My child is bullying others
Receiving a complaint about the behaviour of your child is difficult. Your instinct will be to defend them, and when the complaint is a complete surprise, you may deny that your child could ever act in this way. However tempting it is to disregard criticism, refusal to act will be detrimental to the healthy development of all children involved.
Try to avoid feeling like your parenting skills are being attacked, as there are many reasons why a child's anti-social behaviour can go unnoticed in the home.
Although it can be hard to accept, all parents must come to terms with the following:
- As children grow up, you stop knowing everything about them. They start to develop a private life, and keep their own secrets;
- Children rarely behave exactly the same among family as they do at school or with friends;
- Children can deliberately mislead. They are receptive to their parents' behaviour, and can intelligently use this to their advantage.
There will of course be cases when a child is unjustly accused, but an in-depth investigation with the school will always bring this to light.
Signs to look out for
Children who are most likely to bully may:
- often feel the need to be in charge;
- find it difficult to cooperate with adults or other children;
- be insulting about other people's appearances and backgrounds;
- use discriminatory words around racism, homophobia or sexism in a casual manner;
- be amused by other people's distress;
- not accept responsibly for their actions;
- be a good manipulator;
- have friends who are known to bully others;
- have a tendency to be attention seekers.
Responding to a complaint
If your child is bullying, it is important to address their behaviour immediately, as the effects of bullying can be severe for both the bully and their target. If you are contacted by the school regarding your child's behaviour, it is important that you respond appropriately. Please follow the guidelines below.
Listen. Do not interrupt or be aggressive. Listen carefully to what is being said, and write everything down for reference.
Clarify the details. Repeat back what you have heard to ensure you have understood the situation.
Voice your concerns. Make it clear that you find the behaviour described unacceptable, and that you will be talking to your child about the incident.
Establish expectations. Ask the school how it wishes to proceed, and discuss ways in which you can work together in the best interest of all children involved. Request a copy of the anti-bullying policy and procedures to ensure you are best informed about the process.
Offer information. Do not use defensive language or make accusations, but if there is information about your child that would be helpful to aid in a better understanding of the situation, do make this clear.
Follow up and monitor. Schedule a meeting with the school to discuss how the bullying will be monitored and reported.
If you are approached by an angry parent, do not engage in argument. Try to calm the situation by thanking them for bringing it to your attention and insisting that you have every intention of taking the complaint seriously. If they continue to be abusive, ask them to contact you when they are in a position to talk about it effectively, or prompt them to follow the school's reporting procedure.
Encouraging positive behaviour
Children who bully others can always change their behaviour, but they will need help and support. Work through the following guidelines and keep a record of progress.
Talk calmly with your child. Encourage them to talk about their insecurities, concerns and fears. Try to establish if there is a clear reason behind their behaviour, and ensure they know you are there to help.
Role play. Many children who bully lack empathy. Help them to understand how their actions may affect others through discussing bullying scenarios.
Provide clear guidelines and consequences. Set specific and substantial consequences for bad behaviour such as the loss or suspension of a valued privilege. Ensure you are consistent and follow through with your promise.
Zero tolerance. Make it clear that their behaviour is unacceptable and take immediate action if they are involved in further bullying incidents. Choose appropriate discipline and stay in touch with the school.
Offer alternative solutions. Help your child to find alternative ways to deal with emotions such as anger, insecurity or irritation.
Build self-esteem. Try lots of new activities to find things they enjoy and are good at.
Give positive feedback. Positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment. When they handle conflict well, show compassion for others or deal with their emotions in a positive way, give specific praise.
Lead by example. Promote a non-aggressive and cooperative environment at home. Be aware of how you talk to your children or deal with your own strong emotions or conflicts in front of them, as children may act this out in other settings.
Be realistic. Understand that changing a child's behaviour doesn't happen overnight. It takes dedication, patience and support.
Seek help. If your child has a behavioural disorder or disability, seek advice from your doctor. If they are dealing with strong emotions or grievances, they may benefit from speaking to a counsellor or youth worker.
Collaborate with the school. Schools are legally obligated to address bullying, so if your child is involved, expect to be contacted by the school. When this happens, follow our guidelines on responding to a complaint, and make sure your child also gets the support they need to change.
Parent Advice Line
Guidance and support for parents and carers of children facing a bullying situation. Call 020 7823 5430 (Mon-Thurs, 9am-1pm, calls charged at local rate) or email the Parent Support Adviser.