Most parents would feel something akin to the proverbial kick in the gut if they were told their child was bullying other children. Hearing of this behavior can ignite terror, shame, dismay and, sometimes above all, anger. If you think your child may be a bully, the following ideas may help you determine actions (and reactions) that will help guide both you and your child through the process of figuring out why the bullying is occurring and how to stop it.
Reacting to the News
Many parents are understandably defensive when told their child may be bullying others. The news is likely shocking, and many parents' first reactions are to deny the allegations and protect their children. Rather than launching into verbal attacks, though, experts recommend taking a deep breath and then asking questions. Coalition for Children suggests responding to accusers with the following: "Instead of labeling my child, please tell me what happened."
Listen to the Accuser
If someone is accusing your child of bullying, listen carefully to what is being said. If you have the wherewithal to take out a notebook and jot down notes, do so. This is traumatic news and you may forget later on what was said about your child's behavior.
Detailed information from the perspective of the perceived victim arms you for a more effective talk with your child. Knowing all the details of what is occurring also provides a teaching opportunity: first, about how the child can change these behaviors, and second, but no less important, how awful someone else feels when bullied.
Understand It's the Behavior, Not the Child
Some parents react with blame and shame when learning their child is exhibiting bully-like behaviors. But most bullies aren't bad kids. They're often children having difficulties coping with some aspect of their lives, or perhaps they're being bullied or abused themselves.
If your child is behaving aggressively, remember these behaviors are probably coming from your child's feelings of fear, insecurity and vulnerability. Watch the child's interactions with others, and find ways to get the child to talk to you or another trusted adult about what's causing him or her to feel and behave this way.
Recognize a Teaching Opportunity
Once you address the reasons for the behavior, explain that bullying is unacceptable in any place, with any person, in any situation within family or society. Identify actions you and your child believe will help when the child feels an inclination to be cruel.
The action may be:
- going to a trusted teacher to say, "I'm feeling mean/scared/angry."
- taking out a pencil and paper and drawing
- moving to another physical location, such as the other side of the playground
- taking a different route home from school
Then, role-play the new behaviors with the child, and lather on the praise when he or she succeeds!
Carry out Consequences
Once you and your child identify and practice new ways of handling aggression-luring situations, establish specific rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad, and respond with them consistently. Enlist help for monitoring your child's behaviors. Your child's favorite teacher, for example, may be the best one to monitor behavior. Whomever you choose, you will need someone who can accurately report back to you the behaviors they are seeing, especially as you guide your child into practicing and excelling at new, better ways of relating to others.
- Bully Beware Productions. "What can I do when my child is being bullied?" December 2008. (Nov. 14, 2010) http://www.bullybeware.com/faq/bullying/80-bullies-at-school-what-can-i-do-when-my-child-is-being-bullied.html
- BullyPolice.org. "Anti Bullying Law Passage Calendar." 2010. (Nov. 14, 2010). http://www.bullypolice.org/
- Children's Trust Fund of Massachusetts. "My Child Is Getting Bullied -- What Should I Do?" One Tough Job campaign. 2007. (Nov. 14, 2010) http://www.education.com/reference/article/my-child-being-bullied/
- Coalition for Children. "Dealing With Bullies." (Nov. 17, 2010). http://www.safechild.org/bullies.htm
- Department of Health and Human Services' Stop Bullying Now. "State Laws On Bullying." October 2010. (Nov. 15, 2010) http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/adults/state-laws.aspx
- Department of Health and Human Services' Stop Bullying Now. "Warning Signs that a Child is Being Bullied." (Nov. 16, 2010). http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/hhs_psa/pdfs/sbn_tip_7.pdf
- Dotger, Benjamin and Mara Sapon-Shevin. "But What Do I Say?" ASCD. June 2009. (Nov. 13, 2010) http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/summer09/vol66/num09/But-What-Do-I-Say%C2%A2.aspx
- Dyslexia Parents Resource. "Dealing with bullying." (Nov. 19, 2010). http://www.dyslexia-parent.com/bullying.html
- KidsHealth.org. "Helping Kids Deal With Bullies." September 2010. (Nov. 14, 2010) http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/bullies.html
- Moss, Peggy. Author. "Say Something, Our Friendship Rules." Personal correspondence. (Nov. 16, 2010)
- MyNews3.com. "Where to turn if your child is being bullied." July 2010. (Nov. 14, 2010) http://www.mynews3.com/story.php?id=22307&n=5245,5037
- National Center for Victims of Crime, Teen Victims Project. "Bullying and Harrassment." 2005. (Nov. 14, 2010) http://www.ncvc.org/tvp/main.aspx?dbName=Bullying
- National Crime Prevention Council. "Bullying." (Nov. 18, 2010). http://www.ncpc.org/topics/bullying
- U.S. Department of Education. "Exploring the Nature and Prevention of Bullying." 2010. (Nov. 16, 2010) http://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/training/bullying/bullying_pg3.html
- Wilkins, Elisabeth. "My Child is Being Bullied -- What Should I Do?" Empowering Parents. 2010. (Nov. 13, 2010)http://www.empoweringparents.com/My-Child-is-Being-Bullied.php#
- Wright, Jim. "Preventing Classroom Bullying: What Teachers Can Do." Intervention Central. 2004. (Nov. 14, 2010) http://www.jimwrightonline.com/pdfdocs/bully/bullyBooklet.pdf