Being “mean” is part of being kids. Kids speak meanly to each other and call each other names all the time. When kids say “I’m not your friend anymore” or “I don’t want to play with you“, it’s often a short-lived and harmless episode that is quickly forgotten.
The darker side of teasing between kids is that it can turn into bullying.
Much of the available information on bullying suggests that bullies often display other behavioural problems and are more likely to have poor academic grades.
Some studies suggest that kids raised in punitive environments, i.e., environments characterized by harsh physical and verbal punishment, are more likely to become bullies. Yet, as with all things, there are often exceptions. Against all odds, a well-adjusted kid with above-average grades raised in a loving family can turn into a bully.
The available research suggests that kids’ tendency to bully is far more widespread than we might believe. According to the iSafe Foundation, approximately 53 per cent of kids have said something mean or hurtful to someone else online.
Other studies conducted by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that approximately 53 per cent of kids from grades 6 to 10 confessed to having bullied someone. These studies suggest that kids often “test out” bullying for different reasons.
Bullying can be:
• Verbal, for example, name-calling and disrespectful comments about someone’s physical appearance
• Relational, for example excluding someone from a group (games, lunch, sports, etc.)
• Physical, i.e., involving aggressive behaviour
• Cyberbullying, i.e., bullying that occurs online
1) Don’t let the shock blind you to the reality
No one expects their kid to turn into a bully so it often comes as a shock when you get “that call” or note from school. The first instinct for most parents is to protect their kid and try to find out how the other kid “provoked him or her”.
Take the time you need to process the information and get over your disappointment then find out exactly what happened. Listen attentively and avoid apportioning blame. Your kid needs to know that you take bullying seriously.
2) Your kid’s bullying is not necessarily a reflection of your parenting
If you bully your kid, he’s more likely to bully others. On most occasions, however, kids’ reasons for bullying have nothing to do with how they’re raised. Kids can bully because they see others kids doing it, or because it makes them feel powerful, or because they’re jealous. While your kid’s bullying doesn’t necessarily imply poor parenting skills, how you react to his behaviour may be decisive in getting him to stop.
3) Teach kids that bullying is never cool
In reality, bullying is everywhere. Politicians bully others all the time and almost everyone has encountered some form of adult bullying. Kids who think bullying is “normal behaviour” because of what they see around them need to know that bullying is never cool.
Always take action when bullying is involved. Ask your kid how she would feel if someone did the same thing to her. The good thing about bullying is that it’s a habit and like all habits, it can be unlearnt.
When we let kids know that bullying, for any reason, is unacceptable behaviour, we teach them that they are accountable for their actions. Make sure your kid knows the consequences of bullying: apologise verbally or write a letter, write an essay about how she’d feel if she was bullied, fewer privileges, etc.
4) Focus on solutions
Finding out why your kid feels the need to bully others is the first step in finding a lasting solution. For instance, if your child bullies to avoid being bullied, teaching him other ways to resolve conflict might help give him the tools he needs and end his behaviour.
It’s easier to find an appropriate solution when you know the reasons underlying his behaviour, but you get better results when you avoid being harsh and aggressive. Remember that when we react to our kids aggressively, we teach them that aggressiveness is an appropriate reaction when we’re upset.
5) Cooperate with the authorities
When your child has been identified as a bully, cooperating with the school authorities can help put a stop to the bullying without victimizing your kid. School authorities are more likely to help when they see parents’ disapproval of the situation and their determination to find a solution. Put yourself in the shoes of the bullied kid’s family. How would you like them to react?
Be prepared before meeting the authorities by being absolutely certain of the details. The best way to get the details is to let your kid know that “honesty pays”. Knowing everything you need to know will make it easier to ensure that the consequences for your kid’s behaviour are appropriate and in line with the school bullying philosophy.
Ultimately, the easiest way to stop mean behaviour is to deal with the reasons behind that behaviour first.
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