Tuesday, November 08, 2005

How Best to Help Bullies


Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intended to cause harm or distress, occurs repeatedly over time, and occurs in a relationship in which there is an imbalance of power or strength.

How do you best deal with bullies?

I talked last week on Guide To Self radio (www.guidetoself.com/interviews.htm) about the fact that bullies carry around a tremendous amount of anger, fear and sadness. They have a difficult time finding ways to get rid of their anger and fear. We need to give them tips and emotional tools to help them respond appropriately to negative emotions – how to recognize them and how to get rid of them.

Work on identifying what the bullying student does well, rather than what they do wrong. Parents and teachers can help increase their children's self-esteem by encouraging positive interactions with others. Look for small signs of improvement. Compliment small signs of improvement. This is really difficult for us as adults to train ourselves to do – to look for, find and complement small signs of improvement in behavior. Children don’t go from abusive to compassionate in a week. It takes time to unlearn old behaviors, to control impulses, to figure out there are better ways to solve problems, to learn how their behavior affects others, and so on. It’s a process and we need to look for signs of better behavior along the way to encourage their progress.

For example, some bullies may be ADHD and have trouble controlling their impulses. As a result they lash out before they can think about the consequences. So some may need medication to help them stop, think, and decide.

Some bullies simply cannot feel what other people feel. Their empathy is broken. so when they cause pain in someone else, they don’t feel the pain and hurt themselves. Their mirror neurons (specific brain cells) in the brain don’t work properly.

If you are dealing with a child who is quick to hit or bite, you’ll want to notice when they get angry and DON’T hit or bite. Then compliment them on their newly developed restraint. “Gee Sarah, that was great, you got angry at Bobby but you didn’t bite him. Nice job controlling yourself.”

Most experts recommend that parents of children who bully seek help from their child's school counselor and pediatrician. These professionals can help evaluate your child's behavior and make a referral to a child and adolescent psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a licensed counselor who can work with your child.

Helping Your Child Stop Bullying

Although certainly not all bullying stems from family problems, it's a good idea to examine the behavior and personal interactions your child witnesses at home. If your child lives with taunting or name-calling from a sibling or from you or another parent, it could be prompting aggressive or hurtful behavior outside the home. What may seem like innocent teasing at home may actually model bullying behaviors. Children who are on the receiving end of it learn that bullying can translate into control over children they perceive as weak. Whenever I dealt with a bully in the school system, my first question to the parents was “Does your child see physical conflict at home?” Typically, violent behavior is modeled at home for the child by the parents. This gives the child a positive view of violence as a way to solve problems. It also gives them a limited number of tools to deal with anger and fear.

If Your Child Is the Bully

It can come as a shock to learn that your child is the bully. You can express your deep disappointment to your child. This is typically more powerful than showing him anger. Try to remain calm. Losing your temper can make a bad situation worse. You may have a greater impact if you express disappointment - not anger - to your child.

Because bullying often stems from unhappiness or insecurity, try to find out what is bothering your child. Children who bully aren't likely to confess to their behavior, but you'll need to try to get your child to talk by asking some specific, hard-hitting questions, such as:

· How do you feel about yourself?
· How are things going at school? At home?
· Are you being bullied by someone?
· How well do you get along with other kids at school?
· How do you treat the other students?
· How does it make you feel that other people think of you as a bully?
· Why do you think you're bullying other students?
· How can I help you to stop bullying?

To get to the bottom of why your child is hurting others, you may also want to schedule an appointment to talk to your child's school counselor or another mental health professional. Ask your pediatrician for a referral.

If you have an inkling or the slightest suspicion that your child is a bully, it's critical that you address the problem. After all, bullying is violence, and it often leads to more antisocial and violent behavior as the bully grows up. In fact, as many as 6 out of 10 elementary school bullies have a criminal record by the time they're 24.

So what can you do to help a bullying child?

Use the following suggestions to help turn around their child's behavior.

