Dear Dr. Bill,
I’m concerned that my 7-year-old son may be a bully in the making. He can be pushy and often tries to dominate other kids. He always likes to be the “winner” — as if he’s trying to prove himself. And when provoked, he retaliates very hard. He doesn’t know where to draw the line, and he’s hurt other kids in the past.
Our son is small for his age and is generally popular at school, though I wonder how long that will last. We’ve been working with him about not losing control — but it’s hard to get his attention when he becomes aggressive. What should we do?
The first question I would ask is how do you and your husband respond when you are angry or frustrated? For the most part, children learn how to relate to others by observing their parents. Do either of you lose your temper easily? Do you yell, scream or get aggressive when you’re angry? If so, you’ll need to change if you expect to see any positive changes in your son.
If you don’t have a problem with anger, it’s possible that your son may be lashing out because of his size. Some bullies pick on others in order to feel better about themselves. Of course this backfires—other kids avoid them and they become even more isolated.
If your son is reacting in this way, you’ll need to work at two things: affirming him when he acts appropriately and implementing consequences when he gets aggressive. You’ll also need to enlist the help of the other adults in his life, such as his teacher.
Let them know that you are working to improve his behavior and that you want them to contact you immediately whenever he is aggressive. Clearly spell out what the consequences will be when he crosses the line.
Balance this with regular doses of encouragement and affirmation. Affirm your son for his strengths and praise him when he exhibits positive character qualities.
Thanks for writing Tammy. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Culture Connection page.