Parenting K-6 Kids/Son turns into bully


My son is 12 years old. He has always been described as "very nice" by the majority of people that come into contact with him. He is involved in church, on the city's basketball team and science club at his school. He will be 13 in February and his behavior lately has been so different. Darren always had a smile on his face now he just seems so angry and even some of his closest friends are starting to back away. I saw him outside snatch something from a neighborhood boy his age and throw it; his only defense for his action was that the item he threw wasn't something expensive. The other boy told me that my son had started bullying him and my son heard him say this and threw a tantrum. He said "I never touched him! He's a liar!" over and over again. He was crying and screaming this so loudly that when he was done his voice was hoarse for about a week.

It's such a radical change in behavior yet there are times when he can be nice and sweet again. My friend is a school psychologist and she thinks it could just be puberty and hormones. If it is do I just ride this out but what if it is something more?

I want to stress that for 12 years we had the most patient boy who over the last few months has a short temper, yells at his friends over trivial stuff and out of nowhere begins bullying a boy who has lived in our neighborhood for years (according to the other boy the bullying just started occurring). He maintained fairly good grades (High C's and Low B's) and now those are turning into D's. He is in a community art class most of the year and recently told another student that their drawing "sucked". He seems to be challenging not only my authority but that of teachers, coaches and anyone else in charge. All of this is new behavior so where do I go from here?

Dear Micah;

Your description of your son's behaviors does exceed the definition of mere teasing and certainly qualifies as bullying. It's consequences, by your description, now include impaired academic performance, complaints from others and rule-breaking. Persistent impairment of physical, social or academic performance in a child, along with a pattern of rule-breaking and complaints from others eventually leads either to depression and self-injurious acts or burgeoning anger with threats to others. In my opinion, when a child exhibits impaired performance, provokes a pattern of complaints from others and consistently breaks reasonable rules (such as co-existing peacefully with peers), a sufficiently dangerous situation is defined which warrants firm and definitive intervention.

There's always a reason for bullying. Bullying may be fueled by an occurrence or occurrences which have targeted the bully and to which he is inappropriately responding. It may also be caused by the emergence of one or more physical or mental health conditions over which the child has no direct control. Examples of the first group of potential events include bullying of the bully himself - sometimes including real or perceived bullying by another family member - or rejection by an individual or group at school, in the neighborhood or at home. Examples of physical or mental health disorders capable of igniting bullying do include hormone imbalances, but also many forms of encephalitis (brain irritation) as might be due to heavy metal exposure (lead, mercury poisoning) or illicit drug use and such mental health entities as Intermittent Explosive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder.

Before attempting to persuade a bully to cease bullying, one must determine whether the bully does or does not have control over the behavior and its underlying cause(s). This means recognizing and treating of "situational" causes for bullying and/or physical or mental disorders by appropriate child professionals. Physical health can be checked by a pediatrician, behavioral-developmental pediatrician or a child neurologist. Psychological issues can be assessed by a psychologist and psychiatric disorders diagnosed and treated by a child psychiatrist - sometimes including medication.

Once a child's ability to choose among behavioral options has been restored, discipline can be imposed to redirect a child's choice of bullying to right behavior. Discipline should be considered an instructional process, offering powerful rewards for right behavior, rather than a punishment-oriented process. Punishment adds fuel to anger while rewards encourage more right behavior. The most powerful reward available to energize discipline is affection.

I hope this has been helpful to you. Please let me know.

Alan M. Davick, M.D., Author
-Bullying: Rarely Travels Alone
-Managing Misbehavior in Kids: The MIS/Kidding Process
-Discipline Your Child (without going to jail)
Blog: www.misbehaviorin

Parenting K-6 Kids

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Alan M. Davick, M.D.


As a Johns Hopkins trained Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician with 40 years experience, I have focused on distinguishing underlying willful, poor choice-making (like Oppositional-Defiant Disorder)from innate "conditions" masquerading as willful misbehavior (like ADHD, Autistic Spectrum Disorders, Bipolar Disorders, Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Delay, Epilepsy and "Behavioral" Seizures). Though I cannot act as a formal medical or psychiatric consultant, I will answer queries with generic information and suggestions for discussion readers may direct to their own professional advisers, including physicians, psychologists and educators.


I trained at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Pediatrics, Child Psychiatry and Behavioral-Developmental Pediatrics. Thereafter, I've continuously practiced Behavioral-Developmental Pediatrics and have taught the principles mentioned above to parents, colleagues and professional groups.

American Academy of Pediatrics SW Florida Sportsman's Association Florida Writers Association

First Travel Meds - 1987; Managing Misbehavior in Kids: The Mis/Kidding Process; Bullying: Rarely Travels Alone; Discipline Your Child (without going to jail); AD(H)D: What Every Parent Needs to Know

Undergraduate - NY University WSC Arts & Science, NYC 1959-63 - B.A. Medical Degree- State University of NY, Upstate Med Ctr, Syracuse 1963-67 - M.D. Internship/Residency - Johns Hopkins Hosp/University - Baltimore, MD 1967-70 Major, US Army Medical Corps, Chief Pediatric Section, Savannah, GA - 1970-72 Sp. Fellow, Dept Child Psychiatry - Johns Hopkins Hospital/University - 1972-73 Practicing Behavioral-Developmental Pediatrician, lecturer, author - to date Currently practicing Child Psychiatry - SalusCareFlorida, Fort Myers, FL.

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