We hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season! We’re excited for a new year! Our Family Night this month will be on Thursday, January 26th. We hope to see you there!
Our topic this month is bulling behavior, which is a difficult one. It is painful as a parent if your child is being bullied and it’s also painful if your child is doing the bullying. No one wants their child to be hurt or their child to be hurting others.
As adults, there is ultimately only so much we can do to try to control a child’s behavior. It is in the best interests of everyone involved to help guide children to both handle a peer who bullies them and to help a child self-regulate and make better choices by themselves. Adults cannot eliminate all negative interactions their children have with others. As a matter of fact, it is important that kids face some age-appropriate conflict and difficulties on their own. It helps them develop social and conflict resolution skills, as well as building self-esteem. These early, smaller problems help prepare them to handle bigger problems later in life.
However, if you child is the target of repeated bullying behavior or is displaying them, then it is the job of adults to intervene and help.
Help kids understand emotions. Talking to children, even infants and toddlers, about their feelings can help them understand and manage their emotions. Provide children with the right words when they can’t do it for themselves (“I can see by the way you’re kicking the chair that you’re angry. Are you angry because you can’t watch TV right now?”). It’s important for children to know that anything they are feeling is okay, but they cannot act however they want. When children are better able to regulate their emotions, they can problem-solve in ways that don’t involve bullying. Come up with appropriate ways for children to express their emotions so that you can offer a replacement for the negative behavior. All the classrooms here at the Midway YMCA ECLC have a solution wall or poster that staff will look at with children to help them chose a better way to handle a conflict or to calm down. Some calming down options include taking deep breaths, playing with play dough, and reading a book.
Check out the bottom of this post for some books about understanding emotions for kids..
Bringing other adults into the situation
Teachers: If your child is having problems at school that you feel they cannot manage on their own, join forces with their teacher. While you may be angry and upset, try to approach the situation calmly. Keep in mind that there are many children in a classroom and it is impossible for any teacher to see everything that is going on, especially if the bullying behavior is being done secretly. Bring up your concerns with your child’s teacher and see what they have noticed. If they haven’t noticed anything, they can now be on alert for such behavior and are much more likely to see it. They can also give you insight into relationships in the classroom. Sometimes certain children just don’t get along (just like some adults) so your teacher might already be aware of a personality conflict and can work to keep them apart, if appropriate. You and the teacher can come up with a plan of action together and ensure that there is consistency at home and school. You teacher can also help reinforce in your child the idea that they can go to an adult for help.
Other Parents: If you don’t already have a relationship with the parents of the child who is bullying, tread lightly. Understand that they may be defensive and unresponsive and you might not get the results you want. If your children are classmates or teammates, it might be best to let the teacher or coach deal with the situation. If you and the other parents already have a positive relationship, still approach the topic carefully and without accusing their child. Arrange a time you can talk without interruptions and avoid using the word “bully”. Try not to make judgments–remember, they love their child as much as you love yours and are doing their best to raise them, just like you are. Check out WebMD for some more tips.
Develop skills and provide opportunities to practice problem solving. If your child is doing some bullying, don’t panic! With patience and persistence, you can help your child interact more positively with other kids.
Help your child develop empathy by talking about it. Use books or tv shows to point out examples and provide opportunities to discuss other people’s feelings. You can also use real-life situations when you child has bullied (“How do you think Maddie felt when you pushed her?”) or when you child has been on the receiving end (“How did you feel when your cousin called you ‘stupid’?”).
Help them develop better conflict resolution skills by talking about it and providing examples (“Sadie was mad when Jose tried to take her truck, so she went to the teacher to get help.”) and by helping them think of solutions. Do not do this in the heat of the moment after an incident has occurred, but during conversations with your child or after there has been an incident and your child has had time to cool off (“I know you were really mad when Peyton wouldn’t let you have that crayon, but when you hit her, it hurt. It is never okay to hurt people. What could you have done differently?”). If characters in a book you are reading with your child have a conflict, talk to your child about how they think the characters can solve it.
Look at how your children act towards each other. There is evidence to suggest that bullying and aggressive behaviors towards siblings can be a predictor of bullying behavior outside of the home. Bullying at home between siblings should not be tolerated any more than bullying outside of the home.
