Watching your child suffer at the hands of a bully is one of the most disturbing and unsettling experiences we can have as parents.
Two weeks ago I wrote about how to support a child being bullied. I received a number of emails from parents asking me to outline how they can stop their child from being the bully. It is something I deal with a considerable amount in my work in schools.
Much of the literature out there explores managing a bullied child’s emotional needs, but there isn’t so much about what you should do if your child is the one causing the suffering of other children.
I have been present in many conversations between school management and parents as the school explains their child is targeting another child in a very negative way.
It is always a difficult conversation, but a very important one. Of course, parents can sometimes take a defensive position not wanting to admit their child could do such a thing. They often try to deflect the issue by blaming the child being bullied or blame the school or the teacher for not managing the situation properly.
My work is often to help the parents out of this position so that they can better support their child to stop this type of behaviour.
I have never met a bad child. I have met many children who have bullied others and perpetrated hurtful things against others but I’ve never met a bad or evil child.
All behaviour is communication and if you look hard enough at the behaviour your child is doing they will speak to you. And when a child is bullying others it is communicating to us that they are not okay.
A happy healthy child who is confident and self–assured would generally have little interest in hurting others.
I know some reading this will think I’m letting a child who bullies off the hook. On the contrary, if we simply reduce behaviour down to good or bad we are lazy in our analysis and will not help the child who is exhibiting this negative behaviour. But if we think about the context of the child’s life and why they have come to rely on this type of behaviour we can understand what approach to take.
Making someone feel like they feel ameliorates their negative self-view. They are also often struggling with a negative paradigm, they think they have no value and this is the only way to make themselves feel big.
When we understand the reasons why children decide to target other children we can start to think about supporting them out of that behaviour. Of course, they must understand that this behaviour is not acceptable and it will not be tolerated. But we don’t want our children to stop bully because they got caught we want them to stop because they developed empathy for their victim and self-worth.
If we are compassionate in our approach and don’t jump to judgement, the outcome will be far more successful. If you make a child, who thinks they are no good feel that they are no good this will not build their confidence only further compound the issue. When your child is the bully, try to think about what they are getting from this interaction? Why do they need to get something, what is it they are missing?
I had one child tell me that they were so scared of being targeted that they started to bully a child they knew was not physically strong. They felt incredibly shameful for what they had done but when you view their behaviour through their lens it makes sense. It was a way of surviving.
That is not an excuse for bad behaviour but it does explain why the child launched into that behaviour. And when we understand it we can then start to help our child to think in a more positive and productive way about their feelings.
It can be embarrassing to have a school call you into a meeting because your child is bullying another child. When you become defensive you are not helping your child. But if you think about why your child would need to do this behaviour and why they need to make someone feel small so they feel big it just might bring you to the crux of the problem.
None of us want to think our children could bully others, but supporting your child out of this behaviour is really about adopting a positive parenting strategy.