Bullying Behaviors In Adopted Children: 8 Ways To Help Your Child Replace Negative Patterns With Positive Ones

A history of trauma doesn't make bullying okay, but understanding its impact does give us a place to begin in helping remedy the problem.

Rebecca Tillou October 16, 2016
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Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. –Wendy Mass


Bullying has been around for centuries. Think back to the caveman. One caveman would chase another around with club, trying to assert dominance. Things haven’t changed much over the past several hundred thousand years. Today we have multiple forms of bullying. There is bullying by physical force, there is bullying through verbal communication, and there is bullying in social media.

Many children who are adopted have experienced some sort of trauma in their pasts. Sometimes this trauma manifests itself through bullying behaviors. For many children, bullying is a survival skill. Some children bully because they are in pain and acting out their pain is the only way they know how to cope. Other children may find that bullying makes them feel in control, something they are desperate to experience.

That being said, a history of trauma doesn’t make bullying okay. It simply helps us understand why the behaviors may have started. If we understand what may have triggered a child’s bullying behaviors, then we have a starting point to learn about their behavior and work with the child to remedy it.

I did some research and found that the following techniques may assist in teaching your children to substitute bullying with positive actions:

1. Talk WITH your child, not TO your child. 

Communication is key. Use words they can understand. Get down to their level. Tell them that bullying is not nice, and it hurts others. It makes others feel sad. Talk together about behaviors they could use instead of bullying.

2. Write it out. 

Sit with your child and together come up with a list of positive behaviors your child can practice to replace bullying behaviors.

3. Perform an objective assessment of the behaviors.

Sit your child down and ask them how they feel when they are bullying others. Ask them how they think it makes others feel. Ask them why they choose to bully others. Have an open line of communication with them. Give them reasons why people bully others. A reason you say may resonate with them, and they may open up to why they bully. Little by little they will learn to trust you and open up to you. They will hopefully be able to effectively communicate to you over time why they bully others.

4. Try role-playing. 

This can be very effective in teaching children to replace negative bullying behaviors with positive ones. As a parent, you can “bully” your spouse or a friend and have your child watch.  Ask your child how they were feeling watching you bully someone. If they tell you they were happy or amused, ask them why. Don’t get upset, work through their feelings. You can then have your child role-play with you and have them use actions that are positive instead of negative.

5. Seek outside support. 

Look for a psychologist or a social worker who may be able to work with your child one-on-one and in a group setting.

6. Be a positive role model. 

Children watch everything family and friends do. I know my children watch when my husband and I have disagreements. The way I react to my husband and to the disagreement is what my children perceive an an acceptable reaction.

7. Allow time for healing. 

Have your child either write a letter to those he bullied, or talk to those he bullied. Give your child time to communicate what he did and why it was not appropriate. Talk with him about what behaviors are appropriate, and then let him write a letter or talk to those he bullied. This exercise will let his brain learn the positive behaviors and hopefully practice them in the future.

8. Avoid group treatment and peer conflict resolution.

Although these interventions sound like they would be great way to teach your child positive patterns of behavior, stopbullying.gov states these treatments should be avoided.

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Rebecca Tillou

Rebecca was adopted as an infant. She found her birth family in May of 2013 and continues to keep in touch with them. Sadly, her birth mother passed away in 1999. She and her husband live in New York and are the parents of two beautiful little boys, Dominic and Nicolas. They also have a German Shepherd mix named Chester. She was recently diagnosed with FASD at 34 years of age. She is currently working with nofas.org and thearg.org to get the word out that there is hope, and that you are never too old to better yourself.

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