So what can we do to ensure that children don’t grow up to be bullies? And how can we make them unlearn bullying behaviours if they are already learning them?
- First and foremost, children need to know from a very young age exactly what bullying is. Name it and explain it. Behaviour Management Specialist, James Lehman says, “You can tell them the following (or even post these words in your house somewhere):
- A bully is somebody who forces other people to do things they don’t want to do.
- A bully is somebody who hits other people.
- A bully is someone who takes or breaks other people’s property.
- A bully is someone who calls other people names.”
We could add…
- A bully is someone who makes others feel alone
- A bully is someone who says they are your friend but then treats you meanly
- Give children a lot of positive attention and clear boundaries. Children who know they are a priority are less likely to seek attention in negative ways. That does not mean ignore your child’s negative behaviour. Kids respond to clear boundaries and predictable consequences.
- Make it very clear that bullying will not be tolerated in your family. Create that culture early.
- Develop empathy in children. Make sure you prompt them to consider how other people are feeling. Ask them to articulate how others might be feeling. It isn’t enough to simply say, “Think of others”. This can start at a really young age with questions about how pets, siblings and parents might feel. When kids are older you can broaden this questioning to friends, teachers and even strangers on the news or characters in books or on television.
- Make children accountable for their bullying. It isn’t someone else’s fault.
- Talk about alternative ways of solving social problems. When teaching I used to say to my students, “Let’s think of three ways you could have handled that situation differently.” Then insist that they are workable, kind solutions.
- Please, whatever you do, don’t look past bullying. What you ignore is what you condone. I know it is hard to pick kids up on everything they do, but with bullying it just has to be that way. Bullies feel that if significant adults say nothing about the bullying behaviour, then they have given their blessing.
- Monitor your child’s internet use and never let them use the internet in their bedrooms. As you’re aware an enormous amount of bullying happens online. It is easier to treat someone else badly when you don’t have to look them in the eye.
- Work with your school. If the school approaches you about your child’s bullying behaviour, the chances are it really is happening, even though it is the last thing you want to hear. As a teacher, I can tell you it is difficult to tell a parent their child is bullying. It wouldn’t be said lightly. If you argue with the school about the behaviour, particularly in front of your child, you are telling the child to carry on. In the long run that does your child no favours. Schools do make mistakes, but they also see your child six hours a day, five days a week. Most have an idea of what is going on.
Finally, if you are unable to address the behaviour yourself, or with the help of your school, seek counselling. A psychologist is uniquely qualified to offer your child the support, behaviour modification and guidance required to set them on a more positive path forward.
Linda Stade has worked in various teaching and management roles in education for twenty-five years. She has worked in government and private schools, country and city, single sex and co-ed. Currently she is the Research Officer at Santa Maria College, Western Australia. She has a Facebook page here.
Other useful resources
Linda Stade – Girls and Their Frenemies
Meredith & Sofie Jacob’s Mother daughter journal “ Just Between Us”
Andrew Fuller – Cyber Relationships
Maggie Dent – Radio Interview on bulling
Michael Grose – Parenting Ideas
What is Empathy? A great explanation by Brene Brown