Bullying is intentionally hurting another individual who cannot defend themselves. In children, it may involve fighting, name-calling, teasing, insults, isolating, or threatening others.
In more recent years, with more young people having access to smartphones, bullying via the Internet has been trending. Cyberbullying may involve sending hurtful messages, emails, or posting humiliating pictures and videos. Almost 2 in 5 young people have been bullied online with girls being more likely to be both victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying. Sadly, only 1 in 10 teen victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.
But what do you do as a parent or guardian when you find out that your child is the perpetrator?
Here are three important things you should consider:
- Manage your emotions and gather facts objectively
- Talk with your child
- Work to resolve the situation
1. Manage Your Emotions And Gather Facts
Parents tend to get defensive and emotional upon learning that their child is a bully.
- Use breathing techniques to stay calm. You can do this by taking a breath in for 4-seconds, holding your breath for 4-seconds, and exhaling in 4-seconds. This process can prevent you from reacting in anger in response to feelings of embarrassment and guilt.
- Gather the facts so that you may get a clearer picture of what has transpired, to whom, and for how long the bullying has been taking place. For example, ask a teacher or school counselor if they have noticed your child feeling sad, angry, lonely or insecure.
- While it can be difficult, listen to what others are saying about your child. Thank the parent or teacher for informing you and acknowledge how difficult it was for them to make the call.
- Tell them that you will take the matter seriously and will all that is necessary to stop the bullying behaviour.
- Take time to process the information – this will help you process fact from opinion.
- Before talking with your child, process how this new-found information makes you feel.
- If it helps, seek professional support yourself or discuss it over with a trusted friend.
2. Talk With Your Child
Children bully others for many reasons (e.g., trying to fit in, is being bullied and wants to regain a sense of power, looking for attention). Talking with your child can reveal if your child is jealous, unhappy, is upset, or is being bullied themselves.
- Explain that whatever happened, you are going to help them get through this.
- If you don’t know how to start the conversation, try the following – “I got a call from the school today and the teacher told me that you were involved in some bullying. I’m really concerned about this. Can you tell me what happened?”
- Ask them the following:
- Do you know what they are talking about?
- What happened?
- Is any of this true?
- Find out if there is a pattern to the bullying.
- Explain to them in a simple statement that bullying is unacceptable and that it must stop. For example, “I need you to know that bullying is unacceptable, and it must stop.”
- Resist the urge to lecture them.
3. Work Towards A Resolution
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a parent is to brush your child’s behaviour as a one-off. According to child psychologists such as New Vision Psychology, young people who bully others are more likely to perform poorly in school, turn to violence as a way to deal with problems, and get in trouble with the law.
Here are some practical ways that you can work towards a resolution:
- Support school policy
Most bullying incidents occur at or around school times. You can ask about the school policy for dealing with bullying so that you may be familiar with the process. This will allow you to support and follow the school policy. Partner with the school to monitor your child’s bullying behaviour and listen to their feedback instead of getting defensive.
- Set age-appropriate consequences
As a parent, you should set age-appropriate consequences for inappropriate behaviour. For example, when your child continues their bullying behaviour, you can remove their phone and/or internet privileges. This helps educate them that there are consequences for their actions.
- Foster a calm atmosphere at home
Bullying behaviours can be triggered for a number of reasons. No parent wants to find out that their behaviour and actions are encouraging their child’s bullying behaviours. Therefore, some reflection is required to identify how the home environment is. For example, do you frequently verbally abuse others when driving? Do you threaten others with violence? These could be cues that your child is picking up on.
- Notice and acknowledge good behaviour
Just as you would set consequences for poor behaviour, it is vital to reward good behaviour. This also demonstrates to your child that you care and are paying attention to them.
Model healthy ways to deal with conflict and frustrations
Anger is a normal reaction and dealing with differing opinions is something that your child will have to learn as they develop into young adults. As a parent, you should set examples of how to deal with conflict in a calm and logical manner. Imagine telling your child to walk away from a fight to only engage in explosive behaviour when driving or in public.