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Time In with Dr. Tim: What if my child is the bully?

January 24, 2014
Dr. Tim Goldsmith, Youth Villages chief clinical officer

Dr. Tim Goldsmith, Youth Villages chief clinical officer

I recently had to visit the principal’s office at my 12-year-old daughter’s middle school because she has been bullying other girls at school. How do I stop this?

Deal with the situation immediately and firmly. Never minimize or excuse this behavior. Bullying is a serious matter, and your daughter must understand that this will not be tolerated. The school probably will help you teach this lesson. Most schools have a no tolerance bullying policy, and your daughter may face school suspension, even expulsion.

Where did this behavior come from? There’s a back story for every bully. You need to find out what that is. Has your daughter been bullied in the past or is there something else going on? How long has her bullying behavior been going on and how severe is the situation? Understanding the reasons behind the bullying may help you determine your next steps. If you can deal successfully with the underlying reasons, the bullying will probably stop.

What form is the bullying taking? Be aware that girls bully differently than boys. They may exclude girls from their circle, start rumors or use subtle put downs and verbal humiliation. This is just as hurtful and harmful to others as physical bullying. Cyber-bullying, through Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, also is dangerous and damaging.

You will need to have a series of hard conversations with your daughter and increase your monitoring of different aspects of her life and interactions with peers.

A common trait in youth who bully is a lack of empathy, but those skills can be taught. At Youth Villages, we teach teens to write a story multiple times, from each character’s perspective to stretch a child’s ability to see from a perspective other than his/her own. Having youth volunteer and work with others gives them exposure to people outside of their usual world and can increase their ability to build relationships across differences. Lastly, parents must be deliberate in modeling empathy and talking openly about the feelings and perspectives of others.

As a parent, you must set behavior expectations, rules and appropriate consequences if any more bullying occurs. Reward improvements in behavior. At Youth Villages, we remind parents they are in charge and dealing with situations such as the one you describe is your responsibility. Finally, be sure you support and nurture your daughter and keep the lines of communication open.

For more information on bullying, visit these websites:

Tim Goldsmith, Ph.D., is chief clinical officer at Youth Villages, where he directs a staff of clinical specialists who oversee the work we do with children and families across the country.

Dr. Tim and his core clinical managers have nearly 100 years of experience helping children with the most serious problems. Together they oversee the counselors and specialists who work directly with parents, teaching them ways to help their children overcome serious problems and go on to do well at home, at school and in the community.

This year, our clinical and counseling staff will help more than 22,000 children across the country.

Now Dr. Tim and his staff of experts can answer your questions, too. All parents have moments when they wish they could consult with an expert. If you have a question about your tween or teen’s behavior, send it to

Read more about Dr. Tim’s experience and credentials here.

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