I have to be honest: I don’t think the bullying information out there addresses what PARENTS can do to help if their child is the bully. And someone noted that parents of bullies are often bullies themselves, but that doesn’t make the child’s bullying a learned behavior. It also doesn’t mean that the parent is incapable of attending to the issue.
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
Taking pause to realize that most bullies are trying to fill some kind of emotional void in their lives is a huge step forward. If you are the parent of a bully, don’t be angry with them–be compassionate. Know that your child is hurting and their hurt is spilling out. Find the source of the hurt. They may just need to be loved in different ways than you’re used to (or different from your other children).
“Date” your bullying child: set aside special one-on-one time. Make it a happy time. Make them feel important, because often, that is why they bully: they don’t feel important or good enough. Nobody is saying that is your fault. There are books written about how parents of special needs children are sometimes a matter of a personality style of a loving parent simply compounding a problem in a child because the combination doesn’t match. It’s the same with bullying: your style of loving and recognizing a child may simply not be getting through to them.
Parents of bullies usually believe they are loving parents. Some of them will be able to hear the above and quickly shift gears to engage with their child in new ways, hoping to identify what is hurting their child and help mend that broken heart. But some parents will read the above and feel anger and bitterness–because the parent is suffering those same hurts.
If you are a parent who is suffering yourself–if you see that your household is not happy or just YOU are not happy most of the time… if there’s a lot of strong words and slammed doors… take pause and tend to yourself. If you are not feeling happy, recognized or loved, it’s a hard thing to help your child feel those things. If you could take pause the next time you feel that feeling rise and recognize that anger is the manifestation of either hurt or fear–and recognize what it is that is making you hurt or afraid–you could address the real issue and feel better. If you could turn your words away from telling others what they’re doing wrong and ONLY speak about how you feel (which will feel weird and vulnerable–and scary if you think nobody will care), things will change. If you really can’t control it, you need to find help to do it. Meditation is a huge help with this. I know, I know… it seems crazy, but it’s really true. Read this entry on how to figure out how to do it, and know that it will take daily practice for a while before you can actually get through a meditation without thoughts constantly creeping in. You’re not doing it wrong, you’re learning how to do it–like handwriting: it doesn’t look pretty when you start. When you’re about to tell your child (or significant other) what they’re doing wrong, take a moment and ask yourself how big of a deal this really is. Why does it matter? Is it a personal control issue? Or is it truly necessary to make them stop for their safety?
When is the last time you looked at your child and really, truly appreciated something about them without a “but…” Perhaps you haven’t. Maybe that’s because nobody’s done that for you. But is that what you want? For either of you?
When you can attend to the ache in your own heart, you can attend to stopping the ache in your child’s heart. For some parents, their child is going to be the only unconditional love they will ever know. And it’s there if you can allow yourself to love them and be loved–setting aside the things that truly do not matter.
My child has been the victim of bullying. I feel as badly for my own as I do for the kids that have done it to him–because I know they are hurting. And if you know a family who has a bully in the family, don’t keep quiet–help those parents. They may truly not know what to do, and they are probably really worried about it (even if they have a brave face).
- “Resolving Conflicts: At Home” (in a non-violent way) from ACT Against Violence
- “Not my kid! Parents may not recognize bullies” from NBC News
- “What If Your Kid’s the Bully?” from MomLogic.com
- “Bullying Resource Page” from MomLogic.com
- “What Parents Can Do: Advice for Parents and Adults About How To Deal With Bullying” from National Crime Prevention Council (information for both parents of bullies and those being bullied–scroll to end to see all of it)
- “How to Avoid Raising a Bully” from LiveScience
- “Behind Bullying: Why Kids Are So Cruel” from LiveScience