Many parents could never dream of their child intentionally causing harm to another, but kids can surprise us in sometimes unpleasant ways. It’s important to remember that bullying does not mean you have a bad or troubled child. Children and teens are still experiencing major brain development, which can cause poor and impulsive decision-making. Along with peer pressure and general insecurities, kids and teens face a lot of hurdles as they start to make sense of the world. If you suspecting or have been told that your child is bullying others, here are some insights into why it could be happening and how you can help your child overcome it.
Reasons a child may turn to bullying
Children don’t hurt others for no reason. Often, alarming behavior signals an unmet need that your child doesn’t know how to express. A child may participate in bullying if they:
- Are trying to fit in - Peer pressure can make anyone do strange things, especially someone whose brain isn’t fully developed. Children ages 12-14 are the most concerned with peer opinion and approval, and may bully others to get it. If your child has recently started a new school they are at higher risk of peer pressure.
- Have been or are currently being bullied themselves - Children who have experienced bullying often resort to retaliation at some point. Their behavior could be a retaliation towards their former bullies or to others who witnessed their embarrassment.
- Are looking for attention (from teachers, parents, or peers) - Children who feel lonely, left out, or unheard often try to draw attention to themselves. Bullying is an easy way to get attention, first by the children they are bullying and eventually from peers, teachers, and parents.
- Have experienced a major change in their lives - Bullying behavior can surface when there are stressors or unusual situations at home. This can be parents who recently separated, the death of a loved one, a move, or a major change in routine.
- Do not fully understand - This goes back to those underdeveloped brains - children often do not understand how their behavior makes others feel. This is particularly true for younger children.
- Need a self-esteem boost - Since bullying often earns laughs and approval from peers, it may serve as a satisfying outlet to a young child’s insecurity by boosting their self-esteem.
- Have suffered previous trauma or abuse - Children exposed to violent or belligerent behavior at home will often mimic the behaviors.
- Are suffering from a mental health condition - Children struggling with mental health problems sometimes turn to bullying as a coping mechanism. Bullying can be a response to overstimulation or anxiety, and can also serve as a dopamine rush if they suffer from depression.
How you can help
Your first response upon finding out that your child has been bullying others can range from denial to shock and anger. Your first instinct may be to get defensive (“My child would never!), but the hard truth is that your child might very well be bullying others. It’s also not a good idea to rain fury on your child, since there are likely underlying issues that need to be addressed. Speaking angrily to them, making harsh judgements about their character, and assigning extreme punishments without working through the issues will all backfire. Instead, try these tactics:
- Remain calm and willing to help - It is important to remain as level-headed as possible and express your willingness to address the situation head-on.
- Reassure your child - Even though you may be horrified and upset, reassure your child that you still love them. Focus on condemning the behavior, not your child’s character. Remember: if you make it clear that you think they are a bad person, they’ll believe it too - and they’ll act accordingly.
- Communicate - Work as a team with your child and their school counselor, teachers, and therapists to ensure that your child is getting support from all angles.
- Find ways to cope - Take the time to discuss scenarios that your child finds difficult to handle; situations where they are most likely to resort to bullying as a means of self-fulfillment or getting their way. Guide them through appropriate responses to these situations and even do some ‘practice’ at home where you play the role of their peer in certain situations.
- Assess the home environment - Children who are exposed to aggressive interactions at home have a higher likelihood of repeating those actions at school. Be truthful with yourself as you assess your child’s home surroundings. This may take an extra effort if the child is in a shared custody situation. Unresolved or ongoing situations should be addressed immediately.
- Implement meaningful consequences - Provide meaningful consequences to your child when they bully others by taking a careful look at what consequences makes the most sense in each particular situation.
- Monitor the situation & stay connected - Stay connected with your child daily. It is likely your child will need many conversations to find ways to handle situations before they find confidence in themselves without bullying. Set aside time every day to find out how your child’s day went and make it a priority to follow up regularly with their counselors, therapists, and teachers.
- Seek professional help - Bullying is a major problem that requires swift and serious action. It is helpful to get a professional and unbiased perspective. Professional counseling can be beneficial for both you and your child.
Help the bully to prevent bullying
Anti-bullying week is Nov 15th - 19th. When we think of anti-bullying campaigns, our mind often goes to those being bullied. While that is important, it is also important to recognize those who are bullying and be aware of how we can help them do better. If you or someone you know has a child who is bullying, consider professional counseling as part of the action plan to overcome their behavior. Those in the California and Nevada areas can reach out to Medens Health either online, or by phone/text at (833) 624-5400.