You get a call from your kid's principal who tells you he needs to talk to you about a problem with a bully at the school.
Maybe you've dreaded this. Your mind instantly goes to all the ways your child is different from his or her peers. Your heart clenches when you think about how awful it must be for your sweet child to be mocked or threatened or even physically abused.
And then you hear the words that are possibly the only thing that could make matters worse.
Your child isn't being bullied. Your child is the bully.
The first step to dealing with the problem is to step back and understand it. The characteristics of a child who bullies include:
- An impulsive personality,
- A hot temper,
- A history of violence,
- Easily frustrated,
- A lack of empathy, and
- Difficulty following rules.
These traits sometimes combine into a child who has difficulty with social skills, takes negative emotions out on those least likely to retaliate and doesn't think far enough ahead to be deterred by fear of consequences.
The worst thing you can do if you learn that your child has been bullying is get defensive. You can't help your child if you're too busy denying that there is any chance that they're engaging in this kind of behavior. Look at that list of traits with an open mind and really ask yourself if you see your kid there. Don't judge them, or yourself, just accept. It's only with acceptance that change can happen.
When you confront your child with evidence of bullying behavior, do not blame them. Try to leave judgement out all together. Be willing to listen to their side of the story, but stand firm in your conviction that in your family there is no excuse for bullying.
Offer your child new ways to deal with difficult emotions. If they are struggling with anger, stress or anxiety that go beyond what can be dealt with at home, seek professional help. If you are having similar difficulty dealing with these emotions, seek help yourself. You are your child's best advocate and model for acceptable behavior. If they hear you insist that they don't bully, but hear you yelling or otherwise negatively expressing your anger toward others, you'll have a harder time helping them to change.
When dealing with school administration or the parents of the other child, stay calm. If they call your child a bully, defuse the situation by saying something like, "Instead of placing labels, please tell me what has happened." And then listen. Really listen.
Be prepared to accept that your child may have engaged in bullying behavior, but also be open minded enough to listen to both sides of the story. If you stay calm, chances are the officials or other parents will as well.
If your child has bullied another child, be prepared to make some changes at home. Reduce the amount of media violence, such as in movies or video games, that your child has access to. Know who your child is spending time with. Offer opportunities for your child to increase their ability to be caring. For instance, buy them a pet fish to take are of or take them with you to volunteer helping other people.
Finally, find out what stress may have lead to the bullying behavior and take steps to relieve it in more positive ways.
* * *
Have you signed up for Teenage Angst-land, the Adolescent site newsletter? Click the link to the right or at the bottom of this post and you'll receive Teenage Angst-land on Wednesdays and Sundays.