“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
— Dalai Lama
What To Do When Your Kid is the Bully
People do not raise their children to treat others poorly. In fact, from a very young age, little kids are usually taught to be nice. Many parents even read children's books about manners to help reinforce the importance of behaving respectfully. Parents spend a lot of energy teaching their children to be kind to others, to have empathy for those who are struggling, and to include anyone who seems to be left out. There may not be any sign at home that a child would ever do anything to hurt another classmate, either physically or verbally.
And yet, many parents receive that unfortunate text, call, or email informing them that their child was the instigator of repetitive bullying. It is normal to feel like there must be some mistake. After all, most energy up to this point has been spent teaching kids how to deal with bullies, while very little thought has been given to the fact that your kid may actually be the bully. But perhaps all of the facts have not been presented or there is some sort of misunderstanding. But when all of the information has been sorted through and the dust finally settles, parents often have no choice but to accept the fact that their child is the aggressor. If you find yourself in this position, keep these pointers in mind when deciding how to proceed.
- Hear Your Child Out: It's important to listen generously to your child. You will surely have some choice words to share, but you will need to exercise some extreme patience for the time being. Kids will not necessarily have a concise, clear explanation for their behavior. Many times they will not fully understand themselves why they are being so mean to another person. Give the child room to speak freely and openly about everything without pushing for explicit answers or information. You may be able to gather some important insight by just listening. Bite your tongue, hold your thoughts, keep your facial expression neutral, and just listen. This is a tall task since you are likely very angry and disappointed with your child. But it's an important first step in ending the behavior.
- Figure out why your child is acting like a bully: There are many reasons why your child might be treating others poorly. As the parent, it's your job to try and understand the root cause of this mean behavior so that you can put an end to it. Simply asking your child to explain why they are acting in a certain way is not necessarily going to get you answers. Think about reasons as possible motives as you delve in deeper into the problem.
- Your child was bullied by another child and is now taking it out on someone else. Bullying can be contagious and spread like wildfire. When a young person is a victim of bullying, it is not uncommon for them to deflect by mistreating a new victim. On a subconscious level, it may be a child's way of protecting themselves by shifting negative attention to another kid. Reading kids books about anger can help open a conversation about root causes and come up with better tools to handle these feelings.
- Your child enjoys the feeling of power and attention from others by being a bully. It is not unusual for bullies to be the leader of the pack. A likely explanation is that other children act friendly toward the bully so that they themselves never fall victim. This sense of popularity fuels the bully's bad behavior and the vicious pattern can continue until adult intervention is required.
- Your child has low self-esteem. There are many reasons why a children might not feel good about themselves. Perhaps they are struggling to keep up academically. Maybe home life is unstable due to a separation or divorce. Perhaps making friends has always been a struggle. Oftentimes a child who is a bully has internal conflict and lacks confidence. Not knowing how to resolve this unrest, kids will find a victim to harass. They channel all of their negative feelings about themselves outwardly toward someone else.
- Address the motive. Identifying the reason why your child is acting like a bully is just the beginning. Now you will have some real work to do in order to address the root cause. Lucky parents may be able to counsel their children and resolve the conflict quickly. Even so, it's important for those parents to continue to monitor their child's social activities and watch for signs of repeat offenses. Sometimes the problem is more serious and requires help from a professional therapist or child psychologist. It's a good idea find someone who can help address the problem before it manifests into more serious behavioral issues.
- Require the child to apologize to the victim. The bottom line is that the bullying needs to stop immediately. The first thing you need to ensure is that your child formally apologizes to anyone they have harassed. It is usually best if there is a witness to this apology to ensure it actually happened. Such witnesses may include parents, teachers, school counselors, sports coaches, or any other adult authority figure.
- Continue to monitor the situation. Don't make the mistake and assume that a single conversation will put a stop to your child's bullying. You have a responsibility to make sure that your child is not tormenting others. As difficult as this may be, you should consider notifying other adults, like teachers, of the situation so they can be on the lookout. You may even reach out to the parents of the child who is being bullied. Establish an open line of communication so that they are comfortable reporting back to you if the bullying does not cease.