Group of Teenage Friends in StudioAll parents worry about bullying. Societal awareness of the problem is high but bullying still seems discouragingly prevalent. We fear our kids will become victims and we are uncertain what to do about it.

It is easy to forget, however, that for every bullied child there is at least one bully. It is tough to hear, but when bullying occurs your child is just as likely to be the perpetrator as the victim.

Even kids who are polite, kind, considerate, well-raised and well-behaved can become the aggressor in their relationships with other children. Kids are still maturing and they don’t always know how to handle their stress, anger, frustration or envy, and they may take it out on other children because they’re not sure what else to do. Other times they may join in on the bullying just to fit in, or because they fear it might happen to them next if they don’t act tough.

It is a hard fact to accept but accept it you must. No matter how loving and supportive and encouraging you’ve been with your children, someday you may receive a phone call from a teacher, school administrator or outraged parent letting you know that your son or daughter has been implicated—as the perpetrator— in a bullying incident.

Difficult Conversations and Huge Responsibilities

Denial, rationalization and defensiveness are a common reaction among parents who’ve been told their children are bullies. This is unfortunate for everyone, because while it is understandable it only helps to enable behavior that needs to be dealt with before it gets much worse. You owe it to your kids to listen and to really hear what’s being said, so you can do something about it.

When you sit down to talk to your son or daughter about the reported incident, you should remain calm and receptive. Give your child a chance to explain his or her side of the story and don’t let your anger or disappointment cloud your judgment. You shouldn’t automatically believe everything you’re told, but you shouldn’t ignore it or accuse your kid of lying or making excuses, either.

As the details of the story unfold, try to get your child to see things from the other child’s point of view. Your kid undoubtedly has a capacity for empathy and you should do your best to make sure he or she really understands how the victim was affected.

Even though it is important to control your emotions, you still have to make it clear to your son or daughter that this type of behavior is unacceptable and if it happens again there will be real consequences, at home and likely at school as well.

If you can use the situation as a learning experience, for your child as well as for yourself, a favorable outcome for everyone is far more likely.

Preparation is the Key to Comprehension

You should not wait until something happens before you begin thinking about how to handle an episode of bullying. If such an incident ever occurs your child might be the perpetrator or the victim and you should be prepared for both. Bullying is a disturbing phenomenon and we all have a role to play in confronting it, combating it and helping our children realize how harmful and destructive it truly is.

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