This is the flip side to not being your child’s BFF. While you should not try to be your child’s best friend, you do need to develop a strong relationship with them. I am not saying that you need to be parent of the year; I am saying that you must be your child’s parent. As her parent, you will have a sense of authority that a best friend will not and cannot have. There will be times that this sense of authority will be absolutely critical.
The main reason that you should work on your relationship with your children is because there will come a time when you will need your children more than they need you. When that time comes you are going to end up wishing that you had developed a strong bond with them. This relationship is essential, whether your child is the bully, the target, the bystander, or even the upstander. Do not be close-minded about the possibility of your child being a bully. I know, it is hard to think of your child as anything but perfect. But good parents sometimes have bullies for children. It happens.
Just do your best to be alert to that possibility. If your child is the one who is acting like a bully, you will need to be in a more corrective mode, establishing your family’s standards of behavior. These standards need to be reinforced on a regular basis. You will need this strong relationship to lay down—and stick to—a firm set of guidelines. Inconsistency on your part only adds to their confusion. And, while establishing those guidelines, you will need to be understanding.
Children act like bullies for many different reasons. They may fear being bullied themselves; they may be getting revenge for being bullied; they may be trying to “fit in.” Although it is not the only reason, not fitting in is one of the main reasons children become bullies. If you discover this to be the case, you need to take action immediately to help him understand that he may be trying to fit in with a group that he really should not be part of. When my daughter was three or four, I told her that she needed to be the one to pick her friends.
As a general rule, if you wait for someone to pick you as a friend, you might not get the best friend for you. They could talk you into doing things that you already know you should not do, and end up in serious trouble. So, you pick your own friends; you should not allow them to pick you.
In any case, keep listening to your children. Help them identify what they need, and help them get their needs met without resorting to bullying others. If your child is the target of bullies, you will need to lead more with understanding and support. Condemnation will only make their distress worse. Your child needs to have complete faith that you can and will help him—and that you will accept what he tells you about the situation. You need to be able to look at his situation critically. This will also help you to determine the best course of action.
If you discover that your child is being bullied constantly, especially physically, you might have to consider helping him with a way to defend himself. Some martial arts are good at building a person’s self-worth and self-confidence, which really is the number one way for your child to defend himself against a bully. I am not suggesting martial arts as a way to beat up the bully. Anyone who has ever been involved in any form of martial arts will tell you very quickly that most martial arts build self-confidence. They teach you how to walk away from a fight instead of punching someone out.
One of the worst things you can do is embarrass or humiliate your child. If he does something that you disapprove of, call him aside out of earshot from anyone else and take corrective action at that point. Yelling, screaming, and berating him in front of other people does far more harm than good. This is one of the things that my father never understood. By the time I was fifteen, I wanted nothing to do with him. According to my psychiatrist, I had already developed PTSD thanks to my interactions with my parents. I tried to avoid my father any way I could. Most victims will try to avoid someone who is bullying them.
But if the bully is a parent, it is almost impossible to completely avoid them. If you don’t want to be like my father, you need to keep calm and gently make sure your child understands exactly what he has done that you disapprove of and why. Just saying, “Because I said so” will likely not be effective. It will leave him wondering what it is that he did wrong and why. This can also be very confusing to your child. At the very least, presume that he is intelligent enough to understand the point that you are trying to make.