Q: After reading your recent articles on bullying, I wanted to ask a question that I don’t think you addressed. During PTA, I had a conversation with my son’s teacher and she seems to think there is a bullying problem in the class – and that my son is the problem. She said that since the beginning of the year, my son, who I will call Menachem, has been getting progressively more aggressive in the classroom. He started with small taunts and jokes and has now moved on to pushing and tripping. Menachem is the youngest of eight, and I have never had any problems with his behavior. Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do?
A: It’s very brave of you to ask these questions. Many parents in your situation think the teacher is exaggerating or even lying.
It’s hard for parents to identify when their child is acting as a bully if they are not present for the behavior. So, what are some signs you can look for within your own home? The Committee for Children reports that a child who bullies may exhibit some of the following behaviors:
A need to always get his own way
Spending a lot of time with younger or less powerful kids
A lack of empathy for others
A defiant or hostile attitude
Easily takes offense
Tips to Help Your Child Stop Bullying
Bullying can have devastating consequences, and not just for the bullied. Many times, children who bully continue this behavior into adulthood and have difficulty developing and maintaining relationships. Just as you would work to ensure that your child was not being bullied in school, it is extremely important to guarantee that your child is not bullying others.
If you are made aware of your child’s bullying behavior, there are several steps you can take to abolish the conduct:
Confront your child’s behavior. Let your child know that aggressive and mean behavior is unacceptable. Dr. Harvey Karp, the author of The Happiest Kid on the Block, says to explain, “Just as I wouldn’t let anyone hurt you, I won’t tolerate you hurting anyone else.” Make him aware in no uncertain terms that his behavior is completely intolerable to you.
Be a role model. Don’t let your children hear you bad-mouth other individuals or groups. It’s unreasonable to hold your children to a higher standard than you hold yourself. Treating others with respect will teach your child to do the same.
Find out what’s going on at school. If nothing has changed at home, ask him if anything has changed in his social life. Maybe he is struggling to keep his friends or perhaps his friends are pressuring him to pick on another child.
Remind him to say no. If his friends are the ones insisting that he bully others, teach him through role-play that he can say no. It’s important that he learn how to assert himself in the face of peer pressure.
Right the wrong. Talk to your child about how he can repair the wrongs he inflicted on another child. Perhaps he can write a letter apologizing to the other child or, if the other child is amenable, invite him for a playdate in order to create positive interactions.
Schedule an appointment with your child’s school. School staff that work with your child every day may be able to help you understand why your child is bullying and provide you with some helpful tools.
One of the hardest things for parents to contemplate is that their cute, innocent child is acting in a way that is hurtful to others. Possibly, understanding that these drives are natural and instinctive can help parents deal with this difficult behavior. Dr. Michael Thompson explains, “All human beings have aggressive impulses, even children. And kids show their aggression through teasing and intimidation – it can begin when they’re as young as two and a half.”
The best thing that parents can do to help children socially is to support their friendships. Welcome their friends to your home and allow your children to spend time with their peers. Let your child know that you want him to pursue friendships – if he chooses – help him arrange playdates and outings. Of course, don’t push your child beyond his comfort zone. However, the best solution to bullying is good, strong, healthy friendships.