SHOWING a friend an occasional 'monkey face', jeering a crying peer, or even playfully hitting a playmate before running away may be chalked up as a little harmless mischief — something most toddlers will do from time to time. And while these are often overlooked because their intention is not usually to cause harm, some toddlers go much further, picking on one or a group of children, pinching, punching, teasing and acting in other ways to physically and emotionally hurt them.
Discovering that your little angel is capable of such cruelty can be quite difficult to accept, but clinical psychologist Dr Pearnel Bells says that instead of allowing yourself to remain in denial, from the moment you discover or are notified of this, your goal should be a relentless pursuit to help your child recognise that they have a problem, and then either work on helping them through it or get them professional help if you aren't able to get through to them.
“Bullying is a very serious issue and can have psychological implications for the victim as well as the bully. In fact, there are instances when the bully may suffer more long-term effects of their behaviour than their victims. For many of them, the behaviours become normative and they experience many serious problems in adulthood,” Dr Bell explained.
She pointed out that children who exhibit aggressive behaviours toward others are usually experiencing feelings of powerlessness, inadequacy, an increased craving for attention, or a desire for revenge because of the perceived belief of ill-treatment.
“These feelings lead the bully to channel their feeling[s] on to someone that they perceive as an easy target. Chances are they will continue to hurt others if their actions go unchecked because this has now become a reliable source of release for their unhealthy emotions,” Dr Bell explained.
For the child on the receiving end of the aggression, Dr Bell said that the effects can be devastating — victims may begin to perform poorly in school, experience anxiety and depression, become withdrawn, and may generally fear to be in any place — whether it be daycare, school or the playground — where the bully is.
To reduce the likelihood of any child having to suffer, Dr Bell has recommended that parents take the approach below to stifle the bullying tendency in their children as soon as it rears its head.
Find out why your child is being a bully
Approach the conversation with your child calmly, and with an open mind. Find out from your child what happened and be sure to listen out for keywords such as, “I was angry, frustrated, embarrassed; he/she was getting attention; I am a loser”.
Don't allow them to manipulate you
While you want to be supportive and calm, bullying or hurting others is unacceptable and you want to make that known. So even if, for example, the reason for bullying is because another child or adult hurt them, they need to know that bullying still isn't right.
Use the occasion as a teaching moment
Your child should try to understand how the other person feels. Many times young children act the way they do because they don't know how others feel. Make sure that you teach empathy at home.
Arrange an apology
Once you have explained to your child that they did something wrong, and you are satisfied that the child understands their behaviour was unacceptable, ask them to express remorse for their actions.
Establish consequences for bullying
Once you are satisfied your child understands what is and what is not acceptable, you want to make it clear what will happen if he or she continues to be a bully. For example, you may withdraw privileges. It is crucial that you are consistent as this shows that it is important.
Make sure to model behaviour at home
The truth is, many of the times children act out what is seen in the home. If you are guilty of similar behaviour and this may be contributing to your child's actions, then you have to first rectify this and model healthier behaviours for your child to adopt.
Get professional help
If you can't seem to get through to your child, get professional help. Dr Bell said that children with emotional and behavioural disorders or limited social skills act in ways that are mistaken for bullying; however, this does not mean that they get a pass. She said that whether the behaviour is intentional or due to a disability, it still needs to be addressed.