There’s been a lot of talk about bullying in recent years. As some parents help their kids learn how to deal with bullies and stand up for themselves, other parents have the dilemma of their own child being the bully.
“There are a lot of different reasons that kids bully,” said Stephanie Pratola, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist in the department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Carilion Clinic. “But we find that if their parent commits to helping them alter their pattern of behavior, the problem is more likely to improve.”
So how can you help your child if they are the ones doing the bullying? Here are some tips from Dr. Pratola:
1. Take the problem seriously.
Children bully for a variety of reasons—poor social skills, can't take “no” for an answer, unable to wait their turn, not knowing how to take another person’s point of view into account, being intolerant of differences or not wanting to do things that are hard.
Talk to your child about what their triggers are and the impact of their behavior. Help them understand how it could have made the person being bullied feel and what that feeling would be like.
2. Set consequences for the behavior.
The best consequences are things related to restitution of the person who was bullied. A sincere apology is a good start, but first make sure your child can take responsibility and demonstrate they know why what they did is wrong.
Another effective consequence is not allowing your child to be unsupervised around other kids until they can show restraint and understanding.
3. Communicate with teachers.
Teachers and school administrators deal with bullying a lot and may be skillful in holding bullies accountable. They also have a different perspective than parents because they watch kids interact at school every day.
Talk with your child’s teachers to figure out a plan for how to help your child.
4. Teach your child a better way.
Once you have talked with your child about their bullying, you can be on the lookout for triggers and intervene before it happens again—make it a practice to talk about how situations could have been handled differently.
Sometimes, bullies have excellent leadership qualities and need a place to put that energy and use it to help others.
5. Think about how your child is treated at home.
If your child is bullying, take inventory of what’s happening in your family. Is the child being bullied at home by a sibling or even a parent? There are some parenting styles that are more likely to encourage bullying.
Always letting a child have their way doesn’t help them learn to work well with others, and excessively strict parenting can leave a child wanting to have some control in their life—a middle-of-the-road parenting style where kids have choices but also guidance is best.
Keep in mind that your child will learn best by watching your behaviors. It’s also important to remember that bullying is different at different ages.
“A child who bullies in preschool because they’re bigger and more active than their peers doesn’t need the same kind of intervention as a middle schooler who is making bad judgments or an adolescent who is angry,” said Dr. Pratola. “Bullying is complex, and parents have to be thoughtful about what’s going on and what is the appropriate response.”
For more resources on bullying, visit the Child Mind Institute and KidsHealth.
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