Written by Belinda Huang
Finding out that your child is bullying others is hard. No parent wants to think that their child is hurting other people or using aggression to solve their problems or express feelings. But children are still learning how to interact with other people, and bullying behaviors can and should be stopped. It’s up to parents, working together with teachers, to help children understand that bullying is wrong and will be punished. Here are five steps to take for any parent in this situation:
Get the facts and stay calm. When someone is telling you that your child is being a bully, don’t react defensively. Listen and learn what the problem is. Make an appointment to talk more in depth of get a second opinion from another teacher if needed. A 2009 study from Finland showed that parents saw the fewest instances of bullying, as opposed to teachers and other children. It can be hard to hear, but necessary.
Talk to your child. This is a very important step. Get the whole story from your child’s point of view and be on their side, as much as is reasonable. Don’t alienate your child with immediate blame. Are they under pressure, or feeling embarrassed about something at school? Is there an adult in your child’s life who is demonstrating this inappropriate behavior? Bullying behavior can be a sign of other problems.
Use empathy. A 2017 Yale study shows that bullies often struggle with recognizing other people’s distress. Ask your child how they would feel if they were bullied and help them see how their behavior affects other people. Praise them for positive and considerate interactions with other children. Brainstorm strategies for facing difficult situations so they don’t feel like they have to use bullying behavior. This explicit instruction in how to play well with others is how children learn to express their emotions and desires.
Work with the school to find the right resources. Most, if not all schools, have anti-bullying strategies and policies in place already. Help to enforce those rules and consequences if needed, and use whatever discipline you think is necessary within your family. And stay in contact with your child’s teacher to keep track of your child’s behavior and any negative or positive incidents happening in the classroom. Clear parent-teacher communication is a key part of handling bullying, as 2017 research shows.
Help your child say, “I’m sorry.” If it is appropriate, have your child apologize to the people they bullied as part of the learning process, while being mindful of the bullied person’s comfort and feelings. Parents can help their children rehearse what they want to say. A genuine apology can make a big difference in mending relationships or making a classroom environment more positive.
Everyone learns from their mistakes. It is up to parents to help children understand their actions and learn from them. Children who bully often end up lagging behind in their studies and exhibiting other behavioral problems that can affect school and work down the road. Taking steps to address bullying early can only be positive for your child and their peers.