It can be incredibly disheartening for a parent to see their child cause problems with others, few parents want to raise aggressive children. If your child has been labeled a bully, I suggest you first take steps to undo the label.

The word “bully” is a term of judgement similar to “loser,” “punk,” or “jerk.” Labeling someone as a bully is a violation of the Golden Rule. You wouldn’t want others to judge you and call you names, so please don’t call your child or anyone else a bully. 

First, identify your child’s specific behavior. Don’t call it “bullying.” The term only brings confusion and increases everyone’s anxiety. Did your child call someone a name? Did they push or shove someone? Did they tell a joke that hurt the feelings of another? Was your child disrespectful to an adult? When you identify the specific behavior, you are more likely to figure out how to help your child.

Most likely, your child doesn’t feel like an aggressor in the situation. They may even feel like they’ve been attacked. This sounds counter-intuitive, but most bullying behavior comes from feeling victimized. Your child just might feel justified in their behavior. They could have retaliated for being offended by the other person. You won’t know until you investigate (with an open mind). 

If you have more than one child, you know how this works. The younger child might complain that the older sibling is hurting them. When you attempt to reprimand the older child, they defend themselves and blame the younger one for doing something that provoked the action. Finding out who did what can be exhausting. The bottom line is that you have two children who both feel wronged and think the other one is to blame. Your job as an adult is to try to help them learn how to talk to each other respectfully about the problem, without expressing aggression toward one another.

If you’re dealing with a complaint from the school that your child picked on another and your child gets angry and defensive when you ask them about it, let them know that you are not angry with them, but that you need to find out what happened. If your child claims that another child was mean to them first, try to teach your child how to handle the situation maturely.

If your child tells you that the complaining child gets annoyed easily or that it’s fun picking on them, let them know the school is complaining about them and wants to punish them. Could they please be nice to the other child instead of being mean? If you ask your child nicely, they will probably listen to you.

Sometimes it’s necessary to punish your child for hurting someone. It’s important that you never punish out of anger. Punish with empathy and regret, saying something like, “We really hate to have to do this to you, but you hurt the other child, so we have no choice.” If your child is mad at you, you may have failed to punish them effectively. The goal of a punishment is to make the child aware of the harm they caused, make restitution to those they hurt, encourage reformation and prevent them from committing the harmful act again.

Make sure the punishment fits the crime. Your child will be sure to feel mistreated if the punishment is far more severe than the original offense. The Golden Rule is a good guide for moral punishment. Ask yourself what punishment would be fair if you were your child. If possible, the punishment should involve compensation to the person who was wronged. Putting yourself in each child’s shoes will not only allow you to think creatively about a punishment but will prevent you from making things worse by being overly harsh.

Two characteristics will help your children make friends and prevent enemy formation in their lives. The first is emotional resilience. Children who are hypersensitive to offenses often get into trouble because they react angrily. Remind your child how important it is to not get unduly upset over offensive words or actions.

The second characteristic you want to see in your child is friendliness. The easiest way to help them become friendlier is to teach them the Golden Rule. Get them to think about how they want to be treated by others, then encourage them to behave that way. The Golden Rule instructs us to be friendly to everyone. No matter how people treat us, we should treat them with kindness.

Above all else, model social and emotional health by living out the Golden Rule in your life. The greatest way to influence your children is to let your life be an example of how they should behave.

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