For parents, finding out your child is being bullied can be a hard thing to handle. For parents of the child doing the bullying, it can leave parents confused and unsure how to move forward.
Getting defensive is a waste of time and it doesn’t help matters.
“Some parents have a hard time believing their child is a bully, while others would likely not be as surprised as they may have noticed signs earlier on,” said Dr. Rachel Needle, executive director, Whole Health Psychologist Center. “Regardless of which of these it is, it’s important to stay calm, avoid blame and address the issue. Trying to understand your child’s behavior is a good first step.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identify bullying as any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings involving an observed or perceived power imbalance. These behaviors are repeated multiple times or are highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.
Cyberbullying vs. Bullying.
“Cyberbullying is bullying done in cyberspace via text messages and social media sites,” said Needle. “Cyberbullying can be done anonymously, as to protect the identity of the person doing the bullying. “It can be scarier because often times you don’t know who the threat is. In an online environment, most perpetrators don’t fear getting caught. They have a sense of security as well as no immediate victim response, making it easier to depersonalize and have less empathy for their victims.”
In addition, in cyberspace things travel to larger audiences rather quickly, and typically continue living in cyberspace forever. Cyberbullying can cause psychological, emotional, and social devastation, says Needle.
Communication is key.
“Talk to your child using open ended questions regarding the incident in question,” said Needle. “Be sure to keep the focus on your child allowing him/her to take responsibility for their actions, rather than framing it as a response or result of what someone else did,” said Needle.
If possible try identifying the cause for the behavior.
“As a parent, attempt to understand the causes or contributing factors of the behavior and explore other, more positive, ways your child can get their needs met,” Needle said. “It’s also beneficial to look at yourself and your home to be sure you are modeling positive behaviors. Children observe and model our behavior including non-verbal’s such as eye rolling and how we talk about and treat others. Parents can ask questions or have conversations that support their children in understanding the impact they have on others and developing empathy.”
Seeking the help of a licensed medical professional is always an option.
“It’s important to try to understand why your child is behaving the way they are,” said Needle. “A therapist could be helpful in developing this understanding and getting to the root of the behavior. Children who are bullying should begin therapy to understand their behavior including motives and contributing factors to that behavior. In addition, parents and therapists can support most children in building empathy and understanding the impact of their behavior.”