The bullying stories in the news this past year made us think we might not know as much about our kids as we think. But how do you know when it's your child doing the bullying? We asked Beverley Cathcart-Ross of The Parenting Network to school us.
What are the telltale signs parents should look for?
Beverley: Bullying is actually a reflex we all have, so it's not a shock that it comes out in all of us at certain times in our lives. Girls are more inclined to engage in relationships and use their words. Excluding others from play, being secretive and put-downs can all turn into bullying.
Some of the overt signs that we notice is that the girl is being bossy and controlling, and not accepting authority. Parents start to walk on eggshells and are afraid of the next outburst, so they give in. The child might try that power outside of the home in their school relationships.
At what point should a parent intervene?
Beverley: I think they should intervene as soon as possible. Get involved; don't hope that they will outgrow it. We need to be actively engaged.
However, we have to be very careful that we are not labeling any child. Their approach might be unkind but the child isn't a bully — they are choosing hurtful behaviour. This can happen to any one of our children at any time, so it's more important that we look at how we can change their behaviour.
How would you recommend parents approach the situation?
Beverley: Not by punishment or grounding. Our goal is to help our children develop healthier attitudes about themselves and more respectful relationships with others. That can take time. There are some social cues that still need to be learned (at that age) but typically you need to look at your child's self-concept. Are they caring and respectful of themselves? If not, they won't be good at doing it with others.
What piece of advice would you offer to parents whose daughter is a “mean girl?”
Beverley: Unconditional love is part of a daily diet. We want to turn to our child for solutions and respecting the child is key to that. We need to model it and we need to teach it so they know how to treat others.
Give your child the benefit of the doubt. Tell them you want to hear what was going on for them. Let your child take a big sigh of relief that they are not being done wrong by the parent. Show that you are in their corner, although it doesn't mean you agree with them. Fighting their cause is not doing them any service. Try sharing your own stories about being excluded. The goal is to get them to share and communicate feelings.