Once you discover that your child is engaging in bullying behavior, you will need to intervene. Immediate intervention is important in order to protect the victim of your child's bullying, but it is also important to protect your own child. Being a bully has some very real and detrimental effects. Bullies aren't the lucky ones who sail through school because they have the ability to pick on others and rise to the top of the playground pig pile.
When bullies get labeled as such, it harms their ability to have authentic and positive peer relationships. Most kids are afraid of and intimidated by bullies. They will be nice to the bully so the bully leaves them alone, but they resent having to do this and will interact in a perfunctory and impersonal manner. Because of this, a bully won't have the opportunity to develop close personal relationships that prepare her for successful adult romantic and interpersonal relationships.
Studies show adults who were identified as bullies at a young age are at a higher risk of developing antisocial behaviors such as vandalism, shoplifting, skipping and dropping out of school, fighting, and the use of drugs and alcohol. This is why it is important for you to intervene as soon as you discover that your child is bullying her peers.
The first step in solving the problem is to figure out what is motivating your child to bully her peers. Why is she bullying? Don't be afraid to come right out and ask her why she tripped Janet on the school bus and ripped pages out of her textbook. Ask her and listen closely to her response. Also ask questions like these to get a better picture of the overall problem:
What was happening right before your child decided to trip Janet?
Has your child ever tripped Janet or another child before?
What happened immediately after your child tripped Janet?
Were there any bystanders who saw the bullying? If so, what did they do?
How long has your child been bullying other kids?
Does your child feel remorse for hurting Janet?
Questions like these will give you some insight into what your child was (and is) thinking about her behavior. If your child tells you, “Janet deserved to be tripped because she walks too slowly,” you know that your child is blaming the victim for her behavior. If she tells you that everyone laughed immediately after she tripped Janet, you can be sure that your child was reinforced for her negative behavior.
The fact that she remembered and recounted the laughter to you implies that she was pleased by it. The laughter might also have sent the message that your daughter's behavior was acceptable and admired because the other kids on the bus didn't tell her to stop — they laughed.
If your child tells you that this was the first time she bullied another child and that she is embarrassed and ashamed by what she did, you will have an easier time teaching her why bullying is wrong. Occasionally, good kids will bully other kids in order to impress a new friend, to go along with the crowd, or to increase popularity. Listen to her explanation and use the information to explain to her why her reasoning was faulty.
Buy her an age-appropriate book on bullying and require her to read it (an excellent disciplinary approach). After she's done reading it, have a discussion about what she learned and reiterate your expectations for her behavior in the future. Discuss what the consequences will be if she continues to engage in bullying behavior.
If your child tells you that she does it (bullying) all the time, you will need to pay significantly more attention to identifying the underlying reasons for her behavior and focus on using education and consistent discipline to correct her behavior.
You may discover that your child has some deep-seated psychological issues (such as a total disrespect and disregard for others' feelings and well-being), anger control issues, or that she is simply blind to her own faults. In a situation like this, you will need to seek professional help for your child. A trained counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist may be the best person to help your child understand the true impact that bullying has on her life and the lives of others.
If you feel that your child's bullying is something you can tackle on your own, here are a few things you can do to help.
EXAMINE YOUR APPROACH TO DISCIPLINE
Do you verbally berate your child and say things like, “Stop acting like such a loser!” “What are you, stupid?” or “I brought you into this world and I can take you out!”? Do you use physical punishment? Do you push, slap, or use physical force to discipline your child? If so, your child may be imitating the behavior she learns at home.
EXAMINE YOUR PARENTING STYLE
Are you overly strict? If so, your child may have learned that she can get her way through a show of force. She will demand respect by forcing her peers to do as she says when she says it; and if they refuse, she will attack. She has learned that might is right, but lacks the sophistication and maturity to achieve the power she craves thorough constructive channels. She will bully and use destructive means to gain control.
Perhaps you have been too permissive. If so, your child may not have developed the self-control necessary to handle peer interactions without resorting to bullying behavior. If your child has not received focused guidance and corrective consequences for prior negative and inappropriate behavior, she may believe she can do as she pleases without fear of punishment.
