How can we stop kids from bullying without acting like bullies ourselves? Sometimes frustrated parents tell us, “No matter how much I explain that this is wrong, my child keeps picking on other kids – calling them names, pushing them around, and leaving them out. What should I do?”
Our first job is to stay calm and to model for our kids how we are going to work to resolve any concern about their behavior respectfully, powerfully, effectively, and persistently. We want to notice and acknowledge when they are acting kindly and respectfully and intervene quickly and firmly when they are not.
Some kids experiment with negative uses of their power to get attention, to get their way, to feel important, for entertainment, to retaliate for real or perceived insults, our of fear of being bullied themselves, or out of curiosity. Other kids have poor impulse control and will lash out with their words or their bodies when they feel stressed. When this hurtful behavior is ongoing or is directed at a child who is lower in power, we call it “bullying”.
We can set the stage by making our expectations clear: “You have the right to be safe and treated with respect – and the responsibility to act safely and respectfully towards others. If you or other kids have trouble being safe and respectful, please tell me and I will help you.”
And then we can make a plan of action since kids usually need support in interacting with each other in positive ways. Lecturing usually doesn’t work. Children who bully need safer tools for getting what they want, better skills for handling the disappointment of NOT always getting what they want, clear boundaries about what the rules are for behavior, practice in making respectful and kind choices even when they don’t feel like it, and consistently enforced consequences for breaking those rules.
Safer tools can mean learning to ask instead of grab and learning to look for ways in which everyone can get at least some of what they want.
Skills for handling disappointment can mean learning how to think first and calm down when you are upset, learning to wait your turn, and finding other things to do when you cannot do what you want right away.
Clear rules means being very specific – No Putdowns, No Name-Calling, No Pushing, No Hitting. No Leaving Someone Out. Bullying in schools and other groups often escalates quickly without clear rules and consistent adult follow-through on those rules.
It is important that kids see that everyone–especially the adults around them–are following the same rules. Consistent consequences need to be thought through ahead of time to make sure that they are reasonable and will be upheld by all the adults responsible for supervision.
The bottom line is that kids who bully needs to be stopped from continuing this behavior quickly, clearly, and directly by all of adults in their lives. We can use practice of safer ways of acting as a management tool by coaching children to repeat their behavior or words more respectfully and safely. We can help kids find meaningful ways of making amends. If need be, there might be further consequences like sitting down for a few minutes instead of playing, having to do something inside away from other kids for a little while, writing a report about the harm done by bullying, or losing the privilege of using whatever technology was misused for a while.
Bullying in schools and other groups can improve when adults support all of the children – children using bullying behavior as well as those being bullied – in learning more effective skills for staying safe, for being powerful, and for getting what they want. Getting support for stopping bullying behavior sooner rather than later can make a big difference. Getting perceptions and advice through counseling, teachers, and parenting classes can all be useful