If you receive a phone call from a parent or the school and you are told your child is a bully, your first reaction is likely to be disbelief. How could that innocent bundle of joy that you held in your arms just a few years ago be the source of grief for their peers?
But as difficult as such news is for any parent, denial will only make a bad situation deteriorate. You should plan to take immediate actions to stop this destructive and anti-social behavior. Since your child will almost definitely deny if you confront them directly, you will have to ask them a couple of indirect questions around their views on bullying as well as keenly observe them when they are around other children.
Some of the signs that would confirm they could be bullying other kids include regularly bragging to other children, terming other children as wimps, the absence of empathy, a need to always have their way and a hostile, defiant attitude.
If the warning signs all confirm your child is bullying, start by getting in touch with the school your child attends to establish what may be the possible triggers for this behavior. Most school counselors are trained in identifying and rehabilitating bullies and they could give you some helpful hints on what is the cause and what you need to do.
Next, ensure that your child understands in no uncertain terms that bullying is unacceptable and you will not tolerate it. Immediately step in and stop any bullying that takes place in your presence. Make sure that there are consequences for bullying such as the withdrawal of some of their privileges that you will only restore once they demonstrate corrective behavior.
Look inwards. Could the trigger for your child’s behavior be something in your home? Maybe it is the violent programs they watch or sadistic video games they play. Or it may be a crushed self esteem as result of constant teasing from an older sibling. Once you identify the trigger in your home, take steps to put a stop to it immediately.
Find out who your child’s closest friends are. What do they do for fun when they are together? Peer influences can be particularly strong especially for teens. Being around other kids who bully others will naturally rub off on your child. Talk to your child about getting involved in activities (e.g. sports) that will connect them with kids that provide a more positive influence.
Set a good example. It will be difficult to convince your child to stop bullying if they observe you constantly disrespect and ridicule the people around you. Observation is the most powerful medium of learning positive behavior.