Learning that your child is picking on others or was labeled a bully can be shocking and upsetting.
My son, John, was overweight in middle school and teased terribly by the other boys. He shared his deep feelings of sadness and rejection with us frequently. We talked often about tools which might help deal with the bullies. Imagine our surprise when we received a phone call from another parent who told us our child punched their son, Logan, in the stomach every morning outside his locker. They said Logan told them John was careful to wait until no adults were in the hall to see.
We knew this other family pretty well as our kids played soccer on the same team since first grade. We explained to the parents that John was a kid who was picked on himself, and we found it hard to believe he was bullying another child. They did not press the issue, just politely said they had no way of knowing exactly what happened at school since they were not there, but they thought we should know what Logan said.
After we hung up, we thought about what Logan’s parents told us. We liked and trusted them, and as difficult as it was to process their news, we felt we needed to consider the accusation seriously. We sat down with John that same night.
We learned Logan was telling the truth. It did not take long for John to admit what he did with tears in his eyes. We understood John felt insecure because he was teased by the other kids and in turn decided to pick on someone who seemed emotionally and physically weaker. He was looking for a way to make himself feel more important and in control.
We called Logan’s parents back to let them know how badly we felt. We assured them we planned to deal with John’s behavior as best we could. What we did is let John know that bullying is unacceptable. We discussed in a loving and empathetic way how he felt when he was the one bullied.
We also took John’s phone away for a week, and let him know more serious consequences were to follow if it happened again. We realized John needed help to feel lest frustrated and more confident, and concrete ways to deal with strong emotions in a more positive way. It was an eye-opening experience for us. At the end of the week we called Logan’s folks to ask if the behavior stopped, which it had, and asked them to call us with any future concerns.
We appreciated the call from Logan’s parents, which took some courage to make. Many parents, including my husband and me, often believe what we want about our children and are defensive when someone points out they are less than perfect. I’m glad we were able to remain open-minded in this situation and confront the issue quickly before it escalated.
Often bullying issues are more difficult to address than in this particular situation, but it is important we all do our part. Teachers, counselors and doctors may be able to help when we don’t know where to turn. One thing we know though, bad behavior doesn’t just stop on its own. We all want our kids to find success and happiness in school, work, and relationships throughout life, and curbing bullying now is progress toward those goals.
Read more about how to help your child stop being a bully.