The phone rings. It's the school principal. He wants you to come in and talk about your daughter. There have been some incidents of bullying.
"Has she been hurt? Is she alright?"
"I'm sorry Mrs. Jones, it's your daughter who has been doing the bullying."
It's a real shock when someone thinks your children have done something awful. You know your kids aren't perfect. But they're good hearted, aren't they? They wouldn't do anything really bad, would they?
So what happens when the school principal tells you about your child's acts of bullying? You may find it hard to believe. Perhaps the story doesn't seem to fit with the child that you know. Believing in your child is absolutely appropriate. The question is how you express your belief, without condoning abusive behaviour.
It's reasonable to want to know your child's side of the story. For a start, its possible that your child hasn't "done it", and they may need your support to establish this. Perhaps more importantly, whatever your child has done, the issue is bigger than just responding to the behaviour. There is more to your child than some abusive actions, and hearing their story will help both of you to be aware of that.
Your child will have reasons for what they have done. Ask them for their story and listen to it. This lets your child know that you are not dismissing them out of hand, that you take their behaviour seriously and are interested in what lies behind it.
Its important to be clear that the reasons that lead your child to bully are an explanation and not an excuse. They don't make bullying okay. Their value is in giving some clues about what help your child needs to behave differently.
No one is born a bully. Bullying is something you learn how to do. So when your child is acting in a bullying way, it's worth asking where they learnt that. Has your own behaviour contributed to the situation?
Children learn many patterns of behaviour in the family. If you settle disagreements with threats, or respond to difference with scorn, or generally expect others to fit in with your values you may be setting your kids an example you'll regret.
If your child is acting the bully they need to take responsibility for their actions and they also need support to change their behaviour. This can happen as part of the whole family looking at ways of treating others with respect and dealing with difference and conflict constructively.
Sometimes it might seem kind to protect your children from consequences, and sometimes it might seem to be a parent's duty to "teach them a lesson". But if you're concerned with results, it's worth considering that the outcome is often better if you share your children's problems by learning alongside them.
When the whole family works on developing new skills its much more likely that the behaviour will change. It's worth giving it a try. You get a better result, you learn something and there is the added advantage of the family collaborating on a solution, instead of fighting about a problem.
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