It’s hard to imaging anything more upsetting, frustrating and confusing than learning that your own child is the bully. There is also embarrassment as you learn gradually the whole story (because you learned it first from your baby and s/he didn’t say the whole truth, or maybe didn’t say the truth at all). Well, now you know it. Your baby teased another child. Maybe even hit another child. Took toys from another child. Your baby made another child cry and feel miserable. Now you know the truth. What to do next?
1. Show your shock to your child. It is ok (in fact desirable) to be honest with your child and show your true feelings. You are shocked? Say it. You are angry? Verbalize it. It is fine to say to your child that you never thought s/he would hurt somebody else’s feelings. Express your feelings honestly. And then, without initiating any punishment give your child some space to think things through. At this point, don’t offer any solution. Don’t talk about punishment. Explain to your child honestly what you feel, and now, when there is a lot of tension created, leave your child alone to work through this tension. If your child tries to initiate the conversation with you, it is ok to say that you are not ready to talk to him/her yet, because you are still hurt by his/her behavior.
2. While your child is thinking things through, you should do the same. It is important to identify what fuels your child’s behavior. Is she frustrated with something and tries to dump her frustration on another child? Is she insecure and tries to compensate by making another child feel even worse? Sometimes, the children don’t realize themselves that their behavior is hurtful. So your next step depends on the primary causes for your child’s behavior.
If she is insecure, you will need to work on her self-confidence. You might even have to explain to her that true confidence comes from within. Furthermore, by behaving this way, she is losing friends she has, because ultimately she becomes less likeable.
If she is frustrated with somebody else, and displaces her anger on other kids, you will have to help her work through her anger. Explain to her that it’s ok to feel angry, and dumping it on somebody else will indeed give her temporary relief. However, it doesn’t reduce her anger long term, and next day s/he will feel angry again. because all she is doing is creating a cycle of anger.
If she is not aware about how the other child feels, you might have to explain it to her. Also explain that the damage she is causing is long term, and she is much better off creating friendships.
3. When you talk to your child again, you need to be clear that hurting other people is unacceptable. That although you love your child, you cannot be her “friend”, cannot play with her, talk to her, do anything with her while she treats other people like that. You have to be very firm expressing your disappointment and your inability to support her in any way, while somebody else is hurting because of that behavior. Your child will be upset, but if you want this pattern to end, this conversation has to be memorable and serious.
4. After you see that your child is upset and worries about the other child’s feelings you can go back to section 2, and help your child with his/her problems. If this is insecurity, you need to express your belief in your child. If s/he struggles creating her own friendship, offer play dates and joined activities. Re-think your child’s extra-curricular activities to include those and instill respect for others. If she is frustrated with something else, offer your help. Basically, after you see that your child is remorseful, offer your support.
5. It is always helpful to make sure that your children have some chores. This is the way to learn respect for others. They also feel that they contribute something to the family (and not just continuously receive stuff from their parents). Finally, through the chores, children create a sense of accomplishment (which should be as respected as any other achievement in sports or academics). Children who do chores are usually more connected with their family members and they create friendships easier.
6. When do you need to seek professional help? You should look for help if you see that your child lacks empathy. If your child doesn’t understand (or doesn’t care) how other children feel. This could be an important symptom of an underlying condition, which should be ruled out.
7. Finally, we should always remember that sometimes children misbehave because they are seeking adults’ attention. Even negative attention better than 0 attention. Is your child’s misbehavior one of those cases? Is s/he trying to tell you something? It’s always great to have at least half an hour a day (preferably more of course), when you give your complete and undivided attention to your child, which means, turning off TV, Phone, Computer and looking at your children, asking them questions and giving them answers (preferably honest). This might be all they need to feel confident, secure and happier.