It’s horrible when your child is being bullied but it can be equally hard when you find out that it’s YOUR child that is bullying others.

We all want to believe that our child is sweet and kind and well behaved so when we find out this might not be the case we really start questioning our parenting and the way we have raised our child. Why have they turned out that way and what have we done wrong?

How can we help the child to STOP bullying:

● Admit there is a problem and don’t blame others:
Let’s start by admitting that your child has a problem and avoid denial or putting blame on others, including yourself. It takes courage for a parent to admit that their child has a problem and that they, and maybe you, need help dealing with it.
● Be curious not furious
As easy as it is to deny the situation or blame others, it’s just as easy to get mad and start punishing the child with a torrent of shame, blame and criticism.
That simply does not help – it can make the child feel worse and even label themselves as ‘bad’ instead of helping them to solve the problem and start doing the right thing again.
Your child needs you to be on their side and help them to get through this. Kids who bully are not happy either. They know deep down that it is wrong and most likely they are feeling really bad and want help to stop.

So first let’s get to the bottom of the WHY – why do they do it?

1. Peer or group pressure: some children may bully to fit in with their peer group. They think that by putting others down they might get attention or be accepted into a ‘popular’ group.
2. Fear of being bullied themselves: I was bullied as a child and when it finally stopped I was tempted to join in with the bullying because I thought I would rather be on that side of things! Also, they might be afraid that if they don’t join in then they will be the next target.
3. Lack of attention at home: children are very receptive to what is going on in a family household. If parents are going through a divorce for instance, or are constantly arguing, a child might feel neglected. A separation may be hard for the child to cope with. He or she may seek attention through different outlets. Through bullying they suddenly get a lot of attention from peers, teachers and parents. Negative attention is better than none or too little.
4. Need to control: this often develops out of a need to feel popular at school. Some children who bully their peers want to dominate their classroom and feel like the leader of the pack. They have a need to be in control and have found that bullying satisfies this need.
5. Seeing people being bullied – the domino effect: how do you and your partner treat each other? How are siblings allowed to treat each other? Are they exposed to it in school or elsewhere and see nothing being done about it so they are just copying it as normal behaviour? Bullying is a learned behaviour – they are simply mimicking what they see and sense around them.
6. Lack of understanding of people’s differences: some children engage in bullying behaviour due to a lack of understanding, differences in backgrounds, cultures and other identity markers. They have not been taught the beauty of diversity and see it as a threat.

So what steps can we take: 

● Give positive attention at home
It’s important to be aware of the type of attention your child receives at home, from both parents and siblings. Make sure your child receives positive, encouraging attention that praises his/her strengths and builds healthy self-confidence. Make sure they are exposed to positive relationships at home between you and your partner or friends and siblings. You might not have a great relationship with your partner or ex, but at least show them that you can still be respectful. Model kindness and inclusion: young children are just learning how to have healthy relationships with others, so it’s important for parents to show examples of treating others with dignity and respect, and to model empathy for others.

● Educate your child on peer differences

Exposing your child to different ways of life can help them better understand the diverse world we live in and make them less likely to lash out against those who are different from them. Talk about the wonderful differences in our world and how it is OK that we are all different sizes, colours, cultures, languages etc. Ask them about children and adults in their school who are different from them but also about the similarities they DO have with them.

● Ask them how they want to be treated

● Ask them how the other child is feeling right now

● Create a solution TOGETHER

Talk about what their ‘next move’ will be. Suggest things they can do to make the situation better. Ask them what they think they can do to make things better? Ask them if they need help from you, a teacher or a friend. You could suggest they write a letter to the person they have hurt, offer them their favourite toy or invite them over for a playdate. Maybe they find it hard to be alone with this child so perhaps they like the idea of getting together with the child and their parent, with you there as well, for a play in the park or to go to the movies etc.

● Participate in bullying prevention campaigns

Introduce your kids to bullying prevention concepts at a young age. By exposing your child early on, we can help end bullying in schools. Stand for the Silent and Stomp Out Bullying are just a few organisations that aim to teach our kids what bullying is and about the harm it does to everyone involved.

And lastly, if you feel that your child is not open to change then please do seek help.

Best wishes, Mette Theilmann, Director of Predictable Parenting and founder of the Parenting Community app