Set appropriate limits and stick to them. If a certain behavior is getting a child what they want, they have no reason to change. Set reasonable, age appropriate expectations, make sure your child understands them and stick to them. For example, if you’re going to another child’s house for a play date, talk about the rules on your way there: “It’s going to be a lot of fun going to Amal’s house to play. You’ve been working really hard on using your words when you are upset . Let’s remember that at Amal’s house. It’s okay if something makes you mad, but it is not okay to hit your friend. If you hit, we will have to leave. Do you understand? If you get mad, what are some things you can do?”. Discuss safe and appropriate ways to handle conflict or anger.
During the playdate, help your child be successful if you see a situation is potentially about to go south (“Oh, let’s take a quick break from blocks. I see that you guys are getting upset with each other. Why don’t we all get some water and talk about it together?”). If your child does use bullying behavior, stick the limits you talked about together. “We have to leave now. You hit Amal and we talked about how it’s not okay to hit. I said if you hit, we had to leave, so we’re going.” On the ride home, you can talk to your child about what happened, what they could have done differently and how your child can make things right with his friend.
Remember that bullying behavior towards adults is not any more acceptable than bulling behavior towards other children. Children should not be allowed to hit adults or say mean things to them, either.
Reinforce success. When your child handles conflict appropriately, let them know you are proud of them! Be specific if you can (“I know you were really upset when Suzie wanted to play with your doll, but you decided to take turns instead of fight about it. That was really smart of you! Good job!”).
Don’t force your child to say “I’m sorry”. They very likely don’t mean it and are only doing it because an adult is telling them they have to. They don’t learn anything and the bullied child will likely not feel better. And as adults know from their own lives, sometimes “sorry” doesn’t fix things. Instead (once everyone has calmed down), have your child ask the person they hurt how they can make them feel better. If the other child doesn’t know, you can suggest a few options such as a hug, a high-five, a picture being drawn for them, or a compliment from the bullying child. This puts the attention and focus on the hurt child and helps the bullying child think about others.
Teach your child to be assertive. Your child can learn some skills that will help them stand up to bullying behavior. Practice being assertive and speaking loudly (“I don’t like it when you take my truck! STOP!”). Let them know that they don’t have to play with someone who isn’t being nice to them and teach them to say it (“I don’t want to play with you if you keep calling me names!”). Remind them that they can always go to an adult for help if the other child continues to bully them.
Know when to get more help
If you have a child who is exhibiting bullying or aggressive behavior and the above suggestions are not improving things, it could be time to get some extra help. If your child:
- Won’t take responsibility for their actions or consistently blames others for their problems
- Threatens to do physical harm to themselves of others
- Actually causes physical harm to self or others
- Gets angry quickly and frequently
- Has difficulty or takes a very long time to calm down when they are angry
- Breaks or throw things in anger
that could be a sign that your child needs some extra help dealing with their emotions. Teachers and other caregivers who spend a lot of time with your child can also provide insight into if your child’s behavior is developmentally appropriate. While their opinion should not be the final word on the matter, they might be able to give you an idea of if, in their experience, something else might be going on that is worth addressing at the next level. Here at the Midway YMCA ECLE, we are very lucky to have Colleen Dockendorf, a social worker, who is an excellent resource for families that could use a little guidance. She can help strategize with families as well as suggest other resources that may be of use.
Talk to your pediatrician about other strategies or resources to help your child and family. Remember, the younger your child is, the easier it will be to address these problems. A five year old with anger problems that are not dealt with can grow into a twenty-five year old with anger problems. A twenty-five year old that cannot manage their anger can cause a lot of damage to themselves and others.
Books about feelings (Midway YMCA ECLE tested and approved!)
Mouse is angry and his animals friends suggest many different ways to show it, which just makes Mouse more angry. In the end, Mouse has to find the way that works best for him.
A beautifully illustrated book that explores a rainbow of emotions.
A fun book with interactive masks for checking out all sorts of feelings for monsters and children alike
Wacky illustrations that help kids talk about their feelings