Battling Bullying Behaviour

Bullying is a widespread problem among children, adolescents and adults.  Bullying is not gender, race, age or religion specific, and there is no ‘type’ of person who bullies, or who is bullied.  For the purposes of this article the focus will be bullying of children by other children, and children by adults (particularly their parents), but it must be acknowledged that bullying, and the different types of bullying are not limited to these groups.

How to recognise the signs of bully behaviour

The following, among many others, are signs that your child may be a bully or involved in bullying behaviour:

  • Reports from school/day care of your child biting or pushing other children.
  • Low frustration tolerance – cries easily or hits and throws tantrums.
  • Pinching
  • Hair pulling of siblings or peers
  • Name calling
  • Stealing or ruining of another’s possessions
  • Making threats to others.
  • Teasing
  • Talking nastily about other children.
  • Social isolation of others
  • Your child comes home with money or more toys/belongings that are not theirs.

How to recognise if your child is being bullied at school:

The following, among others, are signs that your child may be being bullied:

  • They tell you they have a bully – take them seriously!
  • Lowered self-esteem and self-concept.
  • Withdrawal from social situations or specific friends.
  • Cries easily.
  • Exhibits school refusal.
  • Concentration and achievement difficulties.
  • Unexplained headaches, stomach aches or nausea.
  • Frequently ‘loses’ personal belongings.
  • Sleep disturbances (including bed wetting).

Understanding the reasons a child might demonstrate bully behaviour

Toddlers under the age of 2 are still in the oral stage, and therefore will explore using their mouths.  This may (unfortunately) include biting of others in order to express their frustration or anger (or to test the waters with new friends).  An altercation between two toddlers over a toy may result in a physical fight as they do not yet have the words to ask for the toy back, or explain that they would like a turn.

In addition, toddlers and children are influenced by what they observe from others.  If their parents or caregivers even pretend to nibble toes, or they see older siblings playfully pushing one another, they will think that these behaviours are normal and acceptable (without knowing the context behind them).  Children who come from families where a parent is absent, or parents are relatively uninvolved may become involved in bullying behaviour.  In this way they are bound to receive some sort of attention from teachers, parents, or friends (even if it is negative attention).

Children who are exposed to violence (whether in movies, games or in real life) will understand physical hurting as a method to resolve conflict or express oneself.  Lack of self-discipline, an inability to effectively manage stress or anger and inadequate communication skills in order to talk about aforementioned feelings are often precursors for bullying behaviour.  Media models such as Simon Cowell from Idols or Sue Sylvester from Glee may also give a message of bullying as an indication of strength and authority – something that more susceptible children, or even children who are bullied, may see as appealing and inspiring.

What to do if one of the parents is a bully?

Adults who bully were most often bullied as children or may be bullied by somebody else such as a colleague or spouse.  Bullying can become a perpetual cycle until one or more parties in the cycle develops ulterior methods to express their frustration, anger, disappointment, or other feelings which result in bullying behaviour.

As mentioned, children will behave according to what they have witnessed.  If parents are bullies – either towards their spouses, children, or other people outside the family, children will pick up on this behaviour.  They will understand their parents’ behaviour as acceptable and therefore use such behaviours in their interactions with peers, parents or teachers. It is difficult to discipline a child for using physical or bullying behaviour in their interactions if the example being set for them is by their parents – the same people trying to initiate the discipline.

Parental bullying of their children can often take the form of mocking, taunting or humiliating in order for them to perform well or better at a specific task.  This tactic will more often than not have the opposite effect, resulting in a child with low self-esteem and a lack of drive to try.  Too autocratic discipline strategies can also be thought of as bullying.  Discipline aims to teach, bullying serves to control and can instil fear or humiliation in a child – there is a fine line.

If parents are aware of their behaviour, and feel it is something that is affecting their child and their relationship it is important for parents to seek their own professional help in order to find their own methods to handle frustration.  In addition to personal therapy for parents, parental guidance is an effective route to assist parents in how to handle their children in a way that works best for the family unit.

What if your child is demonstrating bully behaviour to a sibling or to children at play school?

Schools and class teachers need to be made aware of bullying behaviour in order to handle the problem on a school level. Anti-bully policies, awareness drives or campaigns at school can be a helpful way to empower the bullied, or make the bullies aware of the distress they may be causing others.  These campaigns or rules will also offer the bully or bullied an opportunity to receive help and guidance they may need.

In addition, the following are some ideas that parents and teachers can use to correct or eliminate bullying behaviour:

  • There need to be age appropriate consequences for your child’s behaviour. As with most discipline, the rule of thumb is one minute of ‘time out’ per year of age.
  • Model positive, non-physical conflict resolution and behaviour.
  • Never hit or bite back – the idea of ‘teaching your child a lesson’ is in fact only teaching them that it’s acceptable to respond in such a way.
  • Apologise for your child if he won’t – that way he will see how we are supposed to reparate.
  • Never allow your child to hurt you – even playfully. Don’t ignore or laugh it off.
  • Set clear rules in your house and teach morals and values of care in your house.
  • Offer life skills lessons about bullying, and teach empathy.

It is very rare that bullying behaviour is just bullying behaviour.  Bullying is a result of a number of various societal, familial and interpersonal factors that impact on a child’s ability to communicate effectively, or deal with their own stress appropriately.  It is important to remember that even the bully requires love and attention because they too are struggling on some level.  All important members of the bully and bullied child’s lives need to work together to assist them in effectively expressing themselves and uncovering the real reasons for their behaviours or feelings.

Written for Mamas and Papas Magazine


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