How can we prevent our seven-year-old son from becoming a bully? I've noticed that he can be very pushy and often tries to dominate other kids. He always wants to be the "winner" — it's as if he has a need to prove himself. When provoked, he retaliates fiercely and has hurt other kids in the past. He's small for his age and is generally very popular at school, but I wonder how long that will last.
Children will often learn how to relate to others by observing their parents. This certainly is not the case in every situation, but it may not hurt to examine how you and your husband respond and react when you become frustrated. Do either of you lose your temper easily? Do you yell, scream or get aggressive with each other or with your kids when you are angry? If so, you'll want to begin making adjustments to your own patterns of interaction in order to see positive changes in your son.
If you're confident that you deal with anger and conflict in a healthy way, it's possible that your son may be lashing out because of his size. Many bullies actually have low self-esteem and pick on others in order to feel better about themselves. That fits in perfectly with what you've told us about his "need to prove himself." Of course, this kind of behavior backfires. It causes other kids to avoid the bully like the plague, and as a result he becomes even more isolated. This in turn can lead to more anger and more aggressiveness.
If this is what's happening with your son, we'd suggest working on a couple of things. First, affirm him and reward him when he behaves appropriately. Second, implement consequences when he gets aggressive. You'll need to ask for the help of the other adults in his life to do this effectively.
Talk to his teacher, the school principal, the bus driver, and the parents of the kids in the neighborhood. Let them know that you're doing everything you can to improve his behavior and that you want them to contact you immediately whenever he becomes aggressive. Let your son know that you'll be doing this and clearly spell out what the consequences will be when he crosses the line.
Meanwhile, balance this strategy with regular doses of encouragement and affirmation. Affirm your son for his strengths. Praise him when he exhibits positive character qualities. The Bible provides us with a great list of such qualities in its description of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
If you'd like to discuss your son's situation with a member of our staff, feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.
How to Deal with Bullying