How to deal with a child bully - Part 1

My child's teachers complain about his bad behaviour. My child's teachers say he bullies other students. My child is destructive. My child hits and threatens other children. If your child is doing any of these things, then you need to act now. There is something not right. Get useful tips on what to do if your child is a bully.

A couple I know, often got complaints about their eight-year-old son, bullying other students. The class teacher would send notes through the diary, send them WhatsApp messages and even took to calling them over the phone, to complain. The anxious parents were at their wit's end, not knowing how to handle the situation. They knew things had got out of hand when they were asked to meet the principal. The complaints were serious; their son had been bullying his classmates. He pushed them around, damaged their possessions, used foul language, resorted to name-calling and had even punched a few students.

The couple was deeply embarrassed by this revelation. The man told me that he had never been so humiliated in his life. He seethed with anger and was reluctant to accept that their son was capable of such behaviour. In his view, his child was just a 'playful' kid, and the teachers had made an issue out of nothing. The wife, the more practical of the two, reasoned with him that the school wouldn't concoct stories, and there was a problem with their child.

I understood the father's stand; no parent believes the worst of their child. But, I had seen the child play with other kids; he had a different disposition. The mother had taken the episode in the right spirit and had approached me for guidance.

Bullies exist

Yes, it's difficult to come to terms with the fact that your child is the perpetrator – the one who inflicts harm. But bullies exist. Bullying is a serious problem, and the bully a misfit, disruptive element. However, we fail to analyse the reasons for their behaviour. It diverts from normal behaviour and is a sign that all is not fine with the bully. Something in the child's life pushes him to behave in an insensitive manner.

Bullying is an indication of severe distress. The behavioural issues are a result of extreme anxiety and depression, that usually is a result of something not right in the child's world, the child's environment is typically toxic, and the behaviour is an outlet to all his pent-up emotions, which are hard to speak. The kid bully has no one that he can trust and talk openly about all that is bothering him because he doesn't know that he can confide in a responsible adult.

Why does a child bully another

Children are innocent, soft and naïve; they do not have even an ounce of vileness in them. So, how come some children turn into these vicious little creatures. From where does that behaviour come? Children display all types of behaviour and often mimic what they see. A bully may not necessarily be a bad child; he might be imitating what he has seen happen in his environment.

Children are at an age where they are discovering who they are, so a bully may not be that horrible child that we see, he may still be in the process of finding himself, fighting battles surging within him, things that overpower his goodness and gentle side.

There can be many reasons why an otherwise polite and well-mannered child goes around being nasty. I have been an educator and have for years worked closely with children. Here are the lessons that I learnt through experience, books and workshops and seminars on education.

Seeks acceptance

The bully wants to be part of a group, sometimes a 'powerful' group that indulges in intimidating other children. The child wants to somehow fit into the group and looks at the best avenue available to him. He begins mimicking the group members and as a result, begins bullying others, with the hope that they'd make him a part of their gang.

Is being bullied

This kind of bully is being bossed around, maybe by an older sibling or someone in the playground or maybe someone on the bus he takes to school. The child reacts by being hostile towards children who are weaker than him. He makes use of their vulnerability to claim a sense of power.

Facing abuse

The child could be in an awful situation where a trusted person is abusing him. A very strict parent who believes in corporal punishment. The abuse could also be sexual abuse done by a guardian or house help or another older child. Such a child finds an escape from his traumatic experiences by bullying others.

Seeks attention

A lot of bullies fall in this category. They suffer from low self-esteem and act aggressively to seek the attention of others. This type of bully is often lonely, and this is his way of asking for help and attention. Maybe he has very busy parents who don't give him time. The child could be suffering from a psychological problem that makes him want to be the centre of attention, any which way. Being in the limelight for the wrong reasons also gets attention.

Has an assertive disposition

Children who always have their way begin to bully other children, first in small doses to see if that works and then in more assertive and obnoxious ways. Often these children lead very pampered lives, where their demands are all met. They never get a 'NO' at home, so that makes them want their way everywhere.

Inferiority complex

Some children suffer from a severe inferiority complex, which could stem from the way they look or their families economic background etc. They create this aura and become difficult to approach. They use bullying as a strategy for shielding themselves. They mask their insecurities with rude behaviour, so others become scared of them and do not remind them of what in their eyes is their shortcoming.

Are immature

Immaturity also makes children act like bullies. They are too young to comprehend that their behaviour is unacceptable and that it affects others. Children can be very nasty, and it's not that they do it deliberately, they do it unknowingly.

Living traumatic experiences

A child who witnesses anger and violence at home sometimes begins to behave in the same manner. Children watch how one parent treats the other, the verbal abuse and scathing remarks, don't go unnoticed. He replicates the anger and violence that he sees at home. If there is a history of domestic violence in his house, the child looks at violent behaviour as something powerful. Sometimes it is anger and helplessness that makes him do what he does. His powerlessness to stop the violence at home turns him violent among those that he can intimidate.

Action plan

The first thing a parent must do is acknowledge that there is a problem. Teachers and the principal do not make things up; they do not have a grudge against your child. Why would they do that?

The next thing is to talk about it with your child. The focus should be on speaking and listening, not on reprimanding. You need to get to the bottom of it and understand why your child is behaving in a loutish manner. Get your child's side of the story. Explain to the child that what he is doing is not good behaviour, and you need to know why the child does it. It is crucial that you pick up cues; it's possible that your child won't open up the first time you talk. Don't give up, be reassuring and win the child's trust so that he can speak to you, without fear.

Analyse your environment, is there something at home that could be acting as a trigger? Correct it immediately, for it is impacting your child in a negative manner. You need to ensure that your child fosters healthy, friendly bonds with his peers.

The signs are right there

The couple I mentioned at the beginning of the article was having domestic issues. There were some serious problems between them. There were regular fights at home, there was a lot of psychological abuse and verbal abuse, breaking of household items and threats. The atmosphere in their home was not conducive for their children. I was witness to one of their fights and tried to reason with the man but to no avail.

I could never get down to addressing the bullying problem, with the child, but realised that it was the environment in the house that was making the child bully others. We soon lost touch because they perhaps became embarrassed with me knowing too many of their dark family secrets.

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