as I was, and many stopped to stare.

One man standing near me said to no one in particular, “If only parents could understand that one message—maybe we could get along.” How right he was! The lesson conveyed on those shirts is what all research confirms: we are not born with intolerant beliefs–we learn them as children from the environments in which we live. So if we really are concerned about ending bullying (or cruelty, racism, bigotry, intolerance, and hate) we must consciously model and nurture tolerance in our homes and schools and do so when our kids are very young. It’s the best chance we have to help children grow to appreciate and respect others who are different from themselves.

Strategies to Boost Tolerance and Curb Bullying

Confront your own prejudices
The first step to nurturing tolerance is to examine your own prejudices and reflect on how you might be projecting those ideas to your child. Chances are that you are communicating those attitudes to your child. You might begin by reflecting on your own childhood upbringing: What were some of your parents’ prejudices? Do any of those remain with you today? Take time to reflect on how you might be projecting those old, outdated ideas to your child. Then make a conscious attempt to temper them so that they don’t become your child’s prejudices. Sometimes you might not even know you are tainting your children’s views.

Commit to raising a tolerant child
Parents who think through how they want their kids to turn out usually succeed simply because they planned their parenting efforts. So if you really want your child to respect diversity, you must adopt a conviction early on to raise him to do so. Once your child knows your expectations, he will be more likely to embrace your principles.

In 1954 Harvard social psychologist Gordon Allport began to explore the roots of intolerance and published his results in his renowned classic, The Nature of Prejudice.

Allport’s central idea is that children are born with the capacity for tolerance or intolerance. Which of the two they lean towards depends largely on how they are parented.

Children who grow to become tolerant are generally raised in families where there are three conditions: strong parental love and warmth, consistent discipline and clear models of moral behavior. It’s when those needs are not met that prejudice develops. Allport explained: “Children brought up in a rejecting home, exposed to ready-made prejudices, will scarcely be in a position to develop a trustful or affiliative outlook upon social relationships. Having received little affection, they are not in a position to give it.” Allport’s findings are critical to keep in mind if we are really committed to raising more tolerant children.

Help your child develop identify and pride in his culture
The starting place to help children understand diversity is for them to look at their own ancestry. The family is where children not only receive a sense of belonging but also acquire their primary language, their knowledge of their ethnicity, their spiritual or religious beliefs, and their values. It is through this membership that kids define their identity and develop pride in their cultural heritage.

Learning about their family background helps children connect with their past and develop an appreciation and respect for not only their own national and ethnic background but also for those of their friends and classmates.

As Barbara Mathias and Mary Ann French, authors of 40 Ways to Raise a Nonracist Child, explain: “Once your child has a solid sense of self and pride in her own people, it will be easier for her to find joy in the differences of others.”

So help your child understand his heritage and as well as begin to appreciate just how much the world is a melting pot of different customs and ideas.

Refuse to allow discriminatory comments
When you hear prejudicial comments, verbalize your displeasure. How you respond sends a clear message to your child about your values: “That’s disrespectful and I won’t allow such things to be said in my house,” or “That’s a biased comment, and I don’t want to hear it.” Your child needs to hear your discomfort so that she knows you really walk your talk. It also models a response she should imitate if prejudicial comments are made in her presence.

Embrace diversity
From a young age, expose your child to positive images – including toys, music, literature, videos, public role models, and examples from TV or newspaper reports – that represent a variety of ethnic groups. Encourage your child, no matter how young, to have contact with individuals of different races, religions, cultures, genders, abilities, and beliefs. The more your child sees how you embrace diversity, the more prone he’ll be to follow your standards.

Use multicultural literature: Jan Arnow, author of Teaching Peace, points out that “only 10 percent of the almost 5,000 children’s books published each year in the United States are multicultural in nature. Of those, fewer than 50 titles annually have been written about Native American and Asian peoples.”

That is a troubling statistic, because research says that children first become aware of race and gender differences around two years of age, around the time many parents have started nightly bedtime traditions of reading with their kids. Expose your child early to a variety of multicultural literature that features positive images of all cultures and genders. It is one way to increase tolerance as well as reduce or prevent prejudice.

Emphasize similarities
Encourage your child to look for what he has in common with others instead of how he is different.

Help your child see how similarities outweigh differences. Encourage your child to look for what he has in common with others instead of how he is different.

One fun way to foster tolerance in your child is to play as a family a simple game called “Alike and Different.” It begins by having family members form pairs. Tell each pair to think of five ways they are alike and five ways they are different. Answers can be written or drawn. “Alike” answers might be, for example, “We are African-American, Baptist, dark-haired, brown-eyed, sisters, and Williams family members.” “Different” answers could be, for example, “I like soccer, she likes tennis; I play saxophone, she plays violin; I am a fourth-grader, she is a second-grader; I am 4’5″, she is 4’2″.” In a larger family, have each twosome report their findings back to the family. From then on, any time your child points out how she is different from someone, you might say. “Yes, there are lots of ways you are different from other people. Now let’s try to think of ways you are the same.”

