As with many issues related to growing up, openly talking about bullying before it happens is most helpful for children. Teach your child how to recognize and react to bullying, regardless of who is the victim. Also, talk about and model empathy, which is being sensitive to and understanding how other people feel. This can help prevent your child from becoming involved in bullying others.
Children on both sides of bullying incidents need help. Adults must first recognize that bullying should not be ignored. This includes the form of bullying that makes others feel excluded and shunned. No bullying behaviors should be considered a normal part of growing up.
Bullying is abusive behavior. If you witness bullying, get involved and speak up. Make it clear that you will not tolerate it. Ideally, build an alliance with a bullying child's parents first. If you confront the bully on behalf of your child without his or her parents around, you risk putting the child on the defensive. Also, children who bully often are skilled in turning their parents against you. Don't give them the chance to come up with a different version of the real story. And remember that parents may be the role models for a child's bullying behavior.
If you think your child is bullying others
Aggressive behavior often starts early in a child's life. Although it is normal for young children to hit, fight, and argue with each other, most will learn to control these impulses. You can help your child understand that his or her words and actions affect other people. You play an important role in making your child aware of others' feelings.
Your child may be bullying another if he or she:
- Comes home from school with extra money or "new" toys, books, or clothes.
- Is cruel or mean when talking about other children.
- Excludes other children from activities.
If you see any of this behavior, take action. Discuss the situation with your child as soon as possible before the behavior becomes routine. Ask questions to find out what is going on in your child's life. It may be that your child is being bullied and is dealing with it by targeting other children. Or your child may not yet know the importance of understanding the feelings of others (empathy).