This post is part of “Bully No More,” an editorial series hosted by the Fort Worth Moms Blog.
We send our children to school praying for safety and protection from all forms of evil, worried about how they will respond in the face of adversity, deal with the “mean” teacher, or defend themselves against the class bully. But what happens when our child is the school bully? In order for us to raise children who aren’t bullies, we need to understand what exactly a bully is.
As a society, we mostly think of bullies as people with sociopathic tendencies stemming from unstable homes where the parents are absent, or the children who lack the necessary problem solving or coping skills to integrate themselves into positive relationships. But as we grow up, we realize bullies are pretty much everywhere at every age and within every socioeconomic background. We see bullies of low socioeconomic backgrounds who attempt to hide their status via means of bullying in efforts to climb the popularity ranks seeking to gain power. On the other hand, a bully of high socioeconomic status often bullies to maintain his or her power and influence over others. No matter the root cause of the bully, the root of the bullying is the same: To achieve power where he or she receives a higher social standing and to control situations and/or people to his or her advantage. At the heart of every bully, there is a yearning for power.
Despite their shared goal, bullies differ in gender. Studies show that males are far more likely to physically bully each other than females. Their bullying is direct and clear cut through hitting, coercing others, and physically damaging things around them. Females are far more likely than males to use what psychologists call relational aggression: Using social exclusion and isolation to harm one’s social status through the use of manipulation to control their peers or peer groups.
When we read these descriptions, our minds are flooded with encounters we’ve had with adults who are bullies, or maybe we shamefully shake our heads remembering a time when we were the bully. For some, we may even think of our own children, wondering if we are raising a bully in our own home. Research shows that nearly 40 percent of kids experience more bullying at home than at school, mostly by brothers. With that statistic, what can we, as parents, do to prevent our child from becoming that bully?
- Evaluate our home environment and interactions with others. Our children notice what we do. When we use fear-based tactics to get what we want, they learn from us. When we use manipulation to get what we want with our spouse, they notice that, too. When we fight on the ball field with the coach on the opposing team, our kids see us using aggression to achieve the outcome we desire. While sibling rivalry and competition can be great, when it comes to children and parental relationships, they don’t need to be in competition. In our homes, we want our children to always feel cared for and secure. Children need to know that they are loved equally despite their flaws. When they feel secure at home, they typically don’t hunger for that security outside of the home and with their peers, which is often times a trigger for bullying.
- Manipulation-proof our parenting. Manipulation is a bully’s best friend. From an early age, we need to set boundaries, limitations, and expectations for our children. This is not always easy, especially when family dynamics have a mixture of strong-willed and compliant children. It is in the early years when our children learn to test their limits, and they learn to manipulate us to get what they want. As parents, we must not be oblivious to their manipulation tactics, but instead, we should treat their manipulation skills with extreme seriousness because it is often this same exact manipulation effort that is used in bullying others as they age. When we excuse their manipulation and buy into it in toddlerhood, we are inadvertently teaching them how to get what they want. And what is a bully’s number one goal? Getting what they want.
- Help our children develop coping skills. Research shows that bullies commonly struggle with anger, frustration, learning disabilities, anxiety, aggression, and impulsivity. When we see these traits intensify within our children, it can be overwhelming and hard to deal with, but effectively channeling these emotions can help deter our children from becoming bullies. Constantly affirming the positive attributes in our children and raising them up to know they are loved despite their challenges can give them the security boost they need to deter them from the need to pick on someone who they view as a threat to them. If insecurity is a leading cause of a bully mentality, we need to help our children learn to cope with their weaknesses and learn to feel secure in who they are.
- Stay involved in our children’s lives. It is commonly believed that students with involved parents not only have fewer behavior problems, but also are more likely to graduate high school. Whether it’s being a member of the PTA, having your child’s passwords to all of their social media accounts, or getting to know all of your child’s friends, staying involved in their lives is one of the fool-proof ways we can raise our children not to be the bully. A child who knows his or her parents are always around and care about how he or she treat each other is more likely to treat peers respectfully.
- Don’t defend the bullying — correct it. In those cases which we do discover that our children are dabbling in bullying behavior, the best way to help them is to correct them. As parents, it’s sometimes too difficult to admit that our child may struggle with coping mechanisms or with anger or aggression. He or she can be as sweet as pie to our face, but when no one is watching, can manipulate his or her way into anything. While we are our child’s only advocates, when these behaviors are brought to our attention, we must not be quick to defend it; instead, we should be firm in correcting it. It takes a village to raise a child. We need to team up with teachers, other parents, and family members and work with them to see all aspects of our children in order to promote healthy, positive relationships.
While we cannot always control the environmental factors that influence our children outside of the home, we can control the environment inside our home and those factors can make all of the difference in the world.