If you are guilty of some of these less-than-stellar approaches to parenting, you can make changes right alongside your child. You can learn to approach parenting with the balance of concern, interest, and firm discipline a child needs.
For information on better parenting practices, read Seven Secrets of Successful Parenting: Or How to Achieve the Almost Impossible by Georgia Coleridge and Karen Doherty; Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen; and Parenting with Purpose: Five Keys to Raising Children with Values and Vision by Robert W. Reasoner and Marilyn L. Lane.
EXAMINE YOUR RELATIONAL STYLE
Take a good look at how you treat others. Do you respect other people and treat them with kindness? Do you abide by the Golden Rule (treat others as you would like to be treated)? If you treat others with disdain and disrespect, your child will learn that this is the way to treat people. Be aware that your actions and attitudes have an enormous impact on your child. Conduct yourself with honor and dignity and your child will do the same.
EXAMINE YOUR CHILD'S PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALTH
Is your child depressed? Does she suffer from anxiety? Does she have anger control issues? Does she have a disability or learning disorder? There are many internal factors that can affect your child's behavior. How your child feels about herself (positive or negative) can impact how she interacts with those around her. Some kids with psychological or physical problems lack the social skills to act in socially acceptable ways. But even if the behavior isn't intentional, it needs to be stopped.
Once you have figured out the possible causes for your child's bullying behavior, you will be better able to help her. And don't take it personally; most parents do the very best job they know how to do. And when parents know how to do better, they do better.
View your child as an individual who needs your guidance and support in order to become a better person. Once your child knows better, she will do better. Don't waste time looking for someone (or something) to blame; simply take responsibility for your actions and teach your child to do the same.
Here are some intervention strategies:
Accept that there is problem that needs to be fixed.
Assess the underlying causes.
Make it clear that you expect bullying behavior to stop.
Implement consequences for bullying behavior.
Be realistic in your expectations (change takes time).
Keep the lines of communication open.
Teach your child empathy and respect.
Set a good example.
Provide positive reinforcement for good behavior.
Love your child unconditionally.
Seek professional help if needed.
Your child's social environment can provide clues into her bullying behavior. Here are a few things to consider.
WHO ARE YOUR CHILD'S FRIENDS?
Do you know your child's friends? How well do you know them? Are they nice and friendly or do they seem quiet and aloof? Some kids who bully hang out with other bullies; others act alone. Try to observe the interactions of your child and her friends. Do they seem healthy and normal or does it seem like something isn't quite right?
If you suspect your child's friends are not a good influence, it might be time to begin steering your child in another direction. This can be difficult at first since many of your child's peers may view her as a bully, someone to be feared and avoided. And it might take time, change, and visible amends on your child's part for other children to accept that she has indeed changed.
DOES YOUR CHILD PARTICIPATE IN ACTIVITIES THAT FOSTER SOCIAL BEHAVIORS?
A child who bullies could benefit by participating in clubs, activities, and athletic programs that encourage respect and teamwork over individual achievement. Belonging to a group will allow your child to develop the interpersonal and relational skills she will need to form strong friendship bonds throughout her life. If your child does not belong to any such groups, now would be the time to encourage it.
The school climate can have an extraordinary impact on the level of bullying that occurs within the school. School personnel who tolerate bullying contribute to an underlying acceptance of the behavior. If your child sees other kids engaging in bullying with no discernible consequence, your child won't fear repercussions. On the other hand, a school that does not tolerate bullying will have lower levels of bullying behavior.
Ask the school principal if your child's school conducts anti-bullying education and prevention programs. Find out what types of things are taught and when. Ask about the anti-bullying policy in your child's school. Be sure you understand the consequences your child can face for bullying.,p>Some schools have graduated sanctions; others have a zero tolerance policy. If your child's school employs a zero tolerance policy, your child could be expelled for bullying another child. It's important to discuss these sanctions with your child. Your child needs to understand the consequences that will result from her behavior.