My Child Is A Bully: What Should I Do?

Have you been told your child is a bully? If so, don’t ignore the complaint. Get ready to help your child. Read on to know how.

By Susan Philip

My Child Is A Bully: What Should I Do?

The Bar Association of India defines bullying as 'systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress on one or more students'. It goes on to say that the act of bullying 'may involve but is not limited to: teasing, social exclusion, threat, intimidation, stalking, physical violence, theft, sexual, religious or racial harassment, public humiliation or destruction of property'.

Bullying is a problem in schools worldwide and India is no exception. A nation-wide study conducted in 2015 by the Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB) and ParentCircle revealed that one-third of school children were bullied. In a survey conducted by the Teacher Foundation and Wipro Applying Thought In Schools (WATIS) in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Bhopal, Guwahati and 10 other cities over a five-year period, 42% of children between ages 8 and 12 years admitted to being bullied in school. Kshirsagar et al published a study titled, 'Bullying in schools: prevalence and short-term impact', in the journal Indian Pediatrics (2007). The study included children in the 8–10 year age-group from three randomly selected public and private schools in a rural area. The findings of the study revealed that 'there was no significant difference in the prevalence of bullying amongst boys and girls in co-education schools', though the incidence was appreciably lower in all-girls schools.

As parents, we always tend to worry about our child falling victim to bullying. But, what if it was the other way round and our child was the bully? We would need to be just as worried even then. 

Let’s delve into the issue of bullying and find out how we can help our child who has taken to bullying.

Why children engage in bullying

There are many factors that can push a child to become a bully; however, the intention behind bullying is usually the same—to cause hurt to the victim.

In the case of a young child, bullying is usually a reflection of similar behaviour she may have observed in adults around her. It may also be that abuse is the norm in the environment in which the child is living in.

In slightly older children, however, the motivation for bullying may be more complex and could stem from various factors. These include:

  • A broken or dysfunctional family
  • Lack of attention
  • A privileged background with no encouragement to be empathetic
  • The desire to be accepted by one or more established bullies

An interesting fact about bullies is that they tend to bully those who they believe won’t complain about the mistreatment being meted out.

Signs that tell you that your child may be a bully

If you are sensitive to your child’s behaviour, you can pick up signals that would tell you that he is engaged in bullying, even before you get to hear about it from others. Some behaviour that you should watch out for are:

  • Disinterest in positive pastimes
  • Display of abnormal levels of defiance and aggression at home
  • Inability to tolerate even gentle teasing by family and friends
  • A tendency to display cruelty towards pets and younger siblings

In addition, if you find that your child possesses stuff that you haven’t bought him and is vague about where he got them from, your parental antennae should go up.

What you should do

As parents, when we are told that our child is a bully, our instinctive reaction is one of denial and disbelief. But, control that knee-jerk and take the complaint seriously. Make an effort to find out if the complaint is true. For, it may have serious consequences for your child such as difficulty establishing and sustaining healthy friendships and bonds.

So, the sooner you understand the underlying causes and address them, the better the chances of your child being able to shun the undesirable behaviour and adopt positive qualities.

Here are some ways to help your child get over the tendency to bully:

  • Connect with your child: Make sure that you spend enough time with your child every day. During these conversations, try to understand what makes her indulge in bullying. Is it a way of seeking your attention or is it a reflection of similar behaviour demonstrated by adults around her? Once you understand the cause, take appropriate steps to correct the situation. You can begin by sensitising her to how her actions hurt the victims. You can do this by helping her put herself in their shoes. Encourage your child to re-establish broken bonds by sharing her favourite toy with the victim, or inviting him for a birthday party or a visit to the zoo.
  • Embrace diversity: If your child is picking on others merely because they are different in some way – looks, stature, way of speaking, interests and so on – help him understand that diversity should be valued and every human treated with respect. The best way to teach this is to model the behaviour yourself.
  • Help your child change friends: Find out more about your child’s close friends. If they are aggressive towards others, your child could be following their lead to earn their respect or  be accepted as a part of the group. Use patience and tact to get her to break away from such company and become friends with better-behaved children.
  • Seek help: If you find that you are unable to solve the problem on your own, it would be a good idea to talk to your child’s teachers and the school psychologist on how best you can all work together to sort out the issue.

Taking corrective measures early will help your child overcome the tendency to bully and feel accepted and valued. Whatever may be the trigger for your child to indulge in bullying, assure her that you love her, and it’s only her behaviour that you disapprove of. Support her to overcome the trait by being sensitive and committed.

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