How are you ever to know if your child is the one inflicting pain on somebody else’s?
How are you to know if your child is the cause of someone’s else’s despair, another parent’s worry and someone else’s tears?
And perhaps more importantly – how in the world do you fix it?
When it comes to talking to children about bullying, so much of our narrative is – perhaps rightly so – focused on the victim. The support to offer, the words the give, the ways to encourage confidence when self-esteem is inevitably shattered following a verbal or physical tirade.
But what’s often lost in the dialogue are ways, helpful ways, to spot a bully before they truly become one.
According to developmental psychologist Dr Heidi Gazelle of The University of Melbourne, spotting a bully in a child isn’t as easy as it sounds. After all, there are different types of bullies, and the methods of uncovering aggressive or manipulative tendencies differ from child to child.
Despite this, there are things you can do. These are just some of them.
What signs can I look for?
Dr Gazelle says the first thing to look for is whether the child is aggressive towards other children. Then, once that is established, it’s crucial to analyse whether the child is initiating the aggression or if they’re responding to it.
“It can be hard to tell, the parent may need to watch the child at play to see how they interact,” she tells Mamamia.
“The key thing to look for is whether the aggression is normative to other kids relative to age. Is this standing out as unusual or is the aggression typical of what would be going on at with other kids?”
As we know, bullying isn’t always physical. In fact, you could argue that some of the greatest damage is done through emotional bullying. According to Dr Gazelle, bullying of an emotional kind is much, much harder to spot. After all, it’s not normally happening in an adult’s line of sight.
“Bullying can take on a number of forms. Sometimes it might be intended to hurt, sometimes it might be more goal-oriented. For example, a child who wants to take another’s lunch money. It pertains to a particular benefit or goal.”
Emotional bulling is more likely to be spotted by a teacher, and in that case, it’s all the more important for a parent to take those concerns seriously, and not brush them off as “kids being kids”, Dr Gazelle says.
What can I do to change the behaviour?
“One of the techniques that is very widely supported is to point out other peoples feelings,” Dr Gazelle says as the key way to reform aggressive behaviour.
It’s important, she says, because the thing that inhibits these types of actions is empathy – especially with young children.
She recommends asking a child “how the other child might feel”. For example, to say something like this: ‘When you did X, how did you think that made the other child feel? How would you feel if someone did that to you?’