What do I do when I find out that my daughter is a bully?
Written by Dr Helen Wright on 30/11/2010
It takes real courage to face up to the fact that despite everything you have done to bring up your daughter to be kind and caring to others, it has emerged that she is demonstrating unkind or harmful behaviour to others. Usually, it is the school which will bring this to your attention, and although they will try to do so sensitively, you may experience a whole range of emotions: shame, anger, denial … but what is most important first of all is that you put all of these emotions to one side. Your daughter needs your help, and you will need all your emotional resources to help support her.
It is almost certainly the case that the situation your daughter finds herself in is a messy one. Rarely is it the case that bullying comes from nowhere – very often, a bully has herself been bullied, and this may not have been picked up at school, or will only emerge as you get to the bottom of what is going on. Avoid trying to apportion blame, however, and focus instead on what you can do to help change your daughter’s behaviour. Your daughter’s school would not have broached such a sensitive subject with you if they did not have some concrete evidence of what your daughter is doing, and you need to accept this if you are going to work together to help her reorientate herself.
Ultimately, both you and your daughter’s school want her to be happy, and it can pretty much be guaranteed that if your daughter is bullying others, she is unhappy to some degree. If you are looking for some reassurance, this should help – your daughter is not a fundamentally bad person, and her behaviour to others is at least in part a reflection of her unhappiness. It is possible to help her, and you need to work with her school to do this consistently and calmly.
Three main strategies you will want to consider: counselling, boundary-setting and relationship-building. Your first priority should be to arrange a counsellor for your daughter – see if her school can help recommend someone. Your daughter really needs to see a counsellor as soon as possible to help her unravel why she is behaving in this way, and to help her behave differently. This is unlikely to be a quick fix, and will take time, but it will be essential for her future well-being. Don’t be surprised or feel you are a failure if the counsellor suggests involving the whole family in this counselling – just see it as another way to help your daughter.
The school – and you – will want to set firm boundaries for your daughter’s behaviour; again, work with the school so that you are all following the same principles. Your daughter must stop bullying, and if this means that she cannot be allowed to be in certain places at certain times for a while, then go along with this. Together, you and the school will be giving your daughter the best chance to help her change what she is doing.
Keep closely in touch with your daughter’s school, and once things are improving, be guided by them to help your daughter mend bridges and re-build her relationships. Everyone ultimately needs to forgive and move on … but this will take time and a lot of effort. Don’t expect it all to happen overnight – but if you actively seek to make a difference in your daughter’s behaviour, and you work with as many other professionals as you can, it will happen.
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