· Talk to your child about the importance of understanding the feelings of others (empathy). Ask your child how he or she would feel as the target of bullying. Teach your child to put him- or herself in the other person’s shoes. Teach your child to embrace, not ridicule, the ways in which we are different (i.e., race, religion, appearance, special needs, gender, economic status). Explain that everyone has rights and feelings. Have them write a paper or research another ethnicity or religion if you find them bullying someone who is different from them.

Supervise your child's activities. As we know from research, parental involvement is declining at a rapid pace. If we want to fix the problem of societal violence, we need to spend more time with our children. Show interest in their lives. Listen to what they have to say.

If your child is not already involved in sports or community activities, encourage your child to participate in after school activities and sports. These can help boost self-esteem in many cases.

Encourage your child to hang out with children you know to be good role models.

Another point - constant teasing – either at home or at school – will negatively affect a child's self-esteem. Children with low self-esteem can grow to feel emotionally insecure. They can also end up blaming others for their own shortcomings. Making others feel bad (bullying) can give them a sense of power.

The flipside of this is praising your children for everything – overpraising them – can be detrimental as well. Praise is something to be earned due to effort or accomplishment. Train yourself to praise appropriately. Just as some of us apologize too much – for things that we have no control over or involvement in – we also may compliment too much. This can lead to an inflated sense of self in the child which has been related to bullying.

The goal is to find the balancing point where you give your child sincere and genuine compliments based on their performance or efforts.

Next, when they DO misbehave, focus on the behavior, NOT the child. Naturally, there will be times that warrant constructive criticism. For example, "I counted on you to take out the trash. Because you forgot, we'll all have to put up with that foul smell in the garage for the week." Be very careful to watch HOW you talk to you kids! Don’t criticize the person. Criticize the behavior. There’s a big difference between "You are so spoiled and lazy. I bet you just pretend to forget your chores, so you don't have to get your hands dirty." And “I am disappointed that you didn’t take the trash out. Now we’ll have to live with that stench for a week. I need you to take out the trash when I tell you.”

One approach attacks the whole being of the person. The other approach focuses on the behavior you want to change.

To remember this critical point, just remember that you don’t want to say “I don’t like YOU” rather you want to say “I don’t like your bad behavior.” This is a highly important difference in language that spells the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is tolerable and can lead to constructive, positive actions. Shame stems from the belief that you, as a person, are bad. It’s okay for your children to feel guilty. You don’t want them to feel ashamed.

Emphasize that bullying is a serious problem. Make sure your child understands you will not tolerate bullying and that bullying others will have consequences at home. For example, if your child is cyber bullying, take away the technologies he or she is using to torment others (i.e., computer, cell phone to text message or send pictures). Or instruct your child to use the Internet to research bullying and note strategies to reduce the behavior.

Other examples of discipline include restricting your child's curfew if the bullying and/or teasing occur outside of the home; taking away privileges, but allowing the opportunity to earn them back; and requiring your child to do a certain number of hours of volunteer work to help those less fortunate.

Find out if your child's friends are also bullying. If so, seek a group intervention through your child's principal, school counselor, and/or teachers.

Set limits. Stop any show of aggression immediately and help your child find nonviolent ways to react.

Catch your child being good. Look for the child interacting with others and praise appropriate behavior. Positive reinforcement is more powerful than negative discipline.

Set realistic goals give them time to change. As your child learns to modify his or her behavior, assure your child that you still love him or her - it's the aggressive behavior you don't like.

If we all work together we can make this world a less violent, more peaceful place to live. It's an important goal. Together, we can make it a reality.

All my love,

Dr. John
Guide To Self
Guide To Self is on every Monday through Friday at 5:00 pm on 1640 AM in the San Francisco Bay Area. Past shows are available on the website - www.guidetoself.com.

Guide To Self(C) 2005. All rights reserved.


Post a Comment

<< Home