There is no question that bullying is a horrible problem. Whether it’s traditional physical aggression, cruel taunts and mockery, or the brave new world of cyberbullying, those bullies are out there, and you pray every day that they won’t come near your child.
But what happens if you find out your child IS the bully?
Hearing reports of your child’s bullying is shocking; there is no question about it. This isn’t the end, however. Your child isn’t going to be a bully forever and you can help stop the behavior now.
Understand The Reasons For Bullying
There are several reasons why your child might resort to bullying. She may feel insecure and enjoy the sense of power and control that comes from being the bully, or he may be hanging out with a toxic peer group that only accepts him if he joins in their behavior.
Your child might also have trouble managing anger and frustration in healthy ways, taking it out on others instead of learning coping mechanisms. Your child may even bully out of ignorance.
Younger kids or children with certain emotional or social disabilities might not understand that “joking” about a peer can be hurtful.
It’s crucial to talk to your child’s teachers in order to learn exactly what she is doing. It’s just as crucial to talk to your child. Ask him why he’s acting this way.
You might unearth some issues with anger or insecurity that you never knew were there.
Teach And Model Empathy
One of the core reasons for bullying is a lack of empathy. It seems obvious, but one of the things you should do to prevent bullying is to teach empathy whenever you can. Talking about the feelings of others can go a long way in teaching empathy.
You may find roleplaying helpful in this, with you and your child taking turns playing the bully and the bullied, or exploring peaceful ways to handle situations.
Community service and volunteer opportunities can also be useful, letting your child be in a position of helping others instead of hurting them, and bringing her in contact with people who are different from her.
An equally important way to teach empathy is by modeling it yourself. One way to do this is to talk about your child’s feelings; showing that you care about how your child feels and about the emotional reasons for bullying shows that you have empathy for him and that he can have that same empathy for others.
You can model empathy further by cutting down the small ways you might denigrate others in your house. Don’t gossip or insult others when your child is listening (it is best not to do it at all). Emphasize others’ positive traits rather than the negative ones.
If you feel angry, talk about your feelings and the healthy ways that you can manage them; don’t model aggression. Show your child how to handle negative emotions without taking them out on others.
Rules And Consequences
Although you need to be empathetic, your child must understand that you take the issue of bullying seriously and will not tolerate it under any circumstance.
Establish rules about bullying and stick to them, taking immediate action if you find out that your child has started bullying again. Any punishments or consequences for bullying should be meaningful.
Grounding your child from the Internet makes sense if she’s been sending cruel emails, or if she’s hanging out with a nasty group of peers and you want to cut off her lines of communication, but not if she’s been physically bullying kids on her own.
While negative consequences are important, so are positive ones. Praise goes even further than punishment. Make sure you praise your child when he keeps a handle on his emotions or demonstrates compassion for others.
You may find you can’t stop your child’s behavior on your own. That’s OK. People are notoriously difficult to change. Ask your child’s teachers or guidance counselor for help. Between all of you, you might be able to identify some of the triggers that start your child bullying and stop her before she starts.
If you continue having trouble, talk with your child’s doctor. You may discover that he has an undiagnosed behavioral problem that lies at the root of his bullying.
And of course, if you know that a stressful situation like a divorce, a move or an illness in the family is causing the bullying behaviors, you should ask your child to talk to a therapist or counselor.
It is traumatic to find out that your child is bullying others, but you can work together to stop this behavior. Your child, and her or his classmates, will thank you for it.