One of the most difficult things a parent can hear is, “Your child is bullying my child.” As parents, our first reaction is, “My child would never do that. He is innocent.” When this happens, it is important to remember that your child, as a human being, can and will make mistakes. Hopefully he isn’t harming another child but realize that all of us, including your child, do things for which we are not proud. Children often bully other children because they do not know how else to handle the social and emotional issues faced in youth.
Rudolph Dreikurs, a researcher from the 1900’s, believed children exhibited poor behaviors in response to “mistaken goals.” These mistaken goals include attention seeking, revenge, power, and inadequacy, and are often used inappropriately by children. Unfortunately, these mistaken goals can result in poor behaviors such as bullying.
So what can a parent do if they believe their child is bullying another child? First and before reacting, have empathy for your child and your child’s victim. Both need adult intervention at this time. It is important to separate the children, regardless of guilt, so additional harm or revenge seeking behaviors are eliminated. Also, it will be more important than ever to monitor your child’s use of technology. Bullying often occurs via technology and many children are unaware of the damage caused over this medium. Next, talk to your child and determine if she is seeking attention from others, wants revenge for previous victimization, pursues social status or power, and/or needs encouragement. Model the calm and empathetic nature you want your child to demonstrate to others. Explain that even when negative encounters occur online, real people are harmed. Next, talk to your child’s school counselor and get a referral to a counselor who specializes in working with youth. Counselors can assess the situation and offer needed guidance to you and your child. While you wait to see the counselor, the following tips may also help improve the situation.
Once you know the mistaken goal your child is trying to fill, the following strategies may help your child find better ways to have their needs met. If your child is seeking attention, give him or her attention when it is not being sought. Find ways that your child can demonstrate success and feel good about him or herself without seeking it through negative behaviors. Internal esteem is crucial to overcoming attention seeking behaviors. Power seeking might be best handled by listening and offering choices so your child controls as many safe life elements as possible. Encourage your child to participate in activities where they fit in with the group. Removing your child from a group where previous victimization has occurred can reduce feelings of revenge while also helping her fit in. If your child is seeking revenge because of another child’s previous victimizing behaviors, talk to your child about the meaningless outcomes and negative consequences that result through revenge. If inadequacy is the mistaken goal, help your child set goals and move toward those goals
Discussing your child’s feelings and tying emotions to behaviors is key to helping work through some of the mistaken goals. In counseling, I use crayons and have children label each color with a feeling. I often have them draw pictures of various events and use the colors to depict accompanying feelings. Discussing these pictures often helps the child to explain how they feel and get guidance from parents. Change often occurs slowly so hang in there and don’t give up!