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What should I do if I discover my child is a bully? The first thing is, die from horror and embarrassment! I’ll now let you off the hook a little bit – all kids make mistakes. Bullying is a mistake – it is a kid trying on a dud strategy, coupled with some immature logic and immature impulse control. Therefore, any child could be a bully. So how do you respond? Firstly, make sure your child is not being unfairly accused but, if it is true, don’t justify the child’s actions. By all means, emotionally support your child but that does not mean minimising the offensiveness of bullying.

Next, even as you are telling them off (and you should!) let them know that your main disappointment is not that they are ‘bad’ but you are upset because you know they are a good kid and capable of better behaviour. It may be appropriate to set penalties and wind back trust around technology that has been used for bullying but let them know, even as you are removing the trust, that you looking forward to trusting them again.

If the child doesn’t know already, you should leave them in no doubt that bullying is completely unacceptable. Express it in terms of rules (kids understand rules) – such as, no hitting, or no rude or threatening talk or texts.

Why are they bullying? There can be many reasons, but it’s odd – many bullies share something with kids who get bullied a lot – low self-esteem. They want to impress the victim and bystanders with their power and gain acceptance in a group. I am sure much of the teasing and taunting that hurts victims so much is done by kids who have very little idea of the pain they are causing. They are more interested in the applause and approval of their mates. And so, displace the need for bullying by helping your child build their self esteem in healthier ways – opportunities to play to their strengths and feeding back to them about their good qualities.

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John Cowan

Writer, speaker and broadcaster, John Cowan shares his insight and opinions about the latest in parenting and family news in New Zealand. Hear John speak on radio stations every week throughout the country and regularly on national TV.  Follow @JohnCowanNZ on Twitter

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