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.
Sophie Antognelli (M Psych (Clinical), B Psych (Hons – First Class) is passionate about working alongside individuals and families to live more full lives, overcoming difficulties they may face. Sophie’s interests are in child and adolescent mental health are emotion regulation issues and anxiety. Sophie is interested in working with her adult clients to regain quality of life through early psychosis intervention, the management of symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as the broader clinical issues of perfectionism, adjustment to life stressors and low self-esteem. She developed these interests across her work in both inpatient and outpatient hospital settings. Alongside her clinical work, Sophie is also involved in a number of research projects exploring new approaches to anxiety disorders – with specific interests in investigating potential new avenues for addressing unhelpful thought patterns in health anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and hoarding disorder.