February 16, 2015

What to do when your kid is the bully

We hear a lot about bullying these days. Unfortunately, it is ubiquitous in our children's realm.

We all hope that parents and children are learning how to become aware of it, help prevent it, and help bullying victims. But what do you do when you find out that your child is the bully?

There are some good resources for parents who find themselves in this very awkward position. In addition to these tips, I encourage you to seek your own resources that are specific for your situation. It is important to keep your feelings in check. How you manage your emotions will often set the tone for the responses that need to occur to manage the situation. Try not to jump to any conclusions that may add to the volatility of the situation.

Remember: You want to make yourself approachable not just to your child but also to the school personnel.

  • Find out what exactly happened, but do not inadvertently send a message that by asking "what happened" you are leading into an excuse for the bullying behavior. It is important to make it very clear to your child that bullying of any kind is never OK. There is never a "because" in bullying.

  • You, the parent, must set very firm limits on your child's aggressive behavior. Yes, that means accepting that your child's behavior was indeed aggressive.

  • Discipline is needed. In addition to following all the rules of good discipline (timely, appropriate for the act, explained to the child, etc.), make sure it is non-physical in nature.  It is ironic that we use physical means to teach our children not to use physical means to solve or avoid a conflict.

  • Arrive, together with your child, at a plan for restitution for the bullied child.

  • Encourage empathy with the bullied child. Ask your child, "How would you feel if?" questions.

  • Take a deep breath and begin to work with the teachers, aides, principals, counselors and the parents of the bullied child (if appropriate) for solutions to address the situation. In this vein, it may be helpful to work with a counselor on all of the issues related to the bully. It can be a hard path, and a professional can help the parent, the child and the two together. Indeed, the bullies have their own issues which may have been overlooked in the past. To be clear, this is not an excuse for any bullying. But parents will need to look directly at themselves and their child and begin to ask why. Just because your child bullied another child does not make him a bad kid and you, a failure. Find out what your child is struggling with: Why is he using bad behavior to get what he wants or feels he needs?

  • Engage with the school on this continuum. They are with your child a lot. Counselors and teachers will appreciate that you want to know if your child is returning to bullying. Let them know the obvious- you want your child to stop such behavior.

Finally, model that you can get what you want without teasing, threatening or hurting someone. Watch the words and actions at home and elsewhere. Do your words, eyerolling and gossipy remarks cut at others, and make them feel small? Mixed, unintentional messages are sent to those watching you. Believe me, it has got to be one of the hardest responsibilities of parenting, but try to be a good model for your child's behavior.