I have nightmares about my children becoming the victims of a bully. But what does a mom do when she finds out that her child is doing the bullying?
Years ago when my daughter was three years old and in pre school, one of her teachers told me that she targeted a boy in her class, “James,” and bit him. Hard. I was horrified. Apparently she wasn’t very nice to James and it was going on for some time. The teacher felt she was managing it ok until my daughter resorted to violence. I drove the whole way home in near silence. I was too angry to speak and trying to decide how to handle it. I had an epiphany.
First, the conversation. “Did you bite James?”
“Why?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she responded.
“Do you think that’s a good choice?”
At this point, I’m wondering if this entire exchange is over her head.
“What is your favorite toy?” I asked. It took her a few minutes to pick out an electronic game. “You are giving it to James tomorrow.”
She didn’t like that and cried for a solid hour. The next day, I was there when she handed her beloved toy to James and apologized. It never happened again.
If there’s one thing I absolutely want tolerate from my children is bullying. If I find out they are the target, it won’t be pretty for the offenders, I can assure you that. But if I find out my daughters are dishing it out, it won’t be any better for them.
So what’s a mom to do if we find out our child is perpetuating bullying?
1. Lead By Example
First, make sure that you are kind to those around you. I’ve known quite a few women, in the workplace, church, neighborhood and various social circles, who are incredibly mean to one another. You’d think as adults, we would know better but this is apparently not the case. So if you don’t want your child to mistreat others, make sure you’re not doing it either. Talking behind one another’s backs (especially when in earshot of our kids) is a no. Ganging up on others? Again, another no. General cattiness? Do your best to STOP. I’m not saying I like everyone around me, in fact I really don’t. But in those really extreme cases (like you find out a “friend” is sleeping with another friend’s husband), keep that information away from your children. Pattern good behavior in front of your children.
2. Define Bullying
There may be a chance that your child isn’t aware that they are a bully. Explain what bullying is, why it is hurtful, and how to stop it. Teach them how to stand up for another child, even if it’s difficult.
3. Talk To Your Child
Have a long talk with your children to find out why the bullying is going on. Is he the ringleader of the bullying or a follower? Is your child afraid to stick up for the other child? You must find out the reasons why your child is bullying, regardless of their age. The better you can understand, the better chance you have of ending it. If there are a group of children bullying another child, ask to speak to their parents. Together, you can perhaps come up with solutions.
4. Set Expectations (A “Zero Tolerance” policy is a great idea)
You must do your best to nip this behavior in the bud. Let them know you won’t tolerate the behavior and it must end immediately. Point out the real consequences on victim’s lives.
5. Establish Consequences (and be consistent)
You must institute consequences. If the bullying doesn’t stop, or the behavior is severe, the consequences need to be severe, too. Take your child’s favorite toys away. Limit access to electronic media where your child can bully at all hours of the night and in a very public forum. Ground your child from sports activities or social events, even the prom if that is what is comes down to. Take their car away. Turn off their phone. I knew a parent who canceled their child’s birthday party at the last minute and another who refused to allow their daughter to go to a school dance even though her date and friends were already at their home for photos. They must know how seriously you take their behavior.
6. Teach Empathy
This may be a great time to teach your child, regardless of their age, the joy of serving others or the community. This will teach them empathy and lessen their view that the world revolves around her. Take your son to walk homeless animals at the Humane Society. Sign up your daughter to care for abused horses. Adopt a grandparent. Plant trees or clean up trash at a public park. The more time they spend focused on something positive, the better.
7. Get Therapy
If the abusive behavior continues, get the child into therapy. If you can’t afford it, speak with the school’s guidance counselor. Oftentimes, psychological help is free. There may be bigger things going on in your child’s head that you may be powerless to solve alone. Speak with your child’s pediatrician or religious advisor.
8. Never Give Up
Follow up on the bullying. Continue talking to your child. Ask around if what you are hearing is consistent with what is really happening. Give your child love. Let them know you are disappointed in their behavior (because you should be). Ask your child if there is something you can do to help them change their behavior. Keep the lines of communication open as much as possible.
9. Speak with the Victim’s Parents
Do not be afraid to speak to the parents of your child’s victim. The more you understand the impact your child’s behavior is having on someone else, the better you will know how severely you should respond. Perhaps the victim’s parents aren’t aware, and they should be. The victim should be taken care of as sympathetically as possible. She may well need supportive help, too.
10. Encourage (actually, Demand) Apologies
Ensure your child learns to apologize, regardless of her age. This is a hard concept and the sooner you teach this, the better. Be there for the apology and talk openly about it when it’s given.
Bullying has lifelong consequences on the victim and offender. Never brush it off or ignore its seriousness. Few things we do as a mom may be more important.