02 Oct When Your Child is the Bully
It’s almost never a good thing when the school rings. Usually it’s a sick child who needs to be picked up. Other times it’s a forgotten lunch box. But sometimes it’s the teacher (or principal!) ringing to report on your child’s misbehaviour, or even that your child has been bullying.
Most parents will immediately think, ‘Not my child!’ But the truth is that every child is capable of bullying, given the right set of circumstances. Most parents will want to know why? And what they should do when your child is the bully.
Why do kids bully?
Kids who bully are usually suffering from something themselves. Often, they have low self-esteem. Low self-esteem in a child who also lacks good communication skills can lead to them feeling as if they need to defend themselves constantly.
Lack of control
Sometimes kids who bully feel that they need to be ‘in charge’ of something, or in this case, someone. If they’ve had a lot of big changes in their lives that were completely out of their control, they might lash out. Asserting dominance gives them a feeling of control that helps them to cope with their own vulnerability. Chances are they have been the victim of being bullied by someone else either at home or at school and they have lost their own sense of personal power.
Lack of personal awareness
When they attack others, a bullying child is actually unaware of what they are really feeling. In fact, a bully’s attacks can be projections of their own fears, insecurities or shame. When they are on the attack, they stop looking inward at themselves. Instead, they use bullying, subconsciously, to hide from themselves.
What to do when your child is the bully
Stay calm and listen
It can be hard to hear people saying something negative about your child. But try to stay calm and listen. Thank the parent, teacher or principal for coming to you and letting you know. Let them know that you are taking this very seriously and will be working with your child to stop the behaviour.
Remember, getting the facts will help you get to the bottom of why your child is behaving in this manner. Be calm. Breathe deeply. Listen.
Take time to process the information
Take the time to process the information that you’ve received before approaching your child. It’s a good time to think about what else is going on in your child’s life.
Do they have a caring and supportive home life where they feel loved and accepted? Are they receiving enough attention from you? Have they experienced any big upsets or emotional upheavals recently?
At school, do they feel safe? Do they have friends and feel like they can keep up with the classwork? Do they have hobbies or activities that inspire them and keep them active and involved?
When any of these things are off in your child’s life, it could be tipping them into hiding from their own emotions through bullying.
Talk with your child
Engage your child in a gentle way. We can’t parent well when we’re upset, and our children don’t listen well when they’re upset. Try to keep calm while you approach the subject.
Explain what you have heard and ask your child to tell you what happened from their perspective. If they only want to tell you what the other child did (i.e., ‘He hit me first!’) explain that you want to hear about that, but first you want to hear what they did.
Build empathy for the other child by asking, ‘Can you help me see why the other child sees it differently?’ And, ‘How would you feel if he or she did that to you?’ This step helps your child to feel what others are feeling. To stop bullying effectively we have to change our children’s perspective.
Finally, let your child know that bullying is absolutely unacceptable and must stop now. Don’t lecture – just a simple statement will help your point get across better.
Work on a resolution
Finally, help resolve the situation. The school will have a bullying policy and will likely be taking steps themselves. Support the school in doing so. If the bullying happened outside of school (i.e., cyberbullying) inform the school so they can get on board.
Ask the teacher or school for advice and help to work through the problem. Keep in touch with them to make sure that your child is doing the right things going forward.
Helping your child understand their own feelings
Ultimately, it’s important to get to the underlying issues at play. Finding out what led up to this behaviour will get you much closer to helping your child understand their own feelings better, without resorting to bullying.
Author: Di O’Malley – Founder and Managing Director of Young Minds Health and Development Network, and Counselling Psychologist.
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