Is My Child a Bully? Part 2

In a previous article, I discussed: Is My Child a Bully? (7 Tips for Parents of Bullies). This article picks up where the other one left off. NOTE: These articles are not intended to replace a physician’s or counselor’s advice.

Josh was playing basketball very well. Josh’s mom and dad watched him proudly as he was the most valuable player game after game. But his mom also noticed he was losing his cool and using his elbows more aggressively.

She recalled previous bullying allegations against her son, but the thoughts disappeared as the crowd cheered.

Despite this, the next day she was still feeling unsettled. At dinner, she brought up a time in the game where Josh roughly fouled another player.

“Josh, it seemed like you were playing kind of rough and dirty yesterday.”

Her husband replied, “Honey, he’s a guy. His adrenaline was pumping, and it was a tough opponent.”

But Josh’s mom couldn’t shake the image of the player that Josh knocked down.

A side of her son she didn’t like

The following Sunday, she drove by the court where Josh played pick-up basketball with neighborhood kids.

She saw him knock a much weaker player to the ground. The younger player didn’t get up right away, and Josh didn’t offer a hand up or an apology. The downed player got up, rubbed blood off his elbow, picked up his jacket and left the game.

No one acknowledged his injury or departure. Josh’s mom felt her mouth fall open in shock.

Here was a side of her son she didn’t like.

Good at sports without being a bully

To get to the bottom of the story, she invited Josh to his favorite restaurant. She brought up the subject that had been nagging at her.

“Josh, I happened to be driving by the court yesterday and saw you knock down a smaller kid. He was bleeding when he left. What’s going on? Why do you play so roughly?”

Josh replied, “What, what are you talking about? That kid had no business playing in our pick-up game. And, being pushy is part of the game. I thought you liked how good I am at basketball.”

Mom paused before she spoke.

“Yes, but you can be good and not hurt people. Remember there was that thing earlier in the year about you being a bully…and….”

Josh interrupted.

”That’s all over. Remember, nothing came of it. ”

“Josh, I’m just concerned,” his mom replied. ”Basketball is only one part of becoming a man.”

Josh defended his actions.

“Mom, it’s the only part that is going to get me into a college. Enough. I’m going to leave now and get a ride home with my friends.”

With that, Josh stalked out.

The reason behind the bullying

Josh’s mom went home and began to search online about bullying.

At first, what she found was terrifying. Some linked bullying to substance use and sociopathic behavior.

Then she stumbled on a website that made sense.

The site suggested that parents look at changes in life circumstances. She recalled that Josh’s grandfather had died about six months ago. He and Josh would go fishing together and out for ice cream. He came to Josh’s games.

After his grandfather died, Josh and his dad began doing more things together. They watched basketball and action blockbuster movies. As a reward for a great season, Josh got an Xbox. He spent hours playing Halo and World of Warcraft. Life had become basketball, school and what his mother jokingly called “killing games.”

Confronting your child, the bully

Josh’s mom talked to her husband. They agreed to talk to Josh together, using a recent photo of Josh and his grandfather. They discussed how Grandpa’s passing had affected them all.

Josh cried as he felt the pain of missing his grandfather. He said basketball had become like a job and how responsible he felt for getting a scholarship and his team’s success. He really had wanted to do some art classes this semester, but there was no time.

Josh’s parents suggested he skip intramural games during the off-season or pick-up basketball. He’d have more time to take a community art class.

Josh continued to play basketball as a dominant force on the team, but not as aggressively. And, now he has more balance in his life. He still plays Xbox, but only for a couple of hours a week.

Apologizing to the kids he had bullied

Josh’s mom asked him to do one more thing: Apologize to the kids he had bullied.

At first, Josh was angered by the suggestion. Then, a couple of days later, he spoke up.

”Remember that kid, the one whose mom complained about me? I talked to him. I said I was a jerk and I was sorry. He invited me to his house to shoot a few hoops. Guess what? He’s getting a lot better. I gave him some pointers, like a better way to hit a three-point shot. I know you don’t want me to do a lot of extra basketball stuff, but I told him I would show him a couple of defense moves next week. Is that OK?”

Josh’s mom nodded as she gave him a hug.

Tips for parents

It’s sometimes not clear if your child is a bully. Read “7 tips if your child is the bully” for help navigating uncertain situations. Another good resource is stopbullying.gov. Cyberbullying is also an issue; check out nobullying.com.

If your child is a bully, remember to:

  1. Acknowledge the problem. Explain that the behavior must stop.
  2. Consider asking your child’s school, doctor or local mental health association for help, For example, The Mental Health Association in Rochester, New York, offers parents suggestions and support.
  3. Talk to your child about the behavior, why it bothers you and strategize different ways of reacting.
  4. Don’t be afraid to limit or curtail activities that are fueling the fire of aggression.
  5. Praise your child’s desirable behaviors. There is good in everyone.
Ann Griepp, M.D.

Ann Griepp, M.D.

Ann Griepp, M.D., chief medical officer for Behavioral Health at Excellus BCBS, hails from Michigan, but has lived in Rochester since she started her psychiatry residency and neuropsychiatry fellowship at the University of Rochester Medical Center.Griepp is board certified in psychiatry and by the American Board of Addiction Medicine.She is married, lives in Pittsford, Monroe County, and has two college age children and two pretty naughty dogs. Ann loves children, cooking, fencing, and always has a puzzle going in her office for stress-reduction.
Ann Griepp, M.D.

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