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My Child is a Bully...

When news of an 8 year-old boy in Klang who chose to snip his own tongue instead of taking a punch to his face from five bullies in his school spread all over the local media back in March this year, the public was outraged. While this boy is fortunate to still have his tongue (despite the trauma he will probably grow up with, thanks to bullying), what are be the thoughts and fate of the five bullies and their families? Many wanted to see those boys punished for their bad behaviour, but what made them behave that way in the first place? How does a bully become a bully and what if that bully was your child?  

Types of bullying

Bullying is defined as unwanted, hurtful, humiliating, and aggressive behaviour that occurs repeatedly in a relationship with an imbalance of power and strength. There are four types of bullying – verbal, physical, relational and cyber-bullying, each varying from mild to extreme.

What makes a bully?

Bullies are made, not born – that is something parents need to remember.

According to Tom Thelen, America’s top anti-bullying and motivational speaker, bullying is ultimately about power, the need to feel powerful and intimidating over another person (the victim). Research has found that a child tends to emulate the actions of the people they see around them. Their environment determines their behaviour, the way they manage crisis and their outlook on life.

Some of the environmental factors are:

  • Family values (eg, home with domestic violence, fractured or broken home, neglectful parents, parents or siblings who behave like bullies themselves).
  • Socio-economic status (eg, poverty which could lead to resentment and envy of those who are more privileged than the child).
  • Friends and associations in and out of school and in the neighbourhood (eg, living in a violent crime-infested neighbourhood or wishing to emulate a bully who is perceived by the child as ‘cool’).
  • Online interactions with other netizens (eg, hanging out with communities that encourage aggressive behaviour).

That is not to say that children in such environments are inevitably going to become bullies. It is found that parents who instill a strong moral and ethical foundation in these children would help these children become well-adjusted people who could tell apart good from bad behaviour. Hence, parental TLC and guidance are essential in helping children rise over circumstances such as poverty and broken homes.

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Signs of a bully

Bullies do not fit into a neat little box, but there are some traits that we can recognize to identify a bully..

When a bully lashes out, it is a cry for help, according to  psychology research. Bullies bully because they want something – be it emotional gratification or a material reward. Bullying has a distinctive pattern; if your child enjoys saying nasty things about others, making others feel bad about themselves, taking pleasure in teasing others, pushing and shoving others, threatening or possessing  money or toys that do not belong to them, you shouldn’t turn a blind eye – these could be tell-tale signs that need to be addressed. .

Then there is another targeted behaviour problem known as ‘The Jekyll and Hyde Child’. These children are capable of alternating between being a complete tyrant and a complete angel depending on the situation and their needs. Their charming ‘angelic side’ can fool parents, teachers and practically anyone, even causing them to believe that these children’s victims are lying.

When someone tells you your child is a bully.

If you get a call from the schoolteacher saying your son has bullied another kid, or if a parent comes knocking at your door with a complaint about something your child did to theirs, the first thing you need to do is to take the news calmly and do not at any point become defensive. You need to evaluate the situation by listening to both sides of the story, theirs and your child’s, and if required, pull in a neutral party to give an unbiased opinion about the situation. You need to understand what took place without letting emotions set in to see if it was a case of bullying or a mere misunderstanding, especially if you have never seen any signs in your child before.

There’s another important factor to also consider:is your child bullying because he’s a bully, or because he is standing up for himself against a bully. Or, does your child have any disability (eg autism) that might be getting in the way of his social behaviour?

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Dealing with the bully under your roof

If it is confirmed that your child has behaviour problems (not due to a disability), it needs to be addressed and stopped once and for all.

  1. Talk to your child. Let them know you respect them enough to hear them out and want to work with them to put an end to this. They need to believe they can trust you to let you in on their issues. At all times, do not be judgemental, do not compare and condemn your child. Instead, be firm and tell them that what they did was wrong, and thus they have made you unhappy. They need to know that there are higher authorities that would take drastic actions against them if this were to go on. Their behaviour would not just embarrass the family – it would affect and even damage their future.
  2. Be close to your child’s teachers and foster a good relationship with them. Therefore your child’s behavioural problems can be monitored and managed constantly and more closely.
  3. Get professional help. Seeking help from a family member or a counsellor at school school can help discover the deep-seeded cause of this ectopic behaviour in your child.
  4. Change your parenting style, especially if the problem is you. If you are neglecting your child’s need for attention, increase positive attention so that they do not have to go on bullying others for it.
  5. Discipline your child as soon as you notice signs of bullying immerging in them. Tell them that there would be consequences to face if they crossed the line. Putting anything on hold might make them think you can be manipulated and controlled as well.
  6. Teach your child how to respect and support their friends. Teach them empathy and how to get along socially with others. Include playtime or social time in their daily schedule if they are still young.
  7. Screen your child’s circle of friends. They spend a lot of time with their peers and the wrong ones can be detrimental.
  8. Help them to build their self-esteem. Get them involved in various activities such as sports, art, music, drama or robotics as this will build their confidence and make them feel less inferior.
  9. Improve your family bond by eliminating any form of abuse or violence that may be occurring in front of your child. Be a role model to them and keep their home as stable as possible since they could be lashing out at others due to fear, anger or depression caused by home events.
  10.  Provide positive feedback. When your child succeeds at handling a conflict well and shows compassion and empathy for others, praise them and recognize their efforts. Positive reinforcement can help improve their behaviour more effectively than punishment.
  11.  Pay close attention to their online activities. There are many psychologically insidious games online (eg violent ones) that could be influencing your child to be a bully.

Changing your child’s ways may take some time and a lot of effort, but do not give up. Use positive reinforcement to tap into their consciousness and soon you will see your child turn over a new leaf.

References:

Empowering Parents. Available at www.empoweringparents.com

NoBullying.com. Available at www.nobullying.com

Parents. Available at www.parents.com

Psychology Today. Available at www.psychologytoday.com

Raising Children. Available at www.raisingchildren.net.au

The Ravive. Available at www.theravive.com

The Star. Available at www.thestar.com.my

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