It’s an interesting phenomenon. Quite often when parents are called to school about their child bullying others, they claim total ignorance of their child’s bullying behaviors. In fact, they may even give examples of ways their child is loving or kind. Unfortunately, the school is usually right in their assessment.
So what makes a child a bully? How can parents not realize their child is bullying others? What does any of this have to do with Christian parenting?
The most frequent admonishments for positive character in the New Testament are for Christians to be loving and kind. Why? Because the vast majority of the world isn’t and having those traits makes Christians stand out in society. Their love and kindness makes people want to know more about God. Ultimately, love and kindness means we are reflecting God’s image more accurately.
Since we know your kids being loving and kind is important to God, how can you be sure they are acting that way towards others when you aren’t around? While it may seem difficult to know for sure, the average child is not quite as savvy at hiding negative behaviors as he or she thinks. It’s just that most adults don’t really pay attention to what young people say and do until it starts causing problems – and sometimes it needs to be serious problems – for the adults.
So what should you be noticing (that you may have missed) that could indicate your child is bullying others, or at the very least acting in unkind and unloving ways?
- How quickly and how severely does your child get angry? Young people who anger easily, especially if their anger is out of proportion to the incident, are more likely to lash out in that anger. That lashing out can lead to bullying behaviors. This is especially true if your child tends to hold grudges after becoming angry with someone.
- Does your child seem oblivious to hurting the feelings of others? When a sibling, parent, friend or someone else complains that your child is hurting them physically or emotionally, what is your child’s normal response? Most people who are kind and loving will eventually apologize. Bullies tend to apologize only when forced and that in turn can result in more negative behaviors towards the person who was originally complaining.
- Does your child seem to speak very negatively about others? It’s especially important to notice the language used when speaking negatively about others. There’s a huge difference between expressing disappointment or frustration about how someone behaved and using really ugly words about them. Notice also if the conversation moves away from an incident to describing the person’s character in extremely negative ways and then morphs into describing their appearance in rude ways. Every child gets upset with others. Their immaturity can mean they are also more emotional in their anger and frustration. If there is a pattern of constant and consistent meanness in their frustration, however, it could lead to bullying behaviors or be a sign of bullying that is already occurring.
- Does your child openly mock others? Some families erroneously call this teasing. While light hearted teasing can be okay, mean spirited mocking of others is extremely problematic. If your child is mocking others within earshot of you, chances are great it is happening when you aren’t around.
- Does your child use negative behaviors to pressure others into letting him or her have his or her way? Manipulation is not great, but not uncommon in immature children. If your child acts more like a mob enforcer when attempting to sway others, there is a strong chance bullying others into doing what he or she wants is becoming a habit.
- Are other parents complaining to you, asking the school to call you or having their kids avoid your child? While avoidance can mean your child is actually the victim, parents will rarely complain to the parent of an offending child or the school about bullying behaviors unless their child has suffered severe or long term abuse at the hand of the other child. It just creates too much drama. If you are getting more than one complaint, chances are your child is already an aggressive bully.
- Does your child refuse to change behaviors when corrected? Most loving, kind children will try to improve if they know they are hurting someone. If your child shows defiance when asked to repent – including making behavioral changes – that is a bad sign.
Unfortunately, many children have picked up bullying behaviors by watching how one or both of their parents treat others. It’s extremely important to do a hard self assessment. Are you and your spouse treating others with love and kindness or have you adopted the bullying behaviors of the world over time? Changing your behaviors as a family will be more effective than asking your kids to change behaviors you are unwilling to change.