Extensive research both internationally and in Australia has consistently demonstrated the pervasiveness of bullying in schools and its far-reaching detrimental effects on students.
School bullying has become widely viewed as an urgent social, health and education concern that has moved to the forefront of public debate among politicians, the media and school administrators. School bullying continues to make the news regularly, which highlights the ongoing public concern and need for anti-bullying work in schools. Despite these concerns, there is very little advice for parents who have children who perpetuate the bullying behaviour.
If it’s your child who’s the bully, the probabilities are you’ll find out through a teacher or fellow parent. It can be devastating as a parent to hear something like this about your child and you may be reluctant to admit that he or she is a bully. It is normal to feel fear, anxiety, insecurity and even defensiveness. However, it’s vital that you act rationally and immediately because research suggests that children who are bullies are at risk of developing long-term problems with antisocial behaviour and have a higher risk of engaging in workplace harassment, child abuse, sexual harassment and substance abuse in later life.
Some statistics also suggest that half the kids who bully have been bullied themselves.
Your first reaction and the quality of your response will have a crucial effect on outcomes. Your responses can turn a catastrophe into an astonishing learning opportunity for your child and all involved, or they can generate an emotional backdraft—the short-tempered effect of a sudden whoosh of parental intensity on an already volatile situation.
• Breathe. Take a deep breath and be amenable to what you may hear.
• Be grateful you’ve been notified. Thank the parent or teacher for informing you and acknowledge how difficult it was for them to make the call.
• Take a moment. Accept that you may need time to process what you heard.
• Make a promise. Assure the parent or school that you will talk with your child.
• Take their details. Follow up if you need to get further understanding, or to discuss what you are doing to address the problem.
1. Try and stay calm. Remember, the behaviour is at fault, rather than the child. Try not to become too judgemental at this stage. Get the facts by listening to what others have to say about your child’s behaviour. Then, listen to your child’s side of the story. Try to understand what is behind the behaviour. Is your child being bullied? Are their friends bullies? Start the conversation.
2. Explain to your child what bullying is. Try to be calm about it. Talk with your child about what she/he is doing and try to understand the reasons why they have behaved this way, then look for ways you can work together to stop this behaviour.
3. Tell your child you think their behaviour is unacceptable, you won’t tolerate it and want it to end. Criticise their behaviour but don’t character assassinate or reject your child. Parents must hold their child accountable. Make sure they know bullying behaviour is inappropriate and why, and that the situation will worsen if the bullying continues.
4. Encourage your child to look at it from the other’s perspective. Parents should work to instill empathy and help the child understand the power of words and actions. Helping your child to understand how frightened and upset the victim feels, asking for example; ‘How would you feel if someone treated your sister this way?’
5. Talk to the school (or organisation where the bullying is happening) about its approach to bullying. Ask what you can do from home to support the approach. Call back regularly to check how your child is behaving. Support the measures that the school takes to stop the bullying.
6. Listen to your child for clues that she/he might be a victim of bullying. Some children bully because they themselves have been bullied. Make sure that your child’s behaviour is not due to a disability; sometimes children with limited social skills or behavioral issues bully others. It still needs to be addressed, but perhaps in conjunction with his/her Individualised Education Program.
7. Sometimes children join in a group that uses bullying behaviour to avoid being bullied themselves. If your child is bullying so she/he can fit in, talk to the school or organisation about strategies she/he can learn to resist joining in. If your child is bullying in a ‘gang’, help them to develop new interests and encourage friendships away from that group.
8. Tell your child that you’re confident they can change their behaviour. Tell them you know they are not really a bully because they are capable of kindness and empathy. Brainstorm alternative paths of action with them. Role play so that the child can learn the appropriate way to deal with a situation.
9. Observe your child’s social skills and ability to get along with others and help them improve these. You need to teach your child to manage and articulate his/her feelings in ways that don’t hurt other people. Provide appropriate boundaries for their behaviour.
10. Spend more time with your child. Listen closely to them and be more attentive in general.
11. Set the example at home. Don’t gossip or share rude stories about others in your home. Model non-violent behaviour.
12. Monitor your child’s use of the internet and mobile phones.
13. Act now. Life rewards action. It’s best to do something about bullying sooner rather than later. You can have the most influence on your child’s bullying behaviour while they are still young—the younger she/he is, the more likely they are to change the way they act.
1. Look for someone to blame. As in: ‘She/he didn’t learn that at home, it must be the school’s fault!’
2. Justify the behaviour by saying, ‘Well, this happened to my child so he was just acting in response.’ Remember the saying ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’?
3. Say, ‘I know my child and she would never do that!’ You don’t necessarily know who she/he is on the playground or at a slumber party.
4. Engage with the alleged victim’s parents.
5. Make positive comments about bullying. This will encourage them to keep doing it.
What to do if your child continues to bully
If it’s not the first time your child has bullied and you’ve already tried the suggestions above, you might need to take further steps.
If your child continues to bully, take a look at your home life and consider:
• The way you discipline your child: are you using bullying tactics yourself?
• The way you deal with conflict: have you taught him/her effective problem-solving skills?
• The ways you communicate with your child: are you positive or negative?
• Whether your child is anxious or frightened about their home life.
• The types and amount of television/games/computer time your child is experiencing: is your child being exposed to inappropriate or violent material?
If the bullying is happening at school or a sports club, working with the organisation will give you the best chance of changing your child’s behaviour.The school or club will probably have a policy on bullying, and they’ll use that to decide the consequences for your child. The most effective thing you can do is support the organisation’s decision.
You can also set up a ‘behaviour contract’ for your child. The contract is made with you, the school and your child, so he/she knows you’re all working together. The contract can include things like what will happen if she/he bullies and what will happen if she/he stops bullying. You could also include things your child could do instead of bullying.
Seek professional help, if needed. Sometimes a situation calls for more than parental intervention. Talk to the school about whether your child needs counselling to help them stop bullying, and whether the school can either offer it or refer you to someone. Counselling is particularly useful if your child is having trouble with self-esteem, dealing with anger or controlling his/her impulses.
Some schools offer a restorative approach to bullying where the emphasis is on mending relationships and ensuring problems won’t recur in the future. This approach has an optimal impact when a third party, such as a teacher or school representative is involved. If done well, and with everyone’s consent, it can be very powerful as the bully has to face the person he or she has bullied, and develop ways to repair the damage or harm they have caused. Seeing and hearing firsthand the personal impact of their bullying behaviours can be a great learning experience for kids.
Research shows that children who resort to bullying often:
• Lack empathy and compassion for others’ feelings.
• May be expressing anger about events in their life.
• Want to be in control.
• Have low self-esteem.
• May be trying to impress their peers.
• Come from families where parents or siblings bully.
• Do not receive adequate parental attention or supervision.
• Have parents that do not enforce discipline.
• May be the victims of bullying and are trying to retaliate.
Bullying is about the abuse of power. Using guidance rather than coercion and control are anti-bullying strategies. Bullying doesn’t occur when members of a group act in respectful ways toward each other and work toward cooperative ways to resolve issues and disagreements. Childhood can be ruthless, cruel and unpleasant. All schools have bullying. Parents can control the wellbeing of their own family units by creating a respectful home where the parents don’t debase each other; by choosing people who treat others with dignity for their own friends; and by looking inward and seeing what expressions of anger they may or may not be modelling.
Ultimately, we must realise that life is a learning process. Our children are relatively new at it, and they can’t learn without making mistakes. It’s how we help them deal with those mistakes that matters.