It can be shocking and upsetting to learn that your child has gotten in trouble for picking on others or been labeled a bully.
As difficult as it may be to process this news, it's important to deal with it right away. Whether the bullying is physical or verbal, if it's not stopped it can lead to more aggressive antisocial behavior and interfere with your child's success in school and ability to form and sustain friendships.
Understanding Bullying Behavior
Kids bully for many reasons. Some bully because they feel insecure. Picking on someone who seems emotionally or physically weaker provides a feeling of being more important, popular, or in control. In other cases, kids bully because they simply don't know that it's unacceptable to pick on kids who are different because of size, looks, race, or religion.
Some kids who bully at school and in settings with their peers are copying behavior that they see at home. Kids who are exposed to aggressive and unkind interactions in the family often learn to treat others the same way.
Helping Kids Stop Bullying
Let your child know that bullying is unacceptable and that there will be serious consequences at home, school, and in the community if it continues.
Try to understand the reasons behind your child's behavior. In some cases, kids bully because they have trouble managing strong emotions like anger, frustration, or insecurity. In other cases, kids haven't learned cooperative ways to work out conflicts and understand differences.
Tactics to Try
Be sure to:
- Take bullying seriously. Make sure your kids understand that you will not tolerate bullying at home or anywhere else. Establish rules about bullying and stick to them.
- Teach kids to treat others with respect and kindness. Teach your child that it is wrong to ridicule differences.
- Encourage good behavior. Positive reinforcement can be more powerful than negative discipline. Catch your kids being good and when they handle situations in ways that are constructive or positive, take notice and praise them for it.
- Set a good example. Think carefully about how you talk around your kids and how you handle conflict and problems. If you behave aggressively toward or in front of your kids chances are they'll follow your example.
Starting at Home
When looking for the influences on your child's behavior, look first at what's happening at home. Kids who live with yelling, name-calling, putdowns, harsh criticism, or physical anger from a sibling or parent/caregiver may act that out in other settings.
It's natural and common for kids to fight with their siblings at home. And unless there's a risk of physical violence it's wise not to get involved. But monitor the name-calling and any physical altercations and be sure to talk to each child regularly about what's acceptable and what's not.
It's important to keep your own behavior in check too. Watch how you talk to your kids, and how you react to your own strong emotions when they're around.
If your family is going through a stressful life event that you feel may have contributed to your child's behavior, reach out for help from the resources at school and in your community. Guidance counselors, pastors can help.
To help a child stop bullying, talk with teachers, guidance counselors, and other school officials who can help you identify situations that lead to bullying and provide assistance.
As difficult and frustrating as it can be to help kids stop bullying, remember that bad behavior won't just stop on its own.
Think about the success and happiness you want your kids to find in school, work, and relationships throughout life, and know that curbing bullying now is progress toward those goals.