How to Stop Your Kid Bullying
What should you do if your child is the bully?
What if your kid is the bully?
First of all, don’t call him that, says Mandy Mundy, senior director of programs and services at the Network of Victim Assistance of Bucks County, PA.
“It’s important to remember that when anybody, especially children, engage in actions and behaviors that are defined as bullying, that we don’t in turn define the child as a bully,” says Mundy. “Sometimes those labels stick with a child for the rest of their lives” even if they stop bullying.
Look for signs your kid might be bullying
If you aren’t alerted by the school or another parent, how would you know?
For one thing, take time to listen to your kids, says Dr. Stuart Green, director of the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention.
“Parents should ask about their children’s interests and lives,” Green says. “What constitutes a lot of discourse between parents and their children comes from transmitting their values and interests to their kids rather than listening to their kids talk about what is happening in their lives.”
Mundy says to ask open-ended questions about her day: “What was one good thing that happened during the day? What was something that made you sad or upset? What was something that was challenging?”
Maybe she’ll acknowledge that nobody plays or eats lunch with her. That might signal she’s being bullied but it could also mean she’s doing the bullying.
Set expectations, consequences
“Kids need to have examples of what a bully does and doesn’t do. You have to be specific about the behavior,” says Dr. Patricia Scott, director of strategic partnerships and grants at Beau Biden Foundation in Wilmington, DE. Make sure your child knows what bully behavior looks like.
See if he can identify it in real life.
This can start out with questions about other people’s bullying behavior (which can be examples from TV, internet, social media), and, increasingly, bring the query to the more personal — questions about the child’s own experience with bullying, either being bullied or being the bully,” says Mark B. Borg, Jr., PhD, a psychologist/psychoanalyst in New York City.
When expectations are broken, set consequences tied to the behavior.
“If the child engages in cyberbullying, take away the cell phone or use of social media. If it’s bullying on the playground, work with the school to substitute recess for extra library time,” says Mundy. This also makes it harder for that form of bullying to continue.
Look for a cause
“After you’ve addressed it, you also need to understand where that’s coming from,” Scott explains. “There’s always a reason behind it.
“It’s not always a good one, it may be unjustified, but if you can understand what led to it, you can change the bullying behavior.”
Bullying is a power struggle — whether emotionally, socially or physically, Mundy says. One possibility is your child is being bullied himself, is feeling misunderstood at school or has an unidentified learning disability.
“If they feel like somebody else is taking power away from them, they may engage in bullying behaviors against somebody else to feel powerful themselves and to feel in control of another situation,” Mundy explains. “Or if they have trouble learning in school, if they have trouble focusing in school, that sense of lack of control sometimes turns outwardly to aggressive behaviors or bullying behaviors.”
Teach, show empathy
Learning to build and maintain healthy relationships begins at home.
“Children learn from watching. How we not only interact with the members within our household, but also with the people we see in our community, the people we see in our children’s school, also impacts what children see and learn from us,” explains Mundy.
Teaching empathy from a young age can help decrease bullying behaviors, says Claudine Malone, program director at Beau Biden Foundation.
“Say to them, ‘When you hurt somebody, when you say something hurtful, they feel it. You don’t know what other kids are dealing with,” Malone suggests.
Sometimes, despite everything you’ve tried, the bullying behavior may continue. If so, seek outside help. Don’t let the fear of labels stop you, Mundy warns.
“We’re not always the expert in helping our child solve problems,” she asserts. “So, if the things you try to redirect your child’s bullying behaviors don’t seem to be working, seek help from a school guidance counselor, an independent mental health counselor, or even another trusted family member.”
Michele Haddon is a freelance writer from Doylestown, PA.