Parenting When Your Child Is the Bully

Although bullying among children has always existed, it seems that only in the recent past have people really taken a stand against it. An increased awareness of the problem has led schools to embark on anti-bullying education and to adopt zero-tolerance policies against offenders. In school today, children of all ages are educated about what to do should they find themselves victims of bullying. Likewise, parents and school staff are becoming well versed in how to handle targeted harassment and violence that young people experience. Bullying prevention is being practiced at schools, but incidents still occur. You may know the steps to take if your child has been bullied, but how should you proceed if it is your own child who is the bully? If you are the guardian of one with such tendencies, your parenting skills are going to be put to the test. Preventing your child from bullying others is going to require you to be a good listener, a contemplative speaker, and an unwavering disciplinarian.

The way you first act when you learn your child has been bullying someone is crucial. You may have either been contacted by the school about an incident, or you yourself may have directly observed your child bullying someone. Many parents are in disbelief when they find out that their child is being labeled a bully. A lot of children behave differently around their peers, so it is not unusual for a parent to have never noticed such a problem before. The actions made by the child may seem totally out of character, but the sooner a parent can accept the fact that an act of bullying has been committed, the sooner work can be done to prevent it from happening again.

Listen Before You React

Before reacting, you must listen carefully to what others say about the situation. This may include your child’s teacher or an administrator, but be sure to hear what your own child says about what has happened. It is perfectly acceptable to ask your child why he or she behaved in that way. Listen to your child with patience, and understand that those who bully others usually behave in that way because of one or two reasons. First, those children who are used to being popular among their peers and have a sense of power over others often revert to bullying when they fear they may be losing that popularity or power. The other reason kids bully others is equally important to know. Sometimes children who feel deprived believe that they have a right to bullying. If a child is used to being bullied or abused himself or herself, then he or she may resort to trying to make others feel the same by bullying them. Hear what your child says about his or her own behavior, and avoid blaming your child because you want your child to feel safe when admitting to a mistake.

Open a Dialogue

Begin a dialogue with your child after you have thoroughly assessed the actions made. Ask your child if the action was respectful or hurtful to the victim. Try to help your child see the incident from the other’s viewpoint. Ask your child to describe how he or she would feel if in the victim’s shoes. Once you and your child have talked through the problem, discuss behavior goals and possible appropriate consequences for the action that has occurred and for any subsequent bullying incidents that may follow. Consequences may include the temporary loss of electronics privileges or missing a much-anticipated event like staying the night with a friend. No matter what is decided, the consequences must be ones with which you and your child can follow through. Be sure to review the behavior goals and consequences often and make any adjustments that are needed for your child to keep improving.

You want your child to develop a sense of empathy. It is incredibly important for your child to understand how devastating bullying can be to victims. Your child needs to not only recognize when the urge to bully arises but also the alternative ways he or she can behave in those situations. Kids can be impulsive, but they must learn to suppress those impulses, especially when someone else is going to be harmed by them. When you discuss bullying with your child, you need to include in the conversation the possible ways he or she can act so that a situation has a favorable outcome for everyone involved. To help with this, consider reading stories or watching movies like Wonder in which characters are faced with bullying. Using these resources, you can ask your child how one could have acted in a similar situation.

Making a Change

You may not understand how your child learned to be a bully, but you have the power to help your child unlearn those behaviors. Making a lasting change is hard work from which you and your child will both benefit, not to mention the others who had been hurt previously. Teaching one how to respect others is not a lesson that can be mastered overnight, but it is possible to make a change when you continue being a staunch advocate for what is just.