What Can You Do When Your Child is Bullying?
Posted on May 30, 2018 by CHS
It usually starts with a phone call. The school office calls asking you to come to a meeting and discuss an incident that occurred. They report that your child is fine, but they need to speak with you as soon as possible. When you arrive for the meeting, you are told that your child was involved in a bullying incident during lunch. The teacher explains that your child called another classmate names and threw that child’s lunch on the ground. Not only that, this is the third time this has happened. You are shocked to learn your child would do this, and you wonder, “How did this happen? What can I do?”
Keep in mind that bullying is about behavior. Anyone from the student president to the shyest child in school can use bullying behaviors. It is important to recognize this because behavior can be changed. Avoid using the word “Bully” as a label. When children are labeled as a “Bully” it becomes part of their identity, and that can make it harder to change. While anyone is capable of bullying behavior, there are some characteristics that children who bully often have in common. They may have poor social skills, lack empathy, believe that bullying will help them be accepted, they may have suffered from being bullied themselves, or they may frequently struggle with taking responsibility for their actions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines bullying as: “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.” For a more detailed definition of bullying, click here.
People often forget that the victims of bullying are not the only ones who suffer. Research has found that children who use bullying behavior are at risk for future difficulties with substance abuse, poor relationships, mental health issues, and are more likely to be arrested for crimes that involve violent behavior. By helping your child change his behavior now, you are building a happier future for him later.
Steps to Prevent Bullying Behavior
Talk with your child about what it means to bully someone. Keep a calm and open mind as you listen to your child’s ideas. The PACER Center’s Kids against Bullying website uses simple, easy to understand explanations about bullying that you can use as you talk with your child. Clearly state your expectations for how your child should treat others and explain that everyone deserves to be included and treated with respect.
Invite your child to ask you questions about any differences he notices in others. For example, sometimes children tease a child with special needs, or someone from a culture different than theirs, because they are fearful of what they do not understand. Your child may feel more comfortable talking to an aunt, uncle, grandparent, or teacher. There is no need to feel hurt or upset by this; sometimes it is just easier to talk with someone who is removed from the situation.
If your child is using bullying behaviors, remember that you are not alone. Teachers, school staff, and others in your community can work with you to support your child in learning to value others and change bullying behavior to positive behavior. Schedule a meeting with the teacher and school counselor to develop a behavior plan for your child, and invite other supportive adults to the meeting (spouse, grandparent, counselor, religious leader). Be a detective and look for the reasons behind the behavior.
Develop clear and consistent consequences. If your child engages in bullying behavior, you can restrict or remove privileges. For example, if you discover your child is using social media to ridicule or humiliate someone, you can block her access to those media websites for a period of time. You can learn about media and parental controls here.
Set the example. Children notice everything adults do. The best way for you to reinforce your expectations is to treat everyone around you with the same dignity, respect, and compassion you expect from your child. This includes conversations, actions, and digital citizenship.
Help your child develop empathy and patience with ideas from our blogs on Raising an Empathetic Child and Building Character: Giving Your Child the Gift of Values. Your child will be less likely to cause emotional or physical harm to others if she is able to see them with compassion and understanding.
Encourage your child’s interests. Children who have hobbies such as writing in a journal, drawing, reading, playing a musical instrument, dancing, sports, or collecting baseball cards, etc., can use these interests to relax and reduce their stress, or to feel more balanced when they are sad or upset. This builds their resilience and helps them cope when things get tough.
Develop your family’s emotional literacy. Talk about how you are feeling, and check in with your child. You might say, “Today was tough for me. I made a mistake at work this morning. I felt disappointed because I am usually so careful. I apologized to my boss and fixed it. My day got better after that. How was your day?” Open conversations about feelings help your child learn how to manage emotions like anger and disappointment.
Taking steps to prevent your child from using bullying behavior will help him be more successful in school and lead a more fulfilling life. For more information, please view the resources below.
References and Resources:
- Stop Bullying: https://www.stopbullying.gov/
- PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center: http://www.pacer.org/bullying/
- PACER’s Kids Against Bullying: https://pacerkidsagainstbullying.org
- Prevent Bullying with Empathy Activities: http://preventingbullying.promoteprevent.org/8-empathy-activities
- Teens Talk about Bullying (video): https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/bullying-vd.html?WT.ac=ctg#catfeelings
- Bullying in Early Childhood: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/blog/bullying-early-childhood
- 4 Tools to Help Empower Kids to Stand Up for What’s Right: https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/49976/4-tools-to-help-empower-kids-to-stand-up-for-whats-right?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=ExactTarget&utm_campaign=20180121MindShift&mc_key=00Q1Y00001msaY4UAI
- Bullying Laws: Your Child’s Rights at School: https://www.understood.org/en/friends-feelings/common-challenges/bullying/bullying-laws