Most children at one point or other will tease other children, but bullying is more than teasing. Bullying is defined as repeated verbal, physical or social behaviour towards another person that causes physical and/or psychological harm. With the advent of social media and portable devices, bullying has become more pervasive, rather than only occurring in person or at school, cyberbullying can occur in the home, anywhere and 24 hours a day.
We often spend time thinking about how to help children who are victims of bullying, but what if your child is the bully? Discovering that your child is a bully can be distressing and heartbreaking. It’s so easy to see this as an attack on our parenting and we can be quick to jump to defend our child. However, it’s important to take this information seriously and step in early to help your child change their behaviour. Here are some ways you can help your child if they are bullying others:
1. Talk to Your Child
Once you’ve been notified of your child’s bullying behaviour, the first step is to talk with them about it. It’s often tempting to try to make your child feel ashamed, but this will cause them to close up and not want to share with you. The best approach is to try to show understanding and reflect back to them what you hear them saying. Allowing your child to speak openly without shaming them can help you understand the reasons for their behaviour.
After you’ve heard your child’s side of the story, it’s important to talk with them about the consequences of their bullying behaviour on others and make it clear to them that this behaviour is unacceptable. There are a number of ways you can help your child identify the consequences of their behaviour. One way is to ask questions that require your child to imagine themselves in the other child’s shoes i.e. “How would you feel if someone excluded you?” or “Imagine if someone stole your lunch, how would you would feel?”. Another useful way to discuss the consequences of their behaviour is to ask your child to recall how the other child reacted to their behaviour i.e. “How did Tim react when you hit him? What did his face look like? What did he say?”. You need to firmly communicate that their bullying behaviour is not acceptable.
2. Support the School’s Bullying Policy.
The next step is to contact the school, become aware of their policy on bullying and what the consequences are to be for your child. You can ask the school if there are things you can be doing at home that support their disciplinary measures. By supporting the school’s response to your child’s behaviour, you are clearly indicating to your child that bullying is not ok.
3. Understand the Heart of Your Childs Behaviour
Talk with your child and their teacher to try and identify what is at the heart of their bullying behaviour. It may be that your child has difficulty controlling their emotions, they may struggle with beliefs of inadequacy or they may be bullied themselves. In some cases, bullying behaviour is a misinterpretation of messages to “stand up for yourself” or it can be a reflection of conflict they’ve seen at home or on TV. It may be appropriate to seek help from one of our Psychologists who are skilled in identifying and addressing these difficulties. We can also provide you with assistance and support when addressing your child’s behaviour. There are numerous reasons why a child may bully others and identifying these reasons is key to intervening and helping your child develop more healthy and positive relationships.
Bullying is a behaviour that is rarely tolerated in most workplaces. What about in the school yard? Have you ever heard parents say that children should be left to “sort it out” or “toughen up”? I disagree! If we do not tolerate bullying of adults, how much less should we tolerate bullying of children! In fact, research shows that being bullied as a child can result in several difficulties throughout one’s life including psychiatric diagnoses, difficulties with trust and low self-esteem, to name a few. Children who are bullied can experience depression, anxiety, poor sleep and impaired academic performance.
So what can you do about it? Firstly, create a safe space for your child to talk about such things. It can be difficult listening to a child’s stories in the midst of everything else you have to do but talking with them regularly means that they are more likely to tell you when something is awry. When your child does open up don’t dismiss their feelings, rather, validate their feelings whilst teaching them what to do about it. Praise them for telling you about it and be encouraging as you advise your child.
Teach your child a statement that he / she can say in response to any bullying and have them practice at home. For example, “Stop it, I don’t like it”. Teach them to speak confidently in a loud and clear voice. Tell your child to notice the colour of the other child’s eyes when talking to them. This is a little trick that will help your child to hold their head up, which in turn makes them appear more assertive and less intimidated by the bullying. Encourage them to then walk away and play with someone else. Role play the scenarios at home with you playing your child to model the behaviour to your child, and then you playing the bully so your child can practice.
Encourage your child not to be alone but to stick with their friends. In fact, encouraging your child to be friendly and make lots of friends is a very useful way to reduce their risks of future bullying. Discuss friendships and how to make friends and the importance of having a wide social network.
Importantly, speak to your child’s teacher. It’s important for your child to know that you have their back and whilst you will teach them how to handle bullying, they need to know that you will also do something about it and that they are not in this alone.
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