By Dr. Dan and Bli Dugi, authors of The Principle Gang, books on anti-bullying for 4-11 year olds
What can parents do if they suspect their child is taking part in bullying behavior? First, take a deep cleansing breath and remain calm. Parents that are actively engaged in their children’s lives from the earliest days of childhood are very comfortable with receiving “praise” from other adults who observe their child’s good behaviors. Unfortunately, there may come a time that the opposite occurs and parents need to have a coping mechanism in place for when that same child gets called out for behavior that is unbecoming of a nice girl or boy. Don’t be the parent that immediately ruffles their feathers in preparation for an all out personal attack. Children can and will make mistakes, your child can and will make a mistake, and all children can learn from that mistake. So parents, let’s go back to school and learn your ABCs.
Assess the situation. Has your child been exhibiting angry or hurtful behavior at home to a younger or older sibling? Does your child seem to be upset, sad, or withdrawn on more days than he/she is happy or engaging? What is the source of their anger? Is there family strife in the home? Could dad or mom be modeling negative forms of behavior? Does your child gravitate in their free time to games, movies, online media that promotes negativity and violence? Be honest with yourself when answering these questions and do not assess your environment through rose-colored glasses. The notion that “boys will be boys” and that “girls go through stages” is an excuse to not act.
Be calm in the storm. If the school administration, teacher, or another parent contacts you to report your child’s negative behavior, remain calm and gather the facts thoughtfully regarding the situation. Most parents will initially feel a gut-wrenching emotional response to this type of report about their child. Don’t immediately project blame onto yourself or your spouse, as this type of call is not a “personal attack.” Sit down and evaluate the family dynamics and how your child’s behavior at home has played into those dynamics. After your fact gathering and personal assessment has been completed, it will be time to meet with the school counselor, teacher, or administration and calmly discuss the issues at hand. Realize you each have a common goal to fix the problem and this is not a finger-pointing, placing-blame session.
Correct any and all inappropriate behavior or potential bullying behavior that your child may be exhibiting. Discuss school and home activities and behavior on a daily basis. Remember that behaviors and attitudes can change, and careful observation and guidance will help your child develop long-term successful appropriate behavior with his/her peers. Realize that children model the behavior of their parents and/or other significant adults in their lives. Be careful what you are “feeding” your child in terms of your own behavior. Correcting poor behavior takes effort that may cause frustration on both parties, but nonetheless will yield positive results.
Life is often called a journey. Parents and children will navigate this journey together, which includes roads through hills and valleys with both highs and the dreaded lows. When parents hold the map and point out the way to go, the valleys will become less frequent and children will have a firm foundation or plateau to always come back to when future conflicts arise. Don’t take for granted the hills of success either. Make sure you are celebrating and rewarding good behavior as well, because often times a child misbehaves to seek attention. Remember your ABCs if you find your child has detoured into one of those valleys as you assess the situation, be calm, and correct poor behavior. May you and your child have an excellent school year and navigate with success!