When your child is the bully

Typically, you could be told of your child's habits by other parents or the teacher. Alternately, you could discover tell-tale signs of the child's bullying instincts by way of things found in the child's bag that don't belong to him.

By Amita Bhardwaj

That dreaded phone call when you get called to your child’s school and are told in unequivocal terms that your child has been found bullying other children, is every parent’s nightmare. While many children are seen teasing others sometimes, the child’s behaviour can be termed bullying when:

The child is found to continuously tease other children.

Is found calling them names.

Pushes or hits other children.

Takes their belongings.

Typically, you could be told of your child’s habits by other parents or the teacher. Alternately, you could discover tell-tale signs of the child’s bullying instincts by way of things found in the child’s bag that don’t belong to him. While on a standalone basis these signs may not be conclusive of the child’s bullying, it is worth keeping an eye on their behaviour.

Here is what you can do if you indeed find out that the child is bullying other kids:

Explain to the child what bullying is and why it is harmful. Importantly, listen deeply to figure out why the child may be doing it. Talking through the situation may help you gather important insights. Try not to make the conversation sound like you are blaming the child. It is important for you to remember that bullying isn’t necessarily a reflection of who the kid is as a person.

Help the child understand how bullying is hurtful and how being on the other side makes the person feel.

Try to figure out why the child is bullying in the first place. There could be a host of reasons including but not limited to:

The child could be being bullied herself and could be bullying other children, in turn, more like a defense mechanism. It is possible that the child is ganging up with bullies only to not be a victim herself or is trying to fit in with a group.

The child could be exposed to bullying as a concept either by way of TV shows/videos or even in real life.

The child could suffer from low self-esteem. Bullying can well be a way to assuage their self-esteem. It is also a possibility that the child might be experiencing anxiety or depression or is having trouble regulating his emotions.

Sometimes, bullying can also be a reaction to the fact that the child isn’t getting enough positive attention and is feeling unloved.

It is only when you have figured out what lies at the crux of the problem can you figure out the right coping mechanisms to help the child outgrow this behaviour. It will work well to discuss scenarios that the child faces and offer reasonable solutions that do not involve acting out his emotions. Giving clear examples of how the child could react in situations will act like an enabler for the child.

Above everything look inwards to see if the child is surrounded by the right role models and that acting out in times of frustration, isn’t a behaviour that he habitually witnesses at home.

The right punishment in case the behaviour is repeated despite talking things out with the child may also be necessary. Confiscating the mobile phone or internet access if the child is indulging in cyber bullying, for example, is the right recourse. In case the bullying isn’t acute, however, reinstating privileges after a reasonable period should be considered. However, once the child is calm and privileges reinstated, the child must be spoken to for him to see clearly what he did was wrong as also to discuss what he can do to better the situation. If the child has been excluding some kids socially, for example, a good idea may be to invite those children for a social event. Activities such as getting the child to write a paragraph describing how the other children would have felt at the exclusion or even getting the child to write an apology letter could be helpful.

Through the whole process, remember to have open channels of communication with the child. Very often, just staying connected with the child in a non-judgmental manner can help keep aggressive behaviour at bay.

If despite all your efforts the bullying does not stop, do consider seeing a therapist who may be able to address the underlying issues and work through them.

(The writer is VP-Curriculum, Footprints Childcare.)

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