No one said raising children would be easy. But nothing cuts to the core of a parent’s insecurity greater than when our little ones behave in a way we find reprehensible. It’s incredibly hard to admit that our child might be a bully; it raises fear, anxiety, insecurity and even defensiveness. After all, our children are a reflection of who we are as parents, right?
The fact is, it’s a long and bumpy road to adulthood. Conflicts will arise, and children will have to navigate their way through various protocols and peer interactions that maybe they haven’t encountered before — all without the aid of maturity and social skill proficiency.
So, how do you handle a situation when you find out that this time your child is the bully? Here is some advice:
The Phone Call
There are two things you must absolutely not do: Firstly, you must not rush to your child’s defence – after all, you were not there and do not know how things played out. Secondly, you must not condemn your child before talking to them about it. You will need to understand exactly what went on before determining the right course of action.
Instead, you should calmly and carefully listen to what the other person has to say, thank them for making the call and promise you will talk to your child. Take their contact details so you can get back to them.
In the instance that the other person is so upset that they are shouting at you or talking quickly, you could calmly say to them, “I really want to hear what you are telling me, but I can’t hear you when you talk like that”.
Talk to Your Child: Hear Their Version of Events
Reports of bullying behaviour must be taken seriously and parents must hold their child accountable. While it may be easy to believe what little one is telling you (they were provoked / that’s not how it happened etc.), successful bullies can read other children very well. If they feel they’re going to get in trouble for what they did, they will often go home and tell their parents a skewed version of what happened at school that will justify their actions.
You should ask your child if any part of what the parent or teacher was said is true. Why?
- It prevents putting your child in a position to lie. You are saying to your child, “Okay, there’s a lot about your story that I believe, but is there anything about the other side of the story that has merit?”
- This allows you to get as much of the story as possible while also getting your child to try and see things from another point of view.
- The accused child may be so focused on defending their innocence or justifying their actions, they may gloss over the other party’s side, or minimise the impact of his behaviour.
- The child must accept responsibility for his or her role in the situation.
Talk to Your Child: Teach Them Why What They Did Was Wrong
- Parents should try to find the source of their child’s anger. Is something happening at school? At home? In the case of repeated incidents, are there impulse control or anger management issues?
- Parents should work to instil empathy and help the child understand the power of words and actions. Ask the child: “How would you feel if someone did this to you? How would you feel if someone treated your sister this way?”
- Role play so that the child can learn the appropriate way to deal with a situation.
- Support the school’s anti-bullying policy and their chosen punishment for your child. Show your child that there is a united, unanimous front against bullying which they can be a part of to stop bullying in the future.
What Not to Do
- Don’t look for someone to blame. As in: “They didn’t learn that at home. It must be when they spent time with their cousins!”
- Don’t justify the behaviour by saying, “well, this happened to my child so they was just acting in response.” Remember the saying? Two wrongs don’t make a right?
There isn’t a school in the country that has no bullying. As much as we’d like to, we cannot completely control the playground hierarchy. As they grow up, children are faced with all kinds of social issues as they try to assert themselves – and this means that maybe they will sometimes act like bullies.
Ultimately, we must realise that life is a learning process. Our children are relatively new at it, and they can’t learn without making mistakes. It’s how we help them deal with those mistakes that matter.
What you can do is create a respectful home in which the parents don’t demean or bully each other or their children. Mimicking behaviour is one of the main causes of bullying behaviour in children. Show them to deal with others with love and respect, and hopefully they will follow your example.
Things to Remember
- Roles change. Today the bully. Tomorrow, the bullied. Children are not fixed in their roles. Depending on the situation, children can just as easily be the bully as they can the target.
- They have a private life. Parents must assume and accept that they won’t know everything that goes on with their child.
- Children have 2 sides. They will act differently at home than they will at school.
- You’re still a good parent. There are many reasons why parents aren’t aware of their child’s inappropriate behaviour, and it’s not because the parent is irresponsible.