Tips for Parents When your Child is the Bully
The topic of bullies is a tough one to tackle. Many schools now have put into place a zero-tolerance bullying policy, meaning that if a child bullies another child they are often expelled, suspended, or sent home on the first incident. Although I can see the thought process there, I find this type of policy to be troublesome. I believe that children who are labeled as bullies are rarely bullies for no reason. Melinda Moyer, the author of “How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes,” states that most children who are bullying others are often victims themselves in some way. Children might bully others because they are being bullied themselves. Other reasons for this type of behavior include peer pressure or lack of anger management skills. They might even be experiencing something distressful. Some kids bully others in response to turbulent home lives, the causes of which can range from parents getting divorced, experiencing or witnessing abuse in the home, or a variety of other situations. If this is the case, sending a child home, away from the solace of school, is not the answer. Even if the reason for bullying isn’t a turbulent home life, sending a child home is still not the answer. Think about the message we are sending as adults to the child: “You are not worthy of my time, effort, or love. You are unacceptable when you act that way.” If we assume that children who bully are also victims themselves, then this is an incredibly damaging message to send.
As a society, we are so quick to judge the bully without asking questions or being curious as to what could be the cause of this behavior. When I hear about bully situations, my first thoughts are, “What is going on with the bully? Why does that child feel so insecure or unsafe that he or she thinks the only answer is to hurt others? Why does this child need to hurt others to make themselves feel better?” So, If you are the parent of a child who is bullying other children, here are some things you can do to help! If you have a child who is being bullied, check out this blog post.
Find out the Underlying Cause
Finding the underlying cause is an important step in helping your child with these issues. It will determine how you handle the situation as a parent. If your child is being bullied, then you will need to address both your child being bullied and being the bully. If your child has lack of anger management skill, then you will want to explore options to help him or her learn the appropriate responses. If your child is a victim of abuse, then you will need to take the appropriate steps to ensure his or her safety, such as notifying CPS or the proper authorities. If your child is bullying as a response to peer pressure, then you will need to teach proper social skills. As you can see, there are several reasons why a child might bully other kids. Exploring and determining the underlying cause will make all the difference in how you handle the situation. You can also see my blog on what to do if your child is being bullies here.
Teach Kindness and Empathy
Moyer, the author of “How To Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes,” posits that kids these days need a good dose of kindness. She explains that there are a few ways to mold kindness in your child daily. It starts with reflecting feelings. The first step to managing emotions and having empathy is recognizing and identifying their own emotions. See my post on Reflective Responding here to learn how to reflect feeling in the moment and its benefits. At the same time, parents should also be reflecting on the feelings of others. Take this example: Your two kiddos are playing together nicely when all of the sudden one grabs the toy car from the other’s hand. You walk in to help mediate the situation. You might say, “Jonny, toys are not for grabbing out of people’s hands. That is probably why your brother looks so sad.” This response sets a limit (see my post on how to set limits here) clearly and encourages empathy by pointing out the emotions of others. You might say next, “What do you think you can do to help your brother feel happier?” This parenting response helps your child learn how to mend relationships and problem solve. Moyer also posits that when people do kind things for other people, we feel happier in general. If you start teaching kindness little by little every day, then your kiddo will start acting kinder little by little every day as well.
Decide on a Consequence
Although a child who is bullying should be responded to with empathy and kindness (after all how can we expect our kids to be kind if we aren’t modeling kindness) that doesn’t mean there isn’t a consequence. Decide on a logical consequence. For older kids, you can have this conversation with them and discuss appropriate consequences, reaching a decision together. For younger kids, the parents will make the decision. The consequence should be logical and appropriate for the action. For example, if your kiddo is using their phone to cyberbully, then losing the phone would be the logical consequence. Maybe your child is using their status in a clique to bully, then maybe the consequence is not spending time with that group of friends for a set amount of time.
Avoid Shaming your child
Kids who bully often suffer from low self-esteem. While using shaming methods to parent is never appropriate, it should be especially avoided when handling a bully situation. Again, parenting is all about modeling behavior. When you use shaming tactics, such as posting an embarrassing photo of your kiddo and a lengthy explanation of their poor behavior on social media, you are only reinforcing that it’s okay to bully. Essentially, you are doing the same thing that you are trying to stop your child from doing. Instead, model empathy, compassion, and kindness, while enforcing firm and consistent consequences.
Teach your Child what Bullying is
Sometimes, children simply don’t know or understand what bullying is. Sometimes they think they are joking or are unaware that the other child is being emotionally hurt. It is important to have these conversations multiple times about what bullying is, how to recognize it, what to do if your child is bullied, and how not to bully other kids. On that note, if your child is bullying other kids, don’t label him or her as a “bully”. This language has lasting effects on children’s identities. When they are told, “you are a bully” or called a “bully,” they internalize it and believe that is who they are and that it is a permanent part of their personality. Instead use language like, “the child who bullied”. This way, it isn’t a part of that child’s personality, but instead, a poor choice they made, which can be corrected.
Know how to handle bullying as a parent
Moyer writes that a good first step is to ask your child what happened. This is important because it sends the message that you want to have a conversation about the situation instead of just punishing your child. You’re interested in their feelings and their side of the story. Now that doesn’t mean that you believe them fully, it just means that you are willing to listen. And when kids feel like they are being heard and respected, they are more likely to learn and listen to you.
Next, use this as an opportunity to discuss bullying. Again, these conversations are very important and sometimes awkward to bring up. So this is a natural and logical time to talk about bullying. In this conversation, you’ll want to bring in lessons on what bullying is and empathy. Ask your kiddo, “how did the other child feel?” or, “how would you feel if that was you?” If you have a stubborn kid like mine who gives the opposite answer when he knows he is in the wrong, that’s okay. They are still getting the message even if they don’t want to admit it.
Moyer goes on to say that the consequence should fit the crime. For example, if your child bullied another child online, then they lose screen time for a set period of time. If they bullied another child during their sports event, then maybe they sit out for a couple of games. If you have an older kiddo, you can ask them to be a part of the consequence decision. You can ask, “What do you think an appropriate consequence would be?” or “How can we make this right?” This teaches them to take ownership of their actions and accept the consequences, good or bad.
If your child is bullying and you need help parenting them through this, let WellNest help! We offer individual counseling for children and adolescents and parent support. Give us a call to see what service is right for you.
Gordon, S. (n.d.). How to address your child for bullying others. Verywell Family. Retrieved September 19, 2021, from https://www.verywellfamily.com/ways-discipline-child-for-bullying-others-460520.
Moyer, M. W. (2021). How to raise kids who aren't assholes: Science-based strategies for better parenting - from tots to teens. Headline.
What if Your Child is the One Showing Bullying Behavior? https://www.pacer.org. (2020). Retrieved September 19, 2021, from https://www.pacer.org/parent/php/PHP-c109.pdf.