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  • Talya Ressel

Never say never - when your child is the bully

Bullying is not a new topic. It is a dynamic that children (and adults) have been facing for as far back as known and many people can recall a time they experienced it, with the effects being felt for many years. Bullying is different from being mean, or having conflict with someone. It involves one or more people singling out and deliberately, repeatedly hurting or harming someone physically, emotionally or socially, with a power dynamic involved. And while people might typically think of physical or verbal forms of bullying, other significant types of bullying include social, emotional and cyber bullying, which is a recent phenomenon that we have started experiencing as a result of living a digital life.

Many parents assume that bullying is a normal rite of passage for children and it is for the child to work out between themselves. However bullying can be extremely damaging and requires the intervention of others. We know that is the case for the target or victim, but what about those doing the bullying? What if your child is the bully? Most parents are horrified at the thought, with denial a common reaction – but it’s important to tackle the issue head on, as children that are bullying others require as much support in order to change their behaviour.

5 signs that your child may be bullying others:

  • Often gets into physical and verbal fights with others

  • Struggles to accept responsibility for their actions

  • Has difficulty understanding and expressing empathy for others

  • Has friends who bully others

  • Needs to win or be best at everything

Why do they bully?

There is not one specific reason why a child may choose to bully others, but possible reasons include:

  • Trying to maintain their power or popularity

  • Struggling with their own low self-esteem

  • Difficulty managing their own emotions such as anger or frustration

  • They have gone through negative experiences themselves, possibly even victims of bullying too and wish to direct some of that suffering onto other

  • Whatever their reason, it is a definite sign of distress

What next?

  • Do not freak out! Give yourself a moment to breathe, calm down and think rationally

  • If possible, work together –with the school and/or other families involved

  • Talk to you child - try to understand why they have done this behaviour and make it clear that’s it okay to admit mistakes

  • Remember, it is the behaviour that is the issue, not the child/person! It’s an important distinction as shaming and criticizing will make the situation worse

  • Consequences -these must be clear, logical and direct.The type and severity depends on the age, behaviour and context of the bullying.

  • An apology - the child must be involved in some form of repair, where they can acknowledge their actions and the impact it has had on the other person.This can be to the person directly in a letter, a sms or face to face or it can be in a discussion with you/other people.The goal is to build empathy for others, which is critical in their development

  • Consider your own behaviour and model for them more effective ways to react in difficult situations

  • Communicate and monitor – by keeping the discussion ongoing and remaining aware of their behaviour, we are able to address things as they arise

  • If there is no change in their behaviour, consider seeking professional help

It’s important to remember that bullies are not ‘born’ and it is not a case of ‘once a bully, always a bully’. Children are still trying to figure things out and making mistakes along the way and it is our role as adults and caregivers to help them learn new ways.

Join me live on Wednesday 4th July on Expresso Morning Show on SABC 3 where we will discuss the topic in further detail.

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