Most children in school today have been involved in a bullying incident. Either they are being bullied or they are the bullies. As parents, when we are told that our child has been bullying someone, we tend to either deny this (“That can’t be my child!”) or we are so mortified, we overreact.
But what should we do when our child is a bully?
- Gather the facts. Find out when the bullying incident(s) occurred, where, how did it play out? Do not depend on your child’s facts as they might not be wholly truthful. This will give you an independent understanding of what might have triggered the issue, what kind of consequences you can give your child, and how to address your conversation with him/her later.
- Acknowledge the act. Sit down with your child and ask your child about the incident. Be calm and firm. Do not lose your temper if you feel your child’s version is different from what you know actually happened. Your child needs to understand that this is a safe space to admit their mistakes. Ask them questions like, “How would you feel if someone said this to you, or hurt you in this manner?”, “Is what you said hurtful or disrespectful?”, “Did it hurt the other child?”
- Discuss the consequences. No matter what the justification, your child needs to understand that we cannot hurt another child with our words or actions. Both parents should decide on the consequences and discuss it with their child. Ensure that your child understands that every time they behave in this negative manner, they will face the same consequence on a consistent basis. Consequences can include eliminating TV time or tablet time, no playtime in the evening, writing a letter of apology, etc.
- Role-play or talk about alternate responses for future situations. It is important to recognise that your child’s ‘bullying’ response is a result of not knowing how to best handle a confusing situation. What should your child do, for instance, if another child does not share anything with them? What to do if another child always calls them a nickname they do not like? What to do if another child taunts them or goads them into a fight? In such cases, give your child the ideal responses they can use in future.
- Explain your family values. It is important for your child to understand that you, as parents, believe in being respectful to others and being kind and patient with everyone. Sometimes, children who are popular or well liked bully others in order to maintain their social status. Surprisingly this begins, with girls especially, quite early on. It is not enough for you to tell your child what your family values are, your child needs to see you model them. Show them how you handle family disagreements with grace and dignity.
Remember, children are constantly growing. One day they are bullies and other days they are victims of bullying. Avoid labeling your child as aggressive, a trouble-maker or a bully.
Also, having a child who is a bully is not a reflection of you as a parent. As long as you work hard at modelling the ideal way to behave, your child will eventually learn. Support your child’s social and emotional development and your child will soon understand that what he/she is doing is bad.