Any parent would be up in arms and ready to battle to defend their child against a bully. But what do you do when your child IS the bully?
Most parents don’t want to think of their child terrorizing a smaller or younger person. It must have been a misunderstanding, they say. But bullying takes place in classrooms, locker rooms and family rooms every day, and parents must be willing to recognize and acknowledge the behavior if there is any hope of helping the bullying child.
We typically think of the bully as a big, hulking kid who backs up half-pint against the school locker to steal his lunch money. But bullying comes in many forms, and while it continues to evolve, there’s subtle bullying that doesn’t involve physical force and doesn’t use technology. This “psychological bullying” takes place when one person demeans another through insults that target the victim’s weakness.
I know a lot about psychological bullies because I was one when I was growing up. As a young teen, I had the ability to zero in on someone’s vulnerability, whether it was how they dressed, their level of intelligence, their weight, or their lack of athleticism. Anything I could do to make someone feel small by making fun of them, putting them down, or scaring them, I would.
Teachers didn’t see what I did. My parents didn’t know. And it wasn’t until I matured that I stopped being a bully. Now, as a parent, I clearly see what I did and why, and I know that it is essential for parents to understand why a child becomes a bully in order to begin to address the issue.
For me, like many bullies, putting someone down was my way of making myself feel better. Growing up on the poor side of Washington, D.C., I struggled to fit in. My mother was white and my father was black, and I tried all through my young life to figure out which race that made me. It didn’t help that my mother was a drug addict and my father was an alcoholic, which left our home void of structure, supervision and consistency. It also didn’t help that I struggled in school because I had dyslexia.
Plenty of young people have challenging family issues and learning disabilities but don’t become bullies. For me, the confusion, pain, and lack of self-confidence I felt was only soothed when I made someone else feel just like me. And that’s the key to remember: bullies are in pain, too.
It’s an understandable reaction to punish a bully. Hit the kid who hit the kid. We want that bully to feel the same pain as the victim. But some bullies (like me) feel bad about what they’re doing—yet they can’t stop. That means traditional ways of handling bullying can be ineffective.
Punishing the bully doesn’t relieve that pain and therfore it won't end the behavior. Instead, society needs to take another approach. Love the Bully.
Recommended for You
Classroom Heroes: One Child’s Struggle With BullyingView on Amazon
When we see bullying occur, we need to address it, not through punishment, but by recognizing the underlying issues causing this behavior, and and addressing them with compassion and kindness. It’s difficult for a parent to find out that his child is a bully and even harder to find out his child is suffering. But unless we’re willing to open our eyes and look beyond the behavior to the underlying issues, we will continue to leave the child in pain. And a child in pain is more likely to hurt others.