What to Do When Your Child Is Doing the Bullying
Rumor has it that there’s a bully at your child’s school.
It seems that some kid has elevated pushing and shoving in the corridor to a new art form.
What’s worse, that same child has taken to social media, belittling the victims with made-up gossip and hurtful lies.
Then, the telephone rings. It’s no longer a rumor. Another parent has informed you that the bullying reports are all true.
. . . And worst of all, that kid doing the bullying is your child.
At first, you are in denial, perhaps even defensive. “That can’t be the angelic cherub I raised to be kind, understanding, and everybody’s friend.”
Parents don’t set out to raise a bully. When the reality sets in, however, it provides a wake-up call and an opportunity to for positive change. Once the shock is absorbed, it’s time for decisive parental action.
Stomp Out Bullying.org says that becoming aware that your child has a problem and accepting the fact that changes in behavior must occur, can be difficult for parents.
“If your child’s school calls you and tells you that your child is bullying other kids, if other parents are complaining to you that your child is bullying their child, or if you notice that your child is constantly getting into fights . . . take a deep breath and admit that your child has a problem,” Stomp advises on its website. “Many parents will take the stance of denial or feel that others are being mean to their child. It takes a courageous and open parent to realize that their child has a problem and that they need help.”
In her blog for the Wall Street Journal, Catherine Steinar-Adair, EdD, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships, says there are three immediate steps the parent of the alleged bully must take: manage your reactions, find out the truth about what is going on, and work with the child and others affected to resolve the situation.
Steiner-Adair says that it’s vital for parents to be “calm, approachable and informed,” in resolving the situation.
“When you get that first call, it can be hard,” she writes. “Fear, shame, denial . . . It can make you feel instantly like you’re a horrible parent. . . . While it feels like a permanent label, remember: it is a description of behavior that your child is exhibiting today. It is not who he is in his entirety, not who he will be forever if you respond and get help.”
Difficult as it might be in the moment, it’s important to remain calm when initially learning about the incident(s). Take a breath, call the person back if necessary (the informant might be equally upset, perhaps yelling or crying), and try to take notes about the details. Be sure to thank the notifying party and assure them that you not only take the accusations of bullying seriously but are eager to “understand, intervene, and help change the situation.”
When you are calm, talk to your child in an age-appropriate manner. Let the child know that you have been informed about the incident(s) and ask what happened. There may well be two sides to the story or even a back-story contributing to a chain of events. Your task is to identify your child’s role, explain that he or she will be accountable, and respond appropriately with apologies and even restitution if necessary.
Permit your child to review the events several times. More information is likely to surface each time you talk about them. Steiner-Adair suggests having your child detail the events in writing. Throughout the process, it’s important to remember that you are the “grown-up” in this situation and to assure your child that you will work with them to get through this matter.
As your child reflects on the events, determine if he or she can empathize with the point of view from the other side. “As a parent, try to understand what led up to this,” Steiner-Adair writes. “(Is it) underlying insecurity, anger, previous teasing, or is something going on at home?”
It might also be necessary to speak to a teacher or other school authority if they witnessed or have knowledge about the events that occurred. They might also shed light on what your student is facing in terms of social dynamics at school.
Ultimately, there will be the matter of taking responsibility. If tangible damage has been caused, restitution could be in order. Often, however, the damage is more emotional than physical.
“Once your child owns what she did and acknowledges the hurt she’s caused, it’s time for her to try to make amends for the situation,” says Bridget Bentz Sizer, writing for PBS.org. “This may mean apologizing to the other child in the presence of a school guidance counselor or, in the case of cyberbullying, contacting all the recipients of a hurtful e-mail to issue a correction.”
Most important of all can be providing your child the social and emotional tools to prevent future incidents. If necessary, parents should pursue additional counseling. But being a positive role model and staying informed are key first steps.
Featured Image – Tony Alter / CC by 2.0
Seth Livingstone is a veteran writer and editor who has spent much of his career in sports journalism covering multiple Olympic Games, Super Bowls, World Series, and Daytona 500s. He covered the Boston Red Sox throughout the 1980s and 1990s before joining USA Today and Baseball Weekly in 1999. He maintains his membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America and is a Hall of Fame voter. Seth holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and has also worked as a substitute teacher (all grades and subjects). He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and has two grown children.