Part 4: If your child is the one doing the bullying
First, it is important to understand that if your child is bullying or being mean to others, it does not make you a bad parent or your child a bad child. Children bully other children for a variety of reasons, and it takes an astute parent to recognize it and a courageous parent to accept it and take steps to address it.
Educating children involves having to teach them about dealing with difficult situations, such as when they are hurting, angry, or sad, and when they have to interact with someone they don’t like.
Our children have all been in situations when they have been upset or unhappy and have directed those hurt feelings toward someone else. Usually this is unintentional, and they may be completely unaware of how their words or actions can be hurtful and be interpreted as “bullying” the other child.
For children, as well as adults, learning how to recognize when we have inadvertently hurt someone else and taking the appropriate steps to make amends is a necessary lesson for living life as a caring and empathetic child or adult.\
Consider the following steps in helping your child if he or she is accused of “bullying” someone else:
- Have a frank discussion with your child. Let him or her know that he or she was called out for “bullying” others. It is important to discuss the specific behaviors that he or she may have taken which were considered “bullying” and give your child the opportunity to explain his or her actions. It opens the door for a more intense discussion of how your child feels and why he or she felt compelled to act as your child did. This can be a great opportunity to determine whether this was just “kids being kids” or a problem requiring further investigation. If it’s just “kids being kids,” then your child needs to be taught and reminded of behaviors that are inappropriate, those that are unacceptable, and that all actions have consequences. On the other hand, if it’s determined that your child’s actions point to some deeper emotional challenge he or she may be experiencing, than counseling by a school counselor or outside professional may be warranted.
- Model and teach empathy. We believe that children learn behaviors not only when they are taught but also when they see it modeled. So, it is incumbent upon all of us, who interact with children, to practice empathy and kindness as a way to teach them about people’s feelings and how they need to consider that in their own personal interactions with others.
- Work with your child’s teachers and school counselors. See how you, in conjunction with your child’s teacher and counselor, can plan a strategy for curbing that “kids will be kids” behavior, and if necessary, determine alternatives if your child requires greater forms of intervention or services.
- Teach your child to calm down before acting. Unfortunately, there will always be situations when children get annoyed and angry with other children, and they will react impulsively and say and do hurtful things. Help your child understand that if and when he or she feels the urge to bully or be unkind, suggest taking a few minutes to calm down before reacting in an inappropriate way. If necessary, suggest that your child ask an adult for help to try to avoid a potentially hurtful situation for everyone involved.
- Focus on the inappropriate and unacceptable behavior. In any discussions involving “bullying,” it’s important to focus on the inappropriate and unacceptable behaviors and not personally attack the child who is acting meanly. It is important to distinguish the behavior from the child and not permanently label the child as a “bully.” What we want to avoid is the “self-fulfilling” prophecy which happens all too often with children. If a child is told often enough that he or she is a certain kind of person, he or she begins to believe it and takes on those behaviors and characteristics.
- Remind your child to monitor and try to adjust his or her behavior. Reminding your child to monitor and perhaps adjust his or her own behavior, especially with regard to treating other kids with respect, is a first step to build positive relationships with other children. Children can adjust their tone and body language to communicate a friendly and respectful demeanor, while discouraging instances of “bullying.” It will take additional modeling and persistence to give children the tools to practice this positive kind of communication even when faced with difficult situations.
- Have your child approach and apologize. Set up a meeting or a play date with the parent(s) and the child that he or she bullied. Your child should address the child he or she may have been mean to and discuss what prompted the “bullying” and how it made everyone feel. It is important to end the meeting or play date by acknowledging everyone’s feelings and apologizing for any inappropriate and hurtful behaviors, as well as the commitment to not repeat the behavior.
- Encourage your child to make a pact with friends and fellow students to not engage in “bullying” behaviors. It is important for children to not only recognize and acknowledge when they are engaging in “bullying” behaviors but also acknowledge that it is unacceptable and that they will try other ways to deal with conflict. Since peer pressure is very powerful in dictating children’s behavior, parents, teachers and counselors can and should also help them collectively agree to not engage in “bullying” behaviors. If most of the children see this as a value, then there should be a significant decrease in “bullying” behavior and an increase in cooperative and friendly interactions.
We hope these posts can help you with the children in your care whether they are being bullied (link), see bullying (link), or sometimes act like a bully themselves. Our kids need our help and our example to become empathetic, caring adults, and in the process of helping them, we can find ourselves becoming better people ourselves, just like Lily and the Superheroes Club.