Is your child unkind to others? Know the signs and help them change their ways

You might have been brought up in an era when bullying was accepted as a common part of childhood and even endorsed by your father as a defence mechanism. But it’s time to tell your kids that it ended with you.

Joanna Kleovoulou, clinical psychologist and PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre  in Bedfordview, Johannesburg, says: “Bullying needs to be taken seriously. There can be serious short- and long-term repercussions for all involved.” She defines a bully as someone who intentionally intimidates or torments those who are weaker. Bullying may be physical, psychological, verbal, emotional and even sexual, she adds.

Another clinical psychologist, Neo Hubert Talenyane, says: “Bullying may include taking or damaging the belongings of others, stealing their money, making threats and alienating then from their friends. Nowadays there’s a new tendency among bullies to take advantage of cybertools. They use mobile phones to send nasty, threatening texts and pictures to victims. They post belittling and embarrassing messages on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.”

What to watch for

Kleovoulou suggests watching out for these signs in your child: frequent name-calling (“loser”, “nerd”, “gay”, “idiot”), boasting, always getting his own way, spending a lot of time with younger or less empowered children, lacking empathy for others, displaying a defiant or hostile attitude and acting out aggressive behaviour (regular fighting, pinching, biting, gossiping, alienation).

Kleovoulou says children who bully are more likely come from homes where there’s a lack of warmth and interaction from parents, poor boundary-setting, harsh, physical discipline and bullying at home.

“While these kids may appear to be arrogant and self-centred, it could just be a masquerade to compensate for their low self-esteem, embarrassment, shame, anxiety and even depression. They sometimes resort to demeaning others in order to feel powerful and in control. Bullies may bully because they themselves are being bullied. Parents should remember that kids often mimic the behaviour of their parents,” warns Talenyane.

“Start by teaching your child to respect himself and the rights and property of others, and to find a healthy way of expressing his feelings. By doing so, you’ll set him on the road to living a more empowered life. If necessary, attend parenting workshops to help you deal with bullying situations more effectively or seek professional help from a child expert,” advises Kleovoulou.

Changing your child’s conduct

Kleovoulou suggests the following tips:

  • Explain to your child that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable – focus on his behaviour and not on him personally. Remember, you’re your child’s role model, so be mindful of any bullying behaviour you display on your own part.
  • Share with your child non-aggressive ways he can use to deal with sticky situations. Model respect, kindness and empathy, rather than leaving this to your spouse to do.
  • Establish appropriate consequences for bullying behaviour, such as taking away privileges.
  • Schedule an appointment to talk with your child’s life-orientation teacher and the school counsellor.
  • Observe your home environment – is there something there that’s encouraging this type of behaviour (violence on TV, video games)? Are there interactions that may lower your child’s self-esteem, such as constant teasing by a sibling?

Useful contacts

Contact Joanna Kleovoulou at PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre – Clinical Psychologists on tel: 011 450 3576 and enquire about Bully power Talks.

Contact Neo Hubert Talenyane on tel: 011 339 4019 or 011 680 4395.

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