By Mariza Halliday

Bullying amongst children is a big problem in South Africa. It is something that should always be taken seriously by parents as it causes anxiety and depression which could lead to self-harm, substance abuse and even suicidal thoughts. There are many steps you can take if your child is being bullied, but what do you do when your child is the bully? Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. They are from every ethnic group, socio-economic class, gender and religion. As a parent, your first response to hearing that your child is potentially being a bully would most likely be that of disbelief. But, if the evidence points to it – or if in doubt, you need to act appropriately.

According to Charlene McIntosh, a counselling psychologist, bullying can usually be identified as one of three things:
First, it can be a defence mechanism, a typical “If I hurt you first you can’t hurt me,” behaviour. Bullies need someone to hurt because they are being hurt themselves. So, they think that if they
bully other kids, they won’t be picked on anymore.
Second, it’s a learned behaviour, in how we deal with people who do not meet or share our outlooks. We punish someone for not fitting into the mould of what we want, whether it’s how they respond to us, their life choices, how they dress, etc. And it almost always starts at home. Children who are subjected to corporal punishment, or are physically or emotionally abused, are far more likely to be aggressive with their peers.
Thirdly it can be due to trauma. Trauma makes it harder for children to cope with and regulate their emotions.

The Main Types of Bullying

Physical Bullying:
It occurs when kids use physical actions to gain power and control over their targets.

Verbal Bullying:
Use words, statements and name-calling to gain power and control over a target.

Relational Bullying:
Is a sneaky and insidious type of bullying that often goes unnoticed by parents and teachers. Sometimes referred to as emotional bullying, relational bullying is a type of social manipulation to hurt their peers or sabotage their social standing. They often ostracize others from a group, spread
rumours, manipulate situations and break confidences. This is most often done to increase their own social standing.

Cyber Bullying:
The use of the Internet, a smartphone, or other technology to bully another child. This is often done by posting hurtful images, making online threats and sending hurtful emails or texts. A lot of children are nowadays always “plugged in,” cyber-bullying is a growing issue among young people.

Sexual Bullying:
This consists of repeated, harmful and humiliating actions that target a person sexually. Sexual name-calling, vulgar comments, crude gestures, unsolicited touching, sexual propositioning and pornographic materials are all examples of sexual bullying. In extreme cases, this kind of bullying opens the door to sexual assault and often the victims are much younger than the bully.

How should parents handle a child that bullies? Charlene shares her advice and tips with us

Bullying is unacceptable and your child should be made to understand that. Whatever you do, do it from a place of unconditional love. Use positive discipline. If you use physical discipline methods on your child, be prepared for your child to mirror that behaviour on others. Never use hitting or spanking as a punishment. How can you teach your child that hitting, pushing and shoving others is never okay if you are hitting and physically hurting them? Accountability and responsibility is very important. If your child steals or damages another child’s personal belongings, have him or her replace them. Have them do additional chores and take away their allowance for some time to pay for the cost of replacing the victim’s property. They need to understand why you are doing that, and that it is a consequence of their actions. Help your child develop empathy and caring. Children who are bullies often lack these emotional traits. It’s important they learn how their behaviour affects others. Bullies begin to think about their behaviour and the outcome of their behaviour when adults discuss situations and ask questions. Parents need to encourage their children to think about their feelings, their actions and the result of their behaviour on others and themselves.

What can parents do to get to the root of the problem..

If your son or daughter is getting into trouble at school or with peers for bullying behaviour, it’s crucial that you get to the root of the problem. Also, remember that their behaviour is a symptom of something deeper. He or she may be feeling vulnerable, insecure, angry or lonely; or he may be in a life situation that causes him to feel helpless and out of control.
It is always good to get professional help for your child with regards to their bullying behaviour. Seeing a psychologist can help get to the root of the problem and intervene in an appropriate way.