Ask AF: My Child Is a Bully

A parent asked how to her child change her aggressive behavior at school and at home. Members of adoptive families circle responded.

Q: We recently adopted a 12-year-old. She came from an environment of serious neglect and abuse. We know that she is very angry, her self-esteem and self-worth are absolutely zero, and she sees a professional counselor every week. She has been getting in a lot of trouble at school for being mean to other kids, ganging up on them, and even coming close to physical confrontations. Any advice is welcome.


Members of respond:

“One thing that I’ve learned is that neglected and abused children develop what I call ‘victim radar.’ After experiencing humiliation, anger, or violence, they want to overcome that sense of helplessness, and they learn to spot someone who won’t fight back. They are also constantly on the lookout for injustices of any kind. Our oldest child is acutely concerned with the level of attention he receives, with going first, and so on. Anything you can do to help your daughter feel empowered, even the smallest things, will help. Play-act, play Simon Says. The power struggles of the middle school pecking order make this an especially difficult time. Best wishes.”

“Emotional age is as important as social age. She probably does not have the skills to navigate the 12-year-olds’ social world, so she feels backed into a corner and has to show her superiority by being mean. Any chance of homeschooling for a few months?”

“Sounds a lot like my 12-year-old. Building her confidence and self-esteem seems like the most important thing now, so I constantly compliment her on her many strengths, let her know that she has many wonderful qualities, and tell her when she has made us proud. At the same time, we let her know that she must figure out a better way to deal with her emotions and anger. I don’t know the answer, and as a first-time parent, it’s a little frightening.”

“I’ve been told to get my seven-year-old to ‘want to make Mom and Dad proud of me.’ It has taken over a year, but he has begun trying really hard at school because he wants people to be proud of him. He even told the principal this yesterday, and she phoned me while he was sitting with her to tell me.”


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