Yesterday I wrote a story about how to help your sons navigate “Mean Boy” relationships. It got me thinking: There are a lot of bullies roaming around out there. How do you make sure your kid isn’t one of them?
Don’t believe your kid isn’t capable of bullying
Your kid absolutely is capable of bullying, even if you don’t think so, according to family therapist Jennifer Cannon, who discussed the issue with Parents.com.
“Ninety-nine per cent of parents will say, ‘No way, not my kid’ and get defensive,” Jennifer Cannon says. “But every kid is capable of bullying, even the kid you think is an angel.”
That sentiment was echoed in our Offspring Facebook Group, where one member said, “I can shamefully say that despite being bullied as a kid and a teen, I engaged in bullying myself, and I can pretty much guarantee that my parents would have said that I was not the kind of kid who would do that.”
So why did he do it? To get a laugh out of a girl he had a crush on. Kids deeply want to fit in and be liked, and that desire can lead them to bullying—or at the very least, going along with another kid’s bullying behaviour.
Model non-bullying behaviour in your own life
Kids mimic what they see, and if they see you ordering store employees around, heckling fans of the opposing football team or mocking your brother-in-law during family dinners, they’re going to think that’s an acceptable way to treat others. Don’t do it.
Or, assuming you’re not acting like a jerk yourself, call out the bullying behaviour you see around you. When your uncle is rude to the server in a restaurant, tell him to knock it off and apologise to the server on your table’s behalf. Don’t just tell your kids that bullying isn’t OK; show them you mean it and model what it looks like to stick up for others.
Spend quality time with them
Kids often bully because they crave attention — even if it’s the negative variety. Kids who are neglected or otherwise overlooked in one area of their life may act out in other areas. Make it a priority to nurture your relationship by spending one-on-one time with them regularly.
Also, surround them with other good adult role models, as well as opportunities to build quality friendships that leave them feeling supported and secure.
If they do bully …
Kids make mistakes. Maybe they’re mimicking behaviours they’ve seen from others; maybe they’re being bullied themselves; or maybe they just had a bad day. They can learn from it and, with your help, they can stop bullying. Try this advice from Parents.com:
Sit down with your child, speak in a calm, firm tone, and ask him what happened and why he behaved a certain way. Be a good listener and avoid blame. Kids need to understand that it’s ok to admit they made a mistake. Ask questions to help him understand how his behaviour affects others: “Is what you did respectful? Did it hurt someone? Would you want someone to do that to you?”
Emphasise fair treatment of all people by saying, “We don’t behave that way in this family because we respect other people, and we don’t want other people to treat us that way,” suggests Walter Roberts, a professor of counselor education at Minnesota State University, Mankato and author of Working With Parents of Bullies and Victims.