Give straightforward, simple answers to questions about differences
Kids are naturally curious, so you should expect questions about differences. Asking questions is one way for them to sort out how they are different or the same from others as well as to learn to feel comfortable with those differences.

Beverly Daniel Tatum, author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? stresses the importance of answering children’s questions simply and honestly even though some issues may seem embarrassing or even taboo. How you respond can either create stereotypes or prevent from forming.

For very young kids, usually a one-or two-sentence answer is enough.

Child:   Sally is a girl. She shouldn’t be playing football!
Parent: Girls can play the same sports boys do. Some girls like football, and some girls don’t. Sally likes to play football, so she should play it.

Child: Why is that boy sitting in that chair that moves?
Parent: That chair is called a wheelchair, and it has a motor. The boy’s legs don’t work the same as yours. The chair is what he uses to get from place to place.

Counter discriminatory beliefs
When you hear a child make a prejudicial comment, listen to find out why he feels the way he does. Then gently challenge his views and point out why they are incorrect. For example if your child says, “Homeless people should get jobs and sleep in their own houses.” You might counter: “There are many reasons homeless people don’t work or have houses. They may be ill or can’t find jobs. Houses cost money, and not everyone can pay for one.”

Live your life as an example of tolerance
The best way for your child to learn tolerance is for him to watch and listen to your daily example. So ask yourself each day one critical question: “If my child had only my behavior to copy, would he be witnessing an example of what I want him to emulate?” Make sure you are walking your talk.

The best secret to teaching kids tolerance is not through our lectures but through our example. So be a living textbook of tolerance for your child and for all other children. It’s also the best way we have to create a peaceful world for our children.

Sensitivity, Empathy and Tolerance Must Be Nurtured

Hatred, bigotry, prejudice, and intolerance can be learned, but so too can sensitivity, understanding, empathy, and tolerance. Although it’s certainly never too late to begin, the sooner we start, the better the chance we have of preventing insidious, intolerant attitudes from taking hold.

Remember: kids aren’t born hateful; prejudices are learned.

If today’s children are to have any chance of living harmoniously in this multiethnic world, it is critical that parents and teachers nurture it. We must be the change for our children.


Why Kids Bully

Why Kids Bully

Is a bully, a bystander, a victim or some combination?

Contributed by Michele Borba, CEP board member


It’s not easy to know that your child is bullying.

It’s hard to admit that your kid is using aggression.

But to allow bullying behaviors to continue will be disastrous to your child’s character, conscience, reputation, well-being and mental health.

No matter the age, gender, religion, or ethnicity, any child resorting to bullying needs an immediate behavior intervention.

Please do not make the mistake of thinking that bullying just “a phase” or a “rite of passage.” Behaviors and attitudes turn into habits and can easily be entrenched and much harder to change. Now is the time to help your child.

A key to changing bullying is to uncover what is motivating the child’s behavior. Each child is different and multiple factors may play into bullying so a “one-size fits all” remedy will not work.

Best intervention plans are based on the “medical model approach.” Doctors don’t give the same medication to every patient. They first identify the symptoms, and then diagnose the reason so they can use the right treatment. The wrong diagnosis means the wrong treatment, and that means your child won’t improve.

The good news is because bullying is a learned behavior it can also be unlearned. The sooner you begin, the greater your success!

Figuring Out Why a Child Bullies

Jot down your ideas helps you see a pattern in your child’s behavior you may overlook.

Roll up your sleeves and let’s get started! I’ll give you solutions, but your first step is to figure out the “why.”

Get a notebook to jot down your thoughts as I help you figure out how to help your child.

You may not need to go through all of these steps. Use those tips that help you most.

Do not expect overnight turnarounds, but know this is doable!

Also, please know that there is no one reason why a child bullies.

Each child is different, and there is no one behavior intervention plan that will work for all kids.

What’s key is to figure out what might be triggering your child’s aggressive behavior. Only then will you be able to develop a specific plan to turn the behavior around.

This may take time. You probably need others to help you develop a plan, but hang in there!

Identify the Reason

Your first step is to determine why your child is using this behavior. What might be triggering your child’s behavior?

Here are a few of the top reasons why kids bully. Could any apply to your child? Think through each item carefully. What is your best guess as to why your child is using aggressive behaviors? There may be another reason beyond this list which you can add to the end.

Your child has been allowed to get away with bullying. Adults are turning a blind eye to the behavior. Or have bullying or aggressive behaviors been rewarded or encouraged? Does your child need firmer limits and monitoring?

Your child has been handed too harsh discipline, too rigid or strict, “conditional” love. Is your child using bullying is as exaggerated need for attention or respect? Does your child need a warm, loving parent?

Your child uses aggression to gain rank, attention, power or show “toughness.” Perhaps she lacks social skills, feels rejected or isolated by peers, and is trying to fit in. Research also finds the urge for popularity — especially for kids on the second tier of the social rung – is a bully motivator. Might this be your child? Does she need to learn social skills or find ways to make and keep friends appropriately?

Your child’s empathy – or feeling for others capacity – has not been encouraged or nurtured at home. Did he have an early trauma or depression, which may inhibit the development of empathy and need counseling? Might your family need to tune up compassion? Is empathy not expected?

