Imagine this: You’re going about your day and get an unexpected phone call from your girl’s school. She’s physically fine (phew!) but what is wrong seems like your worst nightmare. The principal says your child has been bullying another student at school. Could she really be the school bully?!
“Not my daughter!” you might think because of course, you see the best parts of your girl—her kindness, her funny sense of humor, and more than anything, her sense of right and wrong. But the truth is that even though you'd never dream that your girl could be the "school bully," really anybody, regardless of what a good person they are, can engage in bullying behavior.
People (kids and adults) can bully others from time to time for a variety of reasons. Sometimes people feel pressured into it or pick on others to fit in with a certain group, because they feel powerless in other situations, because they’re looking for attention, or because they’re having trouble working out their own emotions and don’t know how to deal with them in a healthy fashion. The truth is, most people have been on both sides of bullying at one point or another in their lives. Of course, none of those reasons make this kind of behavior OK or acceptable in any way, but thinking about it in these terms can help you get past the defensiveness and onto the problem-solving part of working through this issue.
While it’s absolutely vital to call out bullying and to correct the behavior, know that that’s exactly what it is—a behavior, not an identity. “No one should be defined by her actions,” says Girl Scouts’ Developmental Psychologist, Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, “which is why we should get away from using the terms 'bully' or 'school bully' to describe kids who've been engaging in bullying behavior with others. Using that term implies there’s nothing more to that girl or boy than those actions and can make a child feel as if that’s all they’ll ever be, that they have no potential to be better. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Your job, as a parent, is to find out what was going on with your girl to cause her to act in this way so you can help her to recognize her behavior – in this instance and potentially others -- and avoid engaging in it in the future. How can you do this? Follow these steps from Dr. Bastiani Archibald:
You may not always be able to be there with your daughter, making sure she’s on her best behavior (and that’s OK—you’re setting her up to learn how to navigate this world on her own!), but there are some things you can do to check in on her social behavior and catch any potential signs of bullying straight away. Pay attention to who she’s hanging out with or talking to online. If any friends suddenly disappear from the picture, ask her what’s going on with them or why you haven’t seen them lately. Ask about the girls she sits with at lunch and who does most of the talking. Are there some kids who want to sit with her at lunch, but she doesn’t want them to? When she and her friends engage in activities, is it always your girl who picks what they’re going to do, or do they trade off? Are there any kids at school that others are unkind to?
Checking in frequently and reminding your daughter of the importance of respecting others can help your girl get past any bullying behaviors and start being an even better friend and ally to others.