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Is your child a bully?
Rupal Patel
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July 31, 2007

Bullying may be defined as a situation wherein one individual takes undue advantage of another's weaker position.

A common enough behavioural pattern amongst children, it may manifest in a direct way -- hitting or kicking another child, name-calling, taunting, threatening, taking away or damaging the other's toys, making him/ her do things he/ she doesn't want to do, etc. Bullying can also be indirect, such as spreading rumours or trying to get others to reject the victim.

People often dismiss bullying amongst kids as a normal part of growing up. Harmless teasing that happens once in a way is normal, but consistent bullying is harmful. It can cause young children and teenagers to feel tense or uncomfortable. It lowers children's self esteem and makes them feel like something is wrong with them. They may feel scared and unsafe, which may lead them to avoid attending school or hanging out with friends. Severe anxiety may also take a toll on a child's health -- he/ she may take ill. In extreme cases, teens who are bullied may feel they need to take drastic measures or react violently. Others even consider suicide. For some, the effects of bullying last a lifetime.

Why do children pick on other kids?

There are a lot of reasons why children indulge in bullying those who give them the upper hand:

~ It gives them a sense of power and may serve to increase their popularity amongst their peers.

~ Some do it to seek attention from parents, teachers and/ or peers. The attention received may be negative, but that is irrelevant -- they just want to be noticed in some way.

~ They may be jealous of the child they are bullying and want to put him/ her down in some manner.

~ They may have been bullied themselves. When they have been at the receiving end of it, they may feel that it is alright to treat someone weaker than them in the same manner.

~ Bullies may think their behaviour normal if they come from a family where everyone is always losing their tempers, yelling and screaming.

~ They may not even realise how harmful their behaviour is and how it makes the other child feel.

~ They may be facing a difficult situation at home, such as divorce or lack of attention.

~ They may suffer from low self-esteem. This can cause them to become emotionally insecure and blame others for their shortcomings. Bullying others and making them feel bad gives them a false sense of power.

How do you stop your kid bullying others?

Learning that your child is a bully can be shocking and disappointing. However, getting angry or becoming defensive can make a bad situation worse. Think rationally and deal with it in a calm manner:

~ Express what you truly feel to your child. Most of the time, parents are hurt and disappointed but they come across as angry. Make sure your youngster knows that you are disappointed with his/ her behaviour and not with him/ her. Then work together towards a solution -- get your child to apologise to the victim, for instance, or discuss the consequences if such behaviour is repeated.

~ Talk to your child and try to find out the real reason behind the bullying. He/ she could be insecure or upset about something, or it could be a way of getting attention etc. The only way to understand your children is to spend time with them on a daily basis and listen to what they say, giving them your complete attention without judgments, advice, lectures or nagging.

~ Teach your child about respecting other people's rights and being sensitive to their feelings. Building a strong value system and conscience from childhood will go a long way if you want your child to grow into a respected and loved individual.

~ Keep telling your child that we should treat others the way we want to be treated and make sure to model that behaviour.

~ Use discipline as a positive technique to teach your child responsible behaviour. Have firm rules that do not accept nasty or rude behaviour towards others. Make sure to follow through with consequences whenever applicable.

~ Teach your child to ask for things politely, rather than force his/ her will onto others. Also teach your kids to deal with disappointment when they don't get what they want.

~ Focus on positive behaviour and encourage it. Build your child's self-esteem every chance you get.

When your child is a victim of bullying

It is very upsetting when you get to know that someone has hurt your child and reacting without thinking may lead to more problems. Instead, focus on a solution that will help everyone:

~ Listen to what your child has to say -- give him/ her your undivided attention. It is not easy for kids to express what they are feeling and they may be very vulnerable. Make sure they know that they have your love and support at all times, under all circumstances.

~ Don't downplay your child's emotions -- accept them. Although it is understandable to be upset, do not get angry and start reacting, either with the bully for treating your child in this manner or with your child for letting the bully get away with it. Listen carefully, think things through calmly and deal with the situation in a mature way.

~ Always keep channels of communication open. Talk to your child on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes children do not share what is happening in their lives for fear of upsetting their parents in some way. At other times, we miss out on clues when our kids are trying to talk to us and before we know it, the situation may reach a drastic stage. Always be alert when your child is trying to tell you something, because if things get worse, you may need to intervene.

~ Be careful not to overprotect your child. It will make him/ her feel helpless and vulnerable. Know when to step in and when to stay away. Allow your kids to fight their own battles when they are capable of doing so and when the consequences are not as severe.

~ Make sure your child doesn't blame himself/ herself for being bullied. Explain to your child that bullies are often confused or unhappy people who don't feel good about themselves. However, being unhappy does not justify their behaviour and the child should know that too.

~ Use role playing to demonstrate what options the child has in such situations, eg: firmly telling the bully to stop and walking away with head held high, not showing that the behaviour has upset or bothered him/ her in any way, or confiding in an adult if the bullying continues.

~ Encourage your child and find ways to boost his/ her self-esteem. Developing courage in your kids will ensure that they are able to stand up for themselves.

~ Beware of how you and others at home treat your kids. If they feel constantly intimidated, they will come to believe that they have to behave like doormats and that bullying them is normal.

Whether your child is a bully or the victim of one, put a stop to the situations. Let your children know that you are always there for them and that they can come and talk to you at any time about anything. Your unconditional love, support and attention will go a long way in making your children sensitive to others' feelings.

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