Bullying Hurts: Talking to your child about bullying or being bullied

Bullying is a worldwide phenomenon.  Children of all ages and from all walks of life experience bullying in their schools at some point in time.   As a child, there is nothing worse than being made to feel “not good enough” or “different” from other children.  Most likely, we were all affected by bullying in some form when we were children.  The effects of bullying can be detrimental to a child’s emotional development, including his or her self-esteem and overall outlook on life.  While being bullied is devastating to a child, bullying other children also impedes on a child’s development.  A child may bully other children for various reasons.  However, common themes include low self-esteem, low tolerance for the behaviors of others, and poor social skills.   What do you do if you find out your child is bullying other children?  In order to determine if your child is showing signs of bullying, let’s first discuss what the term “bullying” actually means.  A child who bullies may taunt or threaten another child by name calling, teasing, and spreading rumors about the victim.  A child may become physically threatening toward another child with actions such as hitting, shoving, and kicking.  A third way in which a child may bully another child is by making him or her feel powerless by excluding the child from activities, making the child feel alone and unwanted.   Does your child fit any of the descriptions above? If so, there are many actions you can take in order to help your child to stop bullying others.  Parents are extremely important in helping their child to change his or her behavior in general.  Schools can assign consequences to children for bullying behavior all they want, but when it comes down to it, you have the most influence over your child.  When you discover that your child is bullying another child, it is important that you deal with the situation quickly and appropriately in order to avoid any further incidents of bullying.  The following suggestions will help you to approach your child about his or her bullying behaviors:    Check Yourself First! When you initially discover that your child is bullying other kids, you may feel angry at your child or maybe not even want to believe that your child is capable of such behavior.  This is why taking a few deep breaths and allowing yourself the time to process the information will be helpful before you approach your child about the situation.  The worst thing you could do is yell at your child, punish him or her physically, or ignore the problem.  All of these actions will only reinforce your child’s troublesome behavior, causing more trouble for you and your child.  If you feel that you or any members of your family have anger management issues, this would be a good time for the family to get help.  Finding solutions together as a family may keep the child from becoming defensive and it may bring a real, lasting positive change to what started out as a negative situation. Talk to Your Child The most important action you can take at this time is to talk with your child about the allegations of bullying behavior.  By approaching your child in a calm manner, you will open the door for your child to feel comfortable speaking with you about the issue at hand.  Being open and showing your child that what he or she says matters to you is a good step toward helping your child to improve his or her self-esteem.  Additionally, by handling the situation calmly, you are modeling appropriate behavior to your child.  During this discussion, communicate to your child that bullying will not be tolerated and is extremely unacceptable.  It is appropriate to give your child consequence for his or her behavior.  For example, loss of time watching television or video games may be an appropriate consequence.  If you feel uncomfortable or at a loss as to what approach to use or what to say, do not hesitate to find a counselor who has experience in intervening with families who have gone through this before.  Just one or two sessions might make a big difference in setting the stage for positive change to happen.    Turn the Incident into a Learning Experience After you and your child come to an understanding that bullying is not acceptable behavior, take the time to discuss conflict resolution.  Help your child think of more productive ways of handling disagreements with other children.  Also, discuss respecting others that are different or have different interests than your child.  Being able to resolve conflict peacefully and to be more understanding of others are basic social skills that your child will need throughout his or her life.  Helping him or her to improve these skills will also result in an increase of self-esteem.   Frequent Monitoring Monitor your child’s interactions with other children as much as possible.  Make sure your child does not revert back to his or her old behaviors.  Encourage your child to invite other children over to your home to play.  This will provide an opportunity for you to monitor your child’s interactions with other children and intervene if necessary.  Also, check in with your child’s teacher now and then to discuss your child’s progress in school and relationships with other children.  When you discover that your child’s behavior is improving, praise him or her.   Everyone likes a compliment!  These suggestions will help you to effectively teach your child some important skills in order to help him or her avoid exhibiting bullying behavior.  An added bonus is that you will strengthen your relationship with your child by having such open discussions and showing your child that you can keep your cool.  If, despite your efforts, your child continues to struggle with bullying behaviors, please call for additional professional help.


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