For the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence last week, we gave some tips on what to do if you encounter bullying – which can occur at any stage of life.
This week, we tackle the much tougher topic of advising parents on what to do if their child has been identified as a bully.
This can be incredibly tough – especially when we see a clear and distinct gap between a child’s behaviours and home, and then at school (or elsewhere). This can result in feelings of anger and shame, which although natural need to be overridden for the best interests of your child.
Firstly, once you have accepted the situation – try not to overreact. Bullying is a behaviour – not a lifelong label. This does not mean you child is a bad person. Bully is also generally a learned behaviour, and often an act that seeks power where one feels powerless. Although bullies appear confident, it is actually often a sign of low self-esteem and a lack of emotional intelligence. Again this simply means that as of the present time, your child may not possess the skills to verbalise what they are feeling and ask for help.
Accepting this is crucial to understand how to move forward.
Where this is the case, punishment will often make it worse, and create more anger and an even greater need to avoid feeling vulnerable.
Instead, while it might seem counterintuitive, the best response is to reinforce love. Certainly, talk to them about poor choices and accountability – but also strongly affirm that you love them and you know they can do better.
Work to build your child’s sense of self-esteem and accentuate the positive things they have to offer to the world. The VIA Character strengths may be helpful here. Try doing the VIA Character Strengths survey with them to give them a language and an understanding of their positive qualities and beginning to actively notice and comment on these in their everyday lives. We completed a series of articles on these strengths last year – you can find a link to the first one here. You might also find the final article in the series – on using the strengths to mentor young people – gives you some concrete ideas of how to do this.
Other positives might include encouraging them to take an opportunity to start a new hobby – the kind that makes them feel good about themselves. If they have always wanted to try or get involved with something, perhaps now is the time. If they have expressed a desire to serve in a community group in some way, sign them up.
Connecting them to a mentor or positive role model is another proactive way to assist in the reshaping of how your young person sees themselves.
New starts can be important too. Once you child has been labelled a bully, it can be difficult to shake. A transfer of classes or a change of sporting team etc can provide them with a new opportunity to reintroduce themselves to a new group – without the stigma of the past.
Bullying is devastating for families – no matter where they find themselves on the spectrum of experience. But focusing on positives always has the power to help any child.
For more information, you might be interested in reading:
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