Parents play an important role when it comes to bullying prevention, which is why it isn't always easy to admit when your child is a bully. But whether it's naivety or denial, at some point we need to face reality and help correct our children's behaviour.
Believe it or not, being a bully can have just as many harmful effects as being a victim. Past studies have found that bullies are more likely to have a mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety, and are also more likely to "engage in high-risk activities such as theft and vandalism."
But how can you tell if your child is an aggressor? In honour of Ontario's Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week (Nov. 19 to 25), we asked the founders of Parenting Power, Julie Freedman Smith and Gail Bell, to share three questions parents should ask their children if they suspect they are a bully.
1. Help me to understand...
If you want to get your child to open up, you have to start simple. Freedman Smith and Bell suggest starting with "Help me understand..." to get your child to explain what's happening in their life.
In an email to HuffPost Canada, the educators gave the following examples: "Help me to understand what happened today. Help me to understand your relationship with x. Help me to understand why the school called me today."
2. There's a lot about your story that I believe, but is there anything about the other side of the story (principal or other child) that has merit?
Freedman Smith and Bell drew this question from an article by parenting educator Rosalind Wiseman, entitled "After The Dreaded Call." According to them, this question "shows that you are open to listening and supporting your child and gives your child a chance to see the other person's side."
Helping children put things in perspective is beneficial for two reasons. First, it helps them become considerate people, and second, it improves their social understanding, which can help curb bullying.
"Perspective-taking involves making sense of the minds of others," Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making, told Psychology Today. "[Children] need to become more adept at understanding and interpreting the thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes of other people."
3. How are we going to move forward together to help you to change this behaviour?
"It's important for the parents to work with the child to set up a clear, consistent plan for moving forward," Freedman Smith and Bell said.
Showing children what acceptable behaviour looks like is one way to help them learn. "Working with them and role-playing can be helpful," they suggested. "It shows actions and words that a child can use moving forward. It can be helpful to invite the child to make amends."
However, "we must outline clear, consistent consequences and follow through," they noted. "These kids need to be supported with words and action that show they are loved and that they can have a positive way of belonging within the community."
It's OK for [your child's bullying] to be surprising. In order to move forward, don't take it personally, address it, be proactive and ask for help.
KidsHealth.com notes that children bully for a number of reasons, which is why it's so important for parents to understand the reasons behind their child's actions. "In some cases, kids bully because they have trouble managing strong emotions like anger, frustration, or insecurity," the site reads. "In other cases, kids haven't learned cooperative ways to work out conflicts and understand differences."
If you pinpoint the cause, determining the appropriate course of action will be much easier.
"Bottom line: It's OK for [your child's bullying] to be surprising. In order to move forward, don't take it personally — address it, be proactive and ask for help," Freedman Smith and Bell advise.
While the questions above are great conversation starters to help you get to the root of your child's bullying behaviour, Freedman Smith and Bell warn that there are two questions parents should avoid at all costs.
According to them, parents should never ask a question they already know the answer to or the classic line, "What were you thinking?!"
For the former, Freedman Smith and Bell say it's better to "state what you know rather than asking" because "when we ask a question to which we already know the answer, we are inviting a lie on top of the initial misbehaviour."
And the latter question won't get you anywhere. "You will either get, 'I don't know," or 'I was thinking I wanted to punch John.'"
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