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When You Think Your Child May Be a Bully

You’ve observed your child bullying one of his/her classmates, or perhaps you’ve been called to school because your child’s teacher, principal, or guidance counselor wants to speak with you about bullying behavior exhibited by your child.  Here are a few tips to help your child move forward better.

First, understand that bullying behavior is a failure of empathy and a sign of insecurity, fear, and/or anger.  You need to understand what is prompting your child to feel insecure, fearful, and/or angry and feel no (or little) empathy.   So, you should first address these root issues, criticizing your child’s behavior while affirming your child’s goodness as a person.  You may say, “Chris, I was sitting in the car, waiting to pick you up after school today, when I saw you yell at and hit your classmate right outside the school door.  I saw you looking very mean while your classmate looked so very frightened.  Why did you do that, Chris?”  (Chris will likely give you a reason indicating that the classmate offended or annoyed him in some way.)  “Chris, I understand that your classmate can be frustrating, but no matter how frustrating he may be, you shouldn’t treat people that way.  How do you think he felt when you treated him the way you did?  And do you think that your treatment of him was fair based on how he treated you?  I mean, he frustrated you, I understand that, but you yelled at and hit him . . . that doesn’t seem like a proportionate or fair response, does it?  Why did you react so strongly to him, Chris?”  (Chris will likely give you a vague response, something like, “I don’t know.”)  “How do you feel about what you did to him today, Chris?  Do you feel ok about intimidating and hurting your classmate?  Have you tried to be understanding and accepting of him just like you want people to try to understand and accept you?”  (Chris will likely have little response to this.)  You are smart and generally kind; I know you aren’t the kind of guy who usually does stuff like this.  So, I think we need to figure out why you lost your temper today and forgot how to be understanding of others.  Let’s talk about how you were feeling before your classmate frustrated you and how you were feeling about what your classmate did that you found frustrating.  Ok?”

Second, you need to give your child the tools to move forward with greater understanding of himself and others so that he will be less likely to bully again.  You may say, “Ok, so, I want to repeat back what I think I heard you say so that I’m sure I understand you correctly.  You were feeling sad and angry in school today because none of the kids wanted to play with you at recess.  You felt rejected by your classmates.  You carried that with you all afternoon.  When school got out, one of your classmates said he was having a party this weekend but didn’t say whether or not you were going to be invited.  You assumed you weren’t going to be invited, which made you feel even more rejected, sad, and angry, so you decided to let him have it.  Is that right?”  (Chris will likely answer in the affirmative.)  “Ok, I understand.  Now, let’s talk about how to handle a situation like this going forward . . . maybe in a way that is better for everybody involved.  During recess, if nobody asks you to play, perhaps you can be the one who invites someone to play.  You don’t have to wait for someone to invite you.  If you get rejected, you can try to understand where the other person is coming from.  Maybe your classmate is already involved in a game or something that isn’t really a rejection of you at all.  Even if it is a rejection, can it still be ok?  I know rejection hurts, but nobody is liked by everyone.  So, can you just move on to another classmate who may be a better fit for you?  I mean, you know you’re a great kid, a loyal friend, and a beloved son.  You can find the kids who value what a great guy you are.”  (Chris will likely express a cautious affirmation.)  “Now, regarding assumptions, it’s possible that you were going to be invited to your classmate’s party.  You made an assumption that may be wrong.  I mean, at this point, you’ve virtually guaranteed that you won’t be invited to his party, but you have no way of knowing if you’d have been invited otherwise.  Going forward, let’s not make such baseless assumptions.  And regarding empathy, it’s so important to choose your behaviors based on who you want to be.   I know you are a kind-hearted boy, and I’m so proud to be your mom.  Going forward, when you’re frustrated, hurt, angry, or whatever, can you seek to understand the people who hurt you rather than try to hurt them back?  That isn’t to say that you need to allow yourself to be hurt over and over by the same people, but knowing when to walk away is important as an alternative to yelling at and hitting someone.  Ok?”

By following the tips above, you can help your child move forward without exhibiting bullying behaviors.

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