If you’ve ever had the dreaded phone call from the school informing you that your child has been bullying other kids, you’ll know that sinking feeling. Along with questioning your parenting skills, you might also be feeling guilt or shame.
So how does a child become a bully?
While there isn’t an easy answer, experts have identified several commonalities in bullies. Sometimes children bully others as a way to regain a feeling of control and power that they have lost from another area in their life- for example, experiencing bullying from an aggressive sibling.
A child’s personality can also be a factor. If a child is domineering or demanding they may be more likely to bully others. A lack of self-esteem can also be a reason for bullying as being cruel to others can help the bully feel powerful.
What to do if your child is bullying
It can be tempting when informed that your child has been bullying to rush in with a punishment. However, it’s important to get the bottom of the issue and address the reasons why the bullying occurred.
Figuring this out might not be straightforward but is worthwhile as it can prevent the behaviour recurring. If your child is primary school age, they may not be able to explain their behaviour due to their emotional immaturity. A secondary school-aged child might be able to articulate themselves better. However, it may not even be obvious to a teenager why they are compelled to bully others.
Instead, try to understand the factors in the bullying incidents, and what may have caused the behaviour. Bullying largely boils down to the bully having low self-esteem and feeling threatened in some way, perhaps socially. For example, if your child is bullying other girls on her netball team it may be because she feels her abilities aren’t up to scratch and must bring others down a peg.
If you suspect your child is suffering from low self-esteem, try and help them feel better about themselves. Finding a hobby or interest that they love can help- such as learning a musical instrument or crafts. Make sure they are praised for their successes, and ensure they’re being given attention and your time regularly.
Avoid labelling your child as a ‘bully’
While their behaviour may be considered bullying, the reasons behind it may run deep. Labelling your child as a bully can damage their self-esteem, and encourage further poor behaviour.
Discuss the importance of kindness to others
Calmly have a conversation with your child around kindness and respect for others. Explain how bullying affects others, and discuss how being bullied would make your child feel.
Make sure apologies are made
A key step in moving forward from bullying is to make sure the bully apologises to the child they upset. This will be difficult but it can be done via a written note or privately rather than in front of others.
Set clear consequences
Once you’ve addressed the emotional side of things, it’s time to be clear on what will happen if the bullying behaviour is repeated. You are teaching your child social skills for the rest of their life by setting boundaries.
If further bullying occurs, make sure you follow through on the consequences you warned your child would happen- a softer response encourages them to further push the boundaries you have set.