WHEN MY CHILD IS A BULLY
No parent wants to hear that her child is a bully as it is painful and sometimes makes the parent feel guilty and/or ashamed to think of her child inflicting harm on others. If your child is engaged in bullying behaviors, it might be a sign of serious distress that needs to be addressed. She might be experiencing anxiety, depression, and have difficulty regulating her emotions and behavior.
First, it is essential to understand the reasons behind your child’s behavior. Here are a few:
-Your child is looking for attention from teachers, parents, or classmates, and hasn’t been successful getting it other ways.
-She is getting bullied at school or at home and is trying to regain a sense of power by acting aggressively toward her peers.
-She has a tendency to perceive the behavior of other kids as hostile, even when it is not.
-She wants to fit in with a group of friends who are picking on another child.
Here are a few strategies to help your child handle her behavior differently:
1. Talking through the situation with your child. It will help you understand why the social aggression is happening and how to respond to it to make it stop. For instance, if your child has low self-esteem, bullying gives her power and control over something or someone.
2. Look inward. If your child is exposed to unkind or aggressive behavior at home, it is likely she will repeat the same scenarios at school. Sometimes, family members are not aware of the impact of their own words or actions. So, ask yourself those questions: do members of your family engage in yelling, name-calling, or putdowns? Do your children pick on one another, or hit each other? How do you handle conflicts? If these types of behavior are happening, it is important to start fostering a positive home environment where kindness, respect, and support are encouraged and valued.
3. Make it right. Once your child has understood she made a mistake, then encourage her to apologize (in person, via text message, over the phone,…), but repair is an essential component of the process. Depending on the situation, your child may bake cookies for the whole class or play a game with a peer she had been previously excluding. Discuss repair options with your child.
4. Stay connected. By being present with your child, you are building an open channel of communication about her daily life. This will put you in a better position to recognize signs of bullying. Asking your child a few open-ended questions on a daily basis will help stay connected in a supportive, non-judgmental way to your child who needs to feel that you care and truly listen to her. In the morning, such questions can be about what your child has planned for the day. After school, you can ask her about a thing that went great and then about one that did not go so great.
Bullying is a maladaptive pattern due to pain and distress that your child does not know to handle differently. By trying to understand the roots of this behavior, by adopting an attitude of empathy, active listening, and support toward your child, and by exploring collaboratively appropriate ways for your child to express her underlying emotions, the patterns of aggression and coercion may soon disappear.
As a parent and a therapist, I want to offer some tips on how to raise happy and healthy kids. Please feel free to comment on my posts.