It’s hard to avoid headlines and news stories about bullying. Bullying isn’t a new phenomenon, but this tech-savvy world has made it more anonymous and more dangerous. It’s definitely different than when I raised my kids.
While there are many kinds of bullying—verbal, physical and emotional—emotional is probably the most common. In the Internet age, emotional bullying is when someone spreads lies and rumors, refuses to talk with someone or makes someone do something they don’t want to do.
I would like to approach this topic a little differently. So often we talk about the kids being bullied. And while that is important, another question should be asked. Why do kids bully? And how can parents change this behavior? If you have ever been called by your child’s school or day care and were told that your child is in trouble for hurting another student—whether physical or emotional—it can sometimes be a shock. Many parents don’t know how to react and might overreact, making the situation worse.
There are many reasons why children bully: insecurity, underlying anger or not understanding it is unacceptable to pick on those who are different because of size, looks, race or religion. To understand why your child might be bullying, look to friends, teachers and counselors. Consider the people who are around your child most, including yourself.
Often, parents forget how much children absorb from our own interactions and conversations with others. When they hear you use harsh words toward someone, they might feel it is OK.
Kids feel pressure to fit into a social group and bullying is a way to do that. If that is the case, consider getting your child involved in activities outside of school, so he or she can make friends with other kids.
Once you understand the possible causes of your child’s bullying, make it known that there are consequences to the actions, such as time outs, losing privileges, etc., though you must stick to the punishment. On the flip side, positive reinforcement can work, as well. If you notice your child doing something nice for someone else, praise him or her.
If your child has a history of anger, arguing or defiance, talk to your doctor about the need for therapy. A family counselor or behavioral health professional can work with your child to understand the root of the issue and help teach your child empathy. When going through this process, it is important that your child understands that you are supportive.
Bullying is a tough issue. No matter how your child might be involved, your involvement is important, but it also is helpful to empower kids to resolve their own differences. The balance is difficult. Start by getting more information from a trusted source. There are many great articles and resources for parents on the American Academy of Pediatrics parenting site, healthychildren.org.
Dr. Joseph Kahn is Department of Pediatrics Chair at Mercy Children’s Hospital, stjohnsmercy.org.