You probably know how to tell if your child is the victim of bullying. But what if your child is the bully? After all, somebody’s kid has to be the one doing the bullying!
It often comes as a rude awakening to find out that your child is a bully. In fact, sometimes, your initial tendency is to become defensive and insist that it can’t possibly be true. However, until you have collected all the facts, it is important to be as open-minded as you can-perhaps your child is a bully. Even though it doesn’t feel good to hear about a child’s negative behavior, it is far better to address it now, than to deny it and think that it will go away, or improve by itself-it won’t! In fact, it will probably get worse.
The most challenging situation is when another parent approaches you directly–angry or upset–accusing your child of having bullied her child. Do your best to remain calm, willing to listen to the situation. Then, unless the situation is clear, tell the parent that you will speak to your child and find out what happened. In many cases you will need to ask a school administrator to become involved to help negotiate the situation. Parents and children are very often biased, unable to see each other’s sides clearly.
Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Of course there is the stereotypical big, mean, “steal your lunch money” bully. But some bullies are small and wily. They bully with mean words, in a quiet way, reinforced by a posse of friends, rather than a large size. Therefore, don’t assume that your child isn’t a bully just because she is small, short or seemingly quiet.
Often, bullies have low-self esteem-although this may not be obvious at first. They are mean-physically or verbally-to other children, as a way to boost their own egos.
Not only do bullies come in all varieties, but so does bullying. Some bullies kick, punch, pull hair and destroy others’ belongings. Others curse, name-call and tease. These are typically the easiest to observe. But other bullies-usually girls–are not as easy for the adults to spot, although this does not make their behavior any less excusable. This type of bully sneaks or whispers mean comments; passes nasty looks and deliberately tries to turn other children away from one particular child.
Full-scale cyberbullying (and cell phone bullying) operations will often be undertaken by this type of bullies. They will create fake email or IM addresses to stalk a victim or call her from a blocked number, making up information or rumors to hurt or taunt her, in an often untraceable manner-except by wily parents who are not in denial about their children’s behavior, and who therefore keep a close eye on their child’s computer behavior, check the computer history and monitor the cell phone bill. Be aware, that this bully will often insistently deny her behavior, feigning innocence until the bitter end.
If you suspect, find out, or know that your child is a bully, your first response should not be to yell, scream or punish! Remember that many bullies are masking their own low self-esteem. However, it is critical to have zero-tolerance for bullying. Help your child to stop being a bully by doing these things:
- Talk to her about role-reversal: “how would it feel if you were the one being bullied?” This is a conversation you may need to have more than once.
- Require him to apologize to the child he bullied either verbally or in a letter (or sometimes both!).
- Continue to follow-up to make sure that the bullying has stopped. This means staying in touch with the school or with the bullied child’s parent. This is the hardest, but most important part. It shows your child that you take his behavior seriously and that bullying is unacceptable in your family.
- Tell your child that if the bullying continues, there will be a serious consequence-mean it, and follow through!
- If your child doesn’t stop bullying, speak to a child psychologist or other counselor who specializes in helping children to manage their behavior and feelings. It is critical to help your child now. Teen and adult bullying is much more serious and much harder to stop.