“HELP! MY CHILD IS A BULLY!”
Being told that our child is exhibiting bullying behavior can come as a huge shock. It’s likely that our first reaction will naturally be a defensive one. It can be a very hard thing to stomach, the thought that the child we love so dearly might be ill-treating other children.
In this situation, the most important thing to do is to stay calm. We need to face the facts, and gather as much information as possible, while buying ourselves some time to fully understand what is going on and formulating the best possible reaction.
WHAT TO DO FIRST?
1. Defuse the situation if you can. If the person telling you that your child is a bully is another parent, and very upset, it’s imperative that you remain calm yourself, and try to get the other party to calm down and discuss the issue with you rationally. Try saying, “If my child is behaving in a bullying way, I want to understand exactly what is happening so that I can address it and solve the problem.”
2. Take deep breaths, and keep an open mind. As a responsible parent, you need to understand the situation from the point of view of everyone involved – especially from the point of view of your own child. Most bullying stems from insecurity or unhappiness.
3. Formulate some kind of plan before you open the subject with your child, if at all possible, yet remain flexible and willing to have an open conversation and to listen closely to your own child’s point of view before proceeding with anything.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
There are lots of reasons that bullying can start, but what they usually have in common is that the child who is doing the bullying (like the victims in most cases) has a low self-esteem.
In addition, a child who bullies is likely to have a limited repertoire of social skills – not having many alternative behaviours to draw on in situations that make him or her upset or angry.
The other characteristic common to many bullies is a lack of empathy – which is a learned skill and one that you can help your child develop.
If you establish that there is indeed some bullying going on, clearly some form of discipline is in order. It’s important not to get uncontrollably angry, or to try to solve the problem merely with physical punishment.
Make it very clear to your child that bullying and aggression will not be accepted, and spell out the consequences for any future bullying behavior. It is important to be completely consistent so that the child understands exactly what will happen if he repeats this behavior.
Suitable punishments could include loss of privileges, and especially freedoms that are perhaps being abused – for instance if your child is allowed out to play in the evening, and is bullying other children at this time, a suitable punishment could be having to play in the yard only for one evening, or for a week, depending on the child’s age and severity of the behavior.
Or, if your child has bullied someone by email or mobile phone, loss of use of the PC or phone for a certain amount of time could be more appropriate. Whatever you decide on, make it extremely clear and consistent.
Praise and rewards might seem like they should be the last things on your mind if you are dealing with bullying behaviour, but they are in fact crucial.
Discuss with your child what some appropriate alternatives to aggression are when he or she feels angry or upset. Then observe your child’s interactions and make sure to praise when you see these behaviors.
For example, your child might agree with you that if someone doesn’t play a game the way your child wants, instead of arguing it might be appropriate to walk away. Then, if you see your child storm away from his playmates, be sure to recognize that he is taking a non-confrontational approach to the problem, and praise him for it.
Allow your child to earn special rewards and privileges. Keep track with a calendar (perhaps with stickers for a young child) so that you and your child can measure the positive behavior, and celebrate and reward it accordingly.
OTHER THINGS YOU CAN DO
If your child is young, reading books about bullying together can help.
Talk to your child often about the diversity of people in the world, and explain that everyone has feelings and is a valuable person.
Taking care of a pet is a good way to help a child develop the skill of empathy.
Maintain an atmosphere of love and calmness at home. Don’t allow older siblings to tease a younger child, and don’t allow any destructive criticism. “Home should be a haven of love for all the family” is a great message to get across to your children.
If the bullying is severe or has been going on for a long time, or if you don’t feel confident you can address the situation effectively on your own, it’s very important to get help. You are likely to find that everyone is supportive and appreciative of your efforts to address the problem.
Your school may have a counselor that can help, or your doctor may be able to recommend someone.
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