My child a bully? No way! Immediately the defenses go up and the denials begin. How could your sweet little kid be a bully?
I spent a couple of decades teaching elementary school and I know that bullies are not always the biggest, loudest kids in class. Even quiet ones can bully others.
It can be name-calling.
Physical aggression like pushing, shoving, kicking, pinching.
It raises its ugly head in all sorts of ways.
When the school calls about this kind of behavior, you can’t just ignore it.
Take it seriously.
It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible parent.
Or that you’re raising a rotten kid.
Or you’ve been oblivious to what’s going on in your kid’s life.
It means you’ve got a great opportunity to help your child learn better people skills.
Believe me, no teacher likes the idea of calling parents to talk about their child’s behavior. And no parent wants to believe that their child is being mean to others. But it happens.
So, what can you do about it?
Anger and embarrassment are pretty normal reactions but yelling at your son or daughter won’t fix the problem. Sit down with your child and calmly find out what happened. Take a deep breath and listen to the whole story.
When the story turns to what the other kids did or said — and it will because kids generally don’t like being held accountable — let your child know that you want to know what he did. Don’t allow the focus shift to what the others may or may not have done.
Let your child know you love her but she’s accountable for her part in what happened.
It’s important to own the behavior and the hurt it caused.
Help your child develop empathy. Ask, “How would you feel if someone did this to you?” During my years in the classroom I asked this question plenty of times. The first answer you’ll probably hear is, “Oh, I wouldn’t care.” OK, parents. We both know that’s not true. It’s your job to help your son or daughter understand how it feels to walk in the victim’s shoes. How would it really feel?
Dig deeper. There’s a reason behind the bullying. Is your kid looking for attention? Feeling sad or left out? Trying to be more popular? Is he struggling for control in some way? Having trouble with school work? Is she feeling unnoticed or scared about something? Is something going on at home? Once you get to the root cause, validate how she feels. Then, together figure out what needs to change so the bullying stops.
Now it’s time to make amends. That means apologizing for the hurtful words and actions to the victim. In the presence of the school counselor, teacher, principal, or yourself. Having an adult there to hear the apology is important for two reasons. One, “apologies” are sometimes done in a snarky, not really sorry manner unless monitored. Two, a responsible adult can help both the bully and his target find ways to move forward without carrying grudges.
When the bullying is over the Internet, making amends gets more complicated. Every single person who got a copy of any nasty, hateful emails needs to be contacted immediately with an apology. Making restitution is tougher when it comes to social media. A written “mea culpa” posted to all social media sites where the cyberbullying took place has to be done. No excuses. No half-apologies either.
Barbara Coloroso, author of “The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander” reminds us that Internet rumors are tough to fix. In extremely bad cases of cyberbullying, Coloroso says the person responsible should pay for a Web scrubber to bury nasty Web pages in Google search results.
Monitor how your child is acting on the Internet and in social media. How? Be clear that you’ll be checking up on all social media activity. Get all passwords to every account and check regularly to be sure your kid’s behavior is kind and responsible. And be ready for some push back about “invading my privacy.” Listen, you’re paying the bills and as a responsible parent, it’s up to you to know what’s going on with your son or daughter’s behavior.
Let the school know you want to be informed about how things are going with your child’s behavior. . . good and bad. You can’t be there all the time, so feedback from the school is important to nipping any further bullying in the bud. And when there’s a positive report, let your kid know how proud you are of her progress.
Kids who bully learn it somewhere. Take an honest look at how you act in front of your child. Bullying behavior isn’t always learned from other kids.
What subtle messages are you sending?
Do you use racial or ethnic slurs?
Make fun of others behind their backs?
Do you treat sales clerks and waiters respectfully or as less than you?
How do you talk to your spouse? Your kids?
How do you handle your anger?
Are your kids physically aggressive with each other? Do they pick on each other?
Without realizing it, we let kids know which behaviors are acceptable and which ones aren’t by how we speak, how we act, and what we allow.
What are you modeling?
What’s going on in your own home?
Does anything need to change?
Kids that bully need to learn how to treat others with kindness and respect. We can help. And we all need to do our parts to make sure that happens.
We are all stronger and better when we work together.
10,000 Butterflies is dedicated to planting hope and growing change. Every one of us has the power to create positive change — in our own lives and in the lives of others. Together we can solve problems and build stronger communities. 10,000 Butterflies is a place to connect with others making good things happen, to find resources, to be inspired and to celebrate what connects us instead of what divides us.
Please join us.
Bonnie Pond is the founder of the 10,000 Butterflies Project and author of The Power of Three: How to be Happy and Get What You Want in Life (Without Doing Anything Illegal, Immoral, or Unethical) and Unlock Your Creativity: 30 Days to a More Creative YOU!