Dealing with bully behavior

By Jeffrey D. Murrah

After being exposed to a tragic crime or horrific act, a question often asked is "How could someone do that?" This question is one with relevance for parents. Such behavior is often traced back to childhood bullying.

Bullies have been around for centuries. Early writers even addressed the cruelties that go with bullies. Bullies come in many forms. Bullies can be men or women, young or old, short or tall. A growing tendency now is for young girls to bully other girls. A common theme is that bullying often starts in childhood.

As parents, dealing with bully behavior is important. Along with parents knowing how to respond to such behavior, children also need to know how to deal with bullies. Children need to know how to deal with bullying from adults and from other children.

Bullies tend to be good liars. Although they can turn on the charm when needed, they are often vindictive. They tend to be talkative, focusing attention on themselves and never staying on one topic for very long. They believe they have a right to say what they please, often in total disregard for others. Bullies often use threats or repetition to force their ways on others. When someone does not agree with them, they are quick to criticize or turn on their victim. Control is important to them. Bullies will seek ways to control people, conversations and even holiday gatherings. Since many children simply wish to keep the peace, bullies intimidate them into situations they would not have freely chosen.

Confrontation, setting boundaries, truthfulness and consistency are important tools in dealing with bullies. Bullies hate being confronted, and often make people pay for confronting them. Truthfulness is needed in order to dispel the lies and deception they surround themselves with. Bullies sincerely believe they are doing what is best. Since bullies see themselves as better and more knowledgeable than others, they often react angrily to being presented with truth that exposes their make-believe world.

Setting and maintaining firm boundaries is also important in dealing with bullies. Teach your children to say "no" to unacceptable behaviors and situations. Once boundaries are set, it is important to maintain those boundaries. This is where consistency is an important part of confronting bullies.

Since bullies take advantage of situations, consistency is needed in confronting bully behaviors with truth. Bullies do not consider the feelings of others, since they only consider their feeling the only ones that are important. Bullies need to be reminded of how they affect others.

Parents can also show children by example how to confront bullying. Children need to see that there are other ways through conflicts besides intimidation. Stopping bully behavior from children is a way to prevent more serious problems later. Bullying can be stopped before it becomes a way of life.

Jeffrey D. Murrah is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with offices in Pasadena and La Porte. He can be reached at 713-944-4335 or through his website at

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