It’s the call from school you never want to get. There’s been name-calling, pushing, or a refusal to let someone play or sit at the lunch table. Your heart drops — your child is being bullied at school.
Then the teacher startles you with a shocking plot twist. Your child isn’t the victim at all. Quite the opposite — your kid is the bully. They’re the one making other kids nervous, sad, or scared. Now your heart’s racing with embarrassment, confusion, and, probably, some anger.
Schools and playgrounds are very different places today. It’s not always easy to spot bullying. That’s why addressing — and stopping — it when you do know about it is so important. So what do you do? Try these tactics if you’ve just found out your child is being aggressive at school.
Bring It Up
You must figure out what’s going on, so don’t wait to talk about it. Sit your child down for a conversation as soon as you can. Resist jumping in with an angry, “What do you think you’re doing?!” Give your kid an opportunity to tell you their side of the story.
Share what you heard from the school and let them explain. Ask why they’re acting this way. Does it make them feel powerful or cool? Do they like the attention, or does it make them feel better about themselves?
Listening is the most important thing. If you can figure out what’s behind their behavior, you’ll have a better idea of what to do next.
Hang Up on Cyberbullying
In-your-face bullying still happens, but it’s largely been pushed aside for something much worse — cyberbullying. Online bullies hide in the internet’s shadows. They send threatening texts, make snide social media posts, and spread rumors through anonymous chat rooms. Meanwhile, these messages reach a victimized child through their phone even when they’re supposed to feel safe at home.
If your child is a cyberbully, consider replacing the device they’re using now for communication with a safe phone for kids. These phones strictly limit what your kid can access. No more games, social media apps, internet access, or picture messaging. They may not like it, but it takes away the easy avenues for hurting someone else.
Impose Meaningful Punishments
As tempting as it may be, resist giving your kid a non-specific punishment. Just grounding them for a year won’t send the right message. An effective punishment directly addresses the misbehavior and lasts for a specific amount of time.
For example, if your child is sending mean texts, take away their phone for a few weeks or months. Let them know they can earn the phone back if their conduct consistently improves. If their bullying has been severe, though, consider keeping the phone long-term and pursuing therapy.
Forgo Public Shaming
You’ve likely seen this trend. There are plenty of pictures online of parents publicly shaming their kids’ bad behavior with embarrassing signs or clothes. Don’t do it. It’s an awful idea, and it sends exactly the wrong message to your child.
Doing something that shames, hurts, or humiliates your child teaches them it’s OK to treat other people that way. If you do it to them, they’ll be more comfortable doing it to someone else. Basically, this strategy turns you into a bully, too.
Talk About Empathy
You may be able to prevent future bullying by talking to your child about empathy — thinking about others’ feelings. It’s important they acknowledge what they’ve done is wrong and that it might have lasting consequences for the child they bullied.
Did something ever happen to your child that hurt their feelings? Remind them of the incident and how it felt. Tell them they’re making someone else feel as bad or sad as they once did. That could be enough to flip the switch in their head to stop what they’re doing.
Plan the Apology
It’s not enough for your child to admit they’ve hurt someone else. They need to apologize. It will be hard to move past the problem if the other child doesn’t get a heartfelt “I’m sorry.”
Apologies can come in many forms. You can help your child decide how to say they’re sorry. Whether they apologize in person, over the phone, in a letter, or via text may depend on the situation.
Keep Tabs on Their Actions
Apologies are important, but future actions are even more so. Let your child know you’ll be checking up on them regularly. You need to know they’re working hard at making better choices. If you’ve decided to let them keep their social media accounts, be sure you have the passwords. Tell them you’ll check their accounts randomly to see if they’re treating everyone respectfully.
Enlist help from their teachers, too. Those classroom leaders have a front-seat view of your child’s behavior for a big chunk of the day. Ask for daily or weekly reports and focus on praising your child for improvements in their behavior.
Work With the School
If the bullying happened at school, there’s a good chance your child will face discipline there as well. Many schools have specific policies about how to handle bullying. Talk with the teacher or guidance counselor about those consequences. Even if you’ve already punished your child at home, support the school’s disciplinary decision.
It may be tough, but it’s a good way for your child to learn that their actions have consequences. It also shows them you won’t rescue them from bad behavior. Letting them think you’ll be that kind of knight in shining armor is the last thing you want to do.
No parent ever wants to get the news that their kid is hurting someone else. It’s information you can’t ignore, however. Once you know, it’s your job to correct the behavior and teach your child to do better. Put these strategies into motion, and you may soon have a happier, kinder kiddo on your hands.