"My child would never be a bully."
It's a response heard all too often by school counselors when they approach the parents of a bully.
"Usually, the bully's parents will defend their child and blame the victim," even when confronted with documentation of the incidents, said Susan Miller, counselor at Boulton Elementary School in Bountiful.
"If it's a true bully, it's repeated over time," she said. "It has to be over time, and there has to be an imbalance of power for it to be bullying. Otherwise, it is just a fight."
More often than not, the parents deny their child's behavior. But when they acknowledge it, Miller said, major changes can occur.
She gave the example of a student who was constantly in the office for bullying. The school called in his grandmother, who was his guardian, and showed her a list of the incidents. She took the counselor's advice to get him checked for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or other neurological problems -- common with bully behaviors.
"The grandma got him treated and we never saw him in the office again," Miller said. "He later started a secret service club to help other kids like him. He is an amazing little boy. This is who he is. The other (the bully) is not who he is."
Not surprisingly, a parent's initiative can greatly help the victim as well.
One Ogden mom came to the disturbing revelation that her son was being bullied at school. She learned the mother of one of the bullies actually supported criminal charges for her son's attacks.
It was the first step to a positive ending -- the two reconciled several years later.
"The biggest thing is being able to take that step back and say, 'You know, you are right, my child might be the problem,' " said Carrie Jensen, supervisor of the Prevent Child Abuse organization in Ogden. " 'I am ... going to look at myself and see what I am doing that maybe is not modeling the correct behaviors that my child is picking up from me.' "
Parents should teach life skills like empathizing with others, problem-solving and accepting that people have differences from one another.
"It's being that good example that they are seeing firsthand from the time they are small, when they are only interacting with you, to when they are starting to have play groups," Jensen said. "So they are already acting appropriately and knowing what they should be doing and acting around others."
A bully doesn't come equipped with the stereotype big body, dirty clothes and a missing-teeth smirk.
Once, it was thought only lonely, ostracized students resorted to bullying other kids. While that persona can be a warning sign, even popular kids may harass others. In short, anyone can bully.
"Usually, a bully is someone who feels fine with themselves. Bullies experience a wish for power," said Karen Miller, school counselor at North Ogden Elementary. "And when they get that power, they target somebody who doesn't have a lot of social support around."
Susan Miller said there is often a neurological trigger, so it's important to check that.
"Almost always, there is an attention component, an impulse component," she said. "So I always say when there is a bully, we need to eliminate the possibility of a neurological problem."
The Steps To Respect program taught in the Weber School District encourages looking at the child's behaviors to see if they include frequent name-calling, lack of empathy, and a defiant or hostile attitude.
Take your kid to a playground and see how they interact with other kids.
Karen Miller said she takes those steps to see if kids are treating others well.
Just naming the behavior can help a child realize the magnitude of the problem.
"Frequently, the kids don't really realize they are bullying," said Kristy Haws, student services coordinator in the Weber School District.
Karen Miller has seen understanding, and remorse, wash over a child in an instant.
"Once you label the behavior and once you say to the kids, 'This is bullying,' " she said, "they kind of look at you with these great big eyes and say, 'Oh, no, I didn't.' "
Once a neurological problem has been ruled out, it's important to start imparting life skills such as collaborative problem solving -- teaching kids to overcome social, emotional and behavioral challenges.
"Which is an excellent one for bullies, because what they have the hardest problem with is seeing options," Susan Miller said. "They can (begin to) see other ways to get their stimulation, other ways to get friends."
Bullies also need to learn to be empathetic.
"Being able to empathize with other kids, problem-solve, and accepting people even if they are different," Haws said. "I think these are real things parents can work on with kids -- just those basic life skills that we all need to get through life."
Parents should work with the schools to help teach the child the missing skills.
Bob Wood, Weber School District director of student services, said that if both parents and schools are involved, a bully has a better chance of changing.
"Brainstorm ideas together and have everybody help," Wood said.
Children can stop bullying. But it requires learning vital life skills -- and parents need to give themselves a reality check and lead by example.
"It really comes down to good parenting and spending time and teaching concepts, and modeling good behavior, making sure you are not bullying others also," Wood said.
HOW TO CORRECT BULLYING BEHAVIOR
• Spend time with your children
• Know your child’s friends
• Be consistent about discipline
• Eliminate toys, games and TV shows that reward aggression
• Teach your child to be slower to take offense
• Make sure your child knows what other children expect
• Help your child see other points of view
— From Steps To Respect: A Bullying Prevention Program