Bullying is one of those topics which, when it comes up, may raise alarm bells in our heads as we don’t want to see ourselves dealing with our own children being bullies
So where does bullying come from? As children grow up, not only are they developing into their personalities, but their thoughts and feelings are being influenced by a huge number of things – school friends, what they watch, games they play and information they hear.
When bullying behaviour arises, it could actually indicate that there are difficulties in the child’s world – such as strained family relationships, not performing well in school, issues with peers or poor self-esteem and self-confidence.
So while bullies can often appear to be strong and confident, their behaviour can be hiding their insecurities or anxieties.
When you first hear about bullying
While it is natural for parents to jump to their child’s defence and deny that they are capable of such negative behaviour, this can be detrimental in the long run for their own child.
Making excuses or defending the child against the consequences of their negative behaviour communicates to the child that they have done nothing wrong and that their negative behaviour is justified. This leads to the child not learning or improving their ability to relate to others.
Rather try and learn to connect with children on their level – approach them in a calm and non-judgmental way.
Learn how to speak to your child about what they really think and feel, without invalidating or trying to change them
This way children find it easier to speak up or express what bothers them, what they are thinking and what emotions come up for them at certain times.
While this may sound straightforward, many parents find it difficult to talk to their children about emotions and even struggle to handle their children’s negative emotions. But once your child feels that you are listening and that they are allowed to experience a range of emotions around you, opening up becomes easier and you can start to gain an understanding of their emotional world.
Tackling bullying behaviour
Research has found that bullying behaviour can be unlearned, if dealt with in an appropriate manner. It is important to:
Acknowledge the behaviour
Sit down with your child and try and understand why they behaved in a certain way. Listen carefully, avoid criticising or blaming them so that they feel safe enough to talk to you about what is going on. Help your child explore their behaviour by asking questions (e.g. “Do you think that what you did hurt someone?”)
Help your child understand the consequences of their actions
They need to understand that their negative behaviour leads to being disciplined and to certain changes in their life (e.g. their devices being taken away). The bullying incident can also be used as a teachable moment by talking to your child about positive ways they can handle future situations and what the positive consequences could possibly be. Help your child think about what it would feel like to be the other child or ask them to write a letter to the other child, to help them understand the impact of their choices.
Empower your child to build their social and emotional skills
Self-awareness, emotional regulation, resilience and decision-making are life-long skills which can be encouraged in children from a young age.
Parenting is not an easy journey, especially when faced with difficult circumstances such as bullying. Parents need to remember that there are resources and professionals who’s objective is to journey with them as closely as they can. So when things get tough, do not hesitate to reach out for advice and support.