You’ve just made a terrible discovery about your kid. Your heart drops into your stomach and you feel hopelessly overwhelmed.
It’s one of those things that you’d never prepared for as a parent and now that it’s here, you’re at a complete loss about what to do.
You just discovered that your kid is the bully.
Before you’re tempted to dismiss it as impossible, consider this:
20% - 30% of kids admit to cyberbullying.
Let that settle in for a moment. That shocking stat means that unless you know 100% of what your kid is doing online there’s always a chance they’ve been the bully at some point.
So, what do you do if you discover this terrible fact?
1) Ask them why they’re bullying.
Let’s be clear.
It’s never ok for your kid to engage in online or offline bullying but you need to know the entire situation before deciding what to do next. There might be something else going on that is leading to this aggressive behavior.
When you sit down to talk with them, first explain the situation that helped you discover they were being the bully. Next, ask them why they're doing it. There are many possible reasons why bullying occurs.
It’s part of a larger drama happening at school and they’re trying to protect themselves.
They’re being bullied by someone else and they’re processing their anger by taking it out on another person.
Their self-esteem is suffering and they like the feeling of power that bullying gives them.
They're facing social exclusion so they’re desperately grabbing the attention they want with this negative behavior.
And many more possibilities.
Getting a clear picture of what’s going on will help you dive into the root cause of their behavior and guide you on what to do next.
2) Decide on the consequences for being the bully.
It’s not exaggerating to say that childhood bullying can have deadly consequences for a kid's mental health.
Kids who are cyberbullied are 2x more likely to attempt suicide than those who are not 1.
After you’ve talked to your kid and discovered the root cause behind their behavior, it’s time to decide what to do next. Here’s where it gets tricky because there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
There will be dramatically different responses to a situation in which your kid is being bullied by someone else or one in which they’re seeking to get attention because they feel left out. This is why it’s so important to sit down and get the full story first.
Think about the situations we discussed earlier and what you might be missing out on if you skipped that step.
You’d lose the opportunity to stop the bullying your kid is suffering from.
You’d never know that they are struggling with their self-esteem and need you to help them cope with it in healthy ways.
You’d never have the chance to identify the areas where they feel neglected and help teach them the right way to ask for attention.
Think about it. What extra harm could be done by simply rushing to consequences?
In all these situations, dealing out swift consequences without digging deeper into the root behavior can actually make the problem of your kid bullying others worse. Instead of helping your kid learn new skills, this can create rebellious behavior that propels them to bully more people.
What if we could help instead of accidentally making the situation worse? There should be consequences for being a bully but doing it with the entire picture in mind will create long-lasting change that pure punishment won’t.
3) Get the right people involved to address the bullying.
Now that you’ve dealt with the bullying inside your house, it’s time to take the next step and report bullying to people like the school administrators, a teacher, and the victim’s family. While it might seem tempting to keep the issue quiet, think about it this way.
- If the roles were swapped and your kid was the victim, how would you want the situation handled?
- If your kid was being bullied by a classmate, wouldn’t you want the school to take action?
- Even more importantly, wouldn’t you want the bully to realize how much their actions hurt your kid?
When you get the school involved, you put up safeguards to help further victimization. Perhaps the other person was being bullied by multiple people and no one knew it until you said something. Or maybe your kid was caught up in a vicious cycle of bullying and the person hurting them needs to face justice too. Whatever the situation, bringing this to light can create positive change to stop bullying throughout the entire school.
4) Create long-lasting change to prevent bullying.
When you got people involved to address the bullying, you spent time putting yourself in the shoes of the victim and their family. It’s time to have your kid do this with you. Have them consider this: how would bullying affect their emotional and mental health if the roles were reversed?
This is critical to creating long-lasting change in your kid. While consequences are necessary, they don’t help your kid truly realize the impact of their actions on the other person. Asking your kid to imagine switching roles with their victim develops empathy as they look beyond themselves and put themselves in the other’s shoes.
It’s this genuine emotional response that truly changes your kid from being the person who bullies to the one that stands up to bullies.
So we get it, discovering your kid is a bully is a shock but it’s not hopeless.
When you take the right steps, you can help your kid through a process that not only ends the bullying behavior but helps them grow as a person.
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