Your child is hanging with a group who believes it’s “cool to be cruel.” Could he be mimicking other kids? A child’s social network can inhibit or encourage bullying behaviors. Does he need a new group of pals?

Your child has been bullied and is seeking protection. Could he be serving as henchman for another bully out of fear of being victimized himself? Does he need to learn appropriate assertive skills?

Your child lacks coping skills and is impulsive, unable to control anger, and has a natural tendency to “act out.” Does he need anger management skills?

Your child has adopted the view that aggression is acceptable. Could he be watching television shows, movies and video or computer games that glamorize aggression and cruelty and the exposure affects his behavior and attitude? Has his aggression been reinforced or even encouraged by others? Is he watching others who are aggressive?

Your child… What other reasons could your child be bullying?

Uncover the Cause

Watch your child closer. I know it’s hard to be objective about your child, but try to keep an open mind so you can uncover what’s really going on.

Ask others who care about your child and see him or her in other social situations for their input.

Watch your child in different social settings. Bullying does not happen in all situations and with all kids, so check into each situation. Then answer these next questions:

  • Where is this behavior happening most often?
  • Where is the behavior not happening? Why? What’s different in those spots?
  • Are there certain adults or peers involved in situations where bullying is more frequent?
  • What about the time of days?
  • How frequently does this happen?

Do the questions help you see any pattern? It sometimes helps if you keep a journal to jot down notes to review.

What is your best guess as to what is triggering the bullying?  Don’t worry if you still don’t know. Just move on to the next step.

Get Your Child’s Take

Now get your child’s take on the situation.

Your role is to try and discover what might be bothering your child or triggering this behavior so you can help, so listen carefully and try to gather facts.

For instance:

  • Was he falsely accused?
  • Could he be the victim of bullying himself?
  • Was he trying to protect himself?
  • Is this the only way he can figure out how to find a friend?

Ask: “What do the other kids think about your behavior?”

Ask: “What would your teacher say is the reason you are doing this?”

Ask: “What help do you need to stop?”

Be calm and nonjudgmental as you try to uncover your child’s real motivation. Listen twice as much as you talk.

Keep in mind that your child probably won’t be able to put in words what’s triggering the behavior.

Also, keep in mind that bullies often deny their actions or blame the other kid. You may need to call witnesses to help you get the most accurate picture.

You will need to be the detective.

Dig Deeper

Still unclear? These details will help you piece together what is going on to help prevent a reoccurrence. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where and when did the bullying first happen? Think back…way back.
  • What started it? What was going on in your child’s life at the time? Is there anything that might have triggered the behavior?
  • Which kids were involved? Which adults were present in your child’s life?
  • Were there any adult witnesses that might be able to provide clues?

Create a Plan to Turn Bullying Around

Once you determine what preempted the offense (he uses aggression to make friends, to protect himself, for revenge, to try to look cool), your next step is to work together to try and create an immediate first solution. The objective isn’t to let your child off the hook, but to develop alternatives it won’t happen again. For example:

Problem: He bullies for protection.

Solution: Avoid the spot your child is most likely to be bullied by others; find an older child who can look out for your kid. (See Bully-Proofing Strategies for Kids)

Problem: She bullies to seek power to find friends.

Solution: Find other social avenues where your child can make a new friend; teach her friendship-making skills to boost her social competence. For instance: How to start a conversation, lose gracefully, ask permission or solve problems peacefully. Then target and teach one new skill at a time by showing your child the new strategy and then practicing it until your child can use it alone. (See Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me, by yours truly and Helping Kids Find, Make and Keep Friends).

Problem: He bullies due to inability to control anger.

Solution: Teach specific anger management strategies (See Anger Management for Kids and Helping Kids Cool Hot Tempers).

Problem: She bullies because she is mimicking other children.

Solution: Watch with whom your kid pals around. Also, check out the day care center, sports teams or other after-school programs your child is enrolled in. Ask teachers for recommendations for a peer group who won’t feed into the behavior.

Problem: He bullies because he doesn’t recognize or care that his behavior is causing his victim distress.

Solution: Boost empathy by asking him to “Switch Places” and pretend to be the victim. Then ask: “How would you feel if someone said that about you?” Tell or read a story in the about a child who is victimized. Consider doing community service as a family. Food drives, picking up trash in the park, painting battered women’s shelters, serving meals at homeless shelters or delivering meals to sick and elderly folks who are housebound are just a few options.

Problem: He bullies because he has a surplus of energy that often is acted out.

Solution: Offer positive alternatives to channel her aggression such as karate, boxing, swimming, jazzercise, weight lifting, soccer, football, or the marching band. But find a physical outlet for your kid to direct his strength and be also praised for his effort.  Also, make sure you teach strategies to help control his anger. (See Helping Kids Cool Hot Tempers).

Once you think you have an idea about the motivation behind your child’s behavior, refer to the specific chapter in my book for solutions in: The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries or on my website: Michele Borba and refer to the articles in the Bullying section.

Don’t be frustrated! This will take time. Keep a diary of your notes. Keep talking to others who know and care about your child.

Above all, don’t give up!