No parent wants their child to be bullied. We staunchly defend our children against bullies and tend to "get tough" when the topic of bullying is raised. Interestingly, a "get tough" approach is not always what works. It turns out that treating children with care and kindness, and helping them nurture those younger and less able than themselves, might be the best tools for anti-bullying.
A program that originated in Toronto, Canada, called Roots of Empathy brings a mother and her baby (between two and four months old) into elementary school classrooms. Over a nine-month period, children in the class receive monthly visits from the mom and baby where they are encouraged to learn about the baby's feelings and see things from the baby's perspective. Teachers report that they see a reduction in aggression and an increase in sharing and helping in classrooms participating in this program.
Tips to Help Kids Develop Anti-Bullying Skills
Take a positive parenting approach to bully-proof and prevent children from becoming bullies or victims of bullying. Here are a few tips:
- Treat children with kindness, care, and respect. Children who are treated well are more likely to treat their peers well.
- Model for your child how others should be treated. Demonstrate how to welcome someone to your home or greet them when you meet at the park.
- Help children understand the consequences of their actions. Starting as young as toddlers, without blaming, point out the results of aggression: "When you hit Ian, it hurts him. Look, he is crying."
- Give information and direct guidance specific to the situation. "When you are with your friends, you can't talk all the time. You have to listen sometimes too.
- Play "perspective-taking" games during waiting times at the doctor's office or while commuting to help kids develop empathy. For example, ask "What would happen if you lived in a really cold place, but didn't have a coat?" or "What if everyone else got to play but you were left out. How would you feel?" Let your child also ask you questions, but be prepared that some may be silly.
- Keep the lines of communication open between you and your child.
Tips to Raise Confident Children
Confident and empathetic children are less likely to bully others or be bullied. Here are some parenting tips that lead to confident and empathetic children.
- Offer chances for your child to try things on her own. For example, let her carry a cup of water to the table even if it means there are a few spills.
- Give your child small jobs and responsibilities like feeding the pets or watering plants.
- Offer your child some opportunities to solve problems on his own, while staying close by if you are needed. For example, if your toddler crawls under a chair and gets stuck, don't immediately help him out. Stay close by and coach, "What if you put your arm out first and maybe scrunch down a little?" Problem solving is an important skill that your child will need again and again in life and building this skill can start early. Older children also need chances to try solving problems that come up with their peers.
Encourage empathy through:
- Giving your child opportunities to be with children younger or less able.
- Volunteering together as a family and helping your kids understand the importance of helping others who are in need.
- Teach young children tolerance and acceptance by modeling how you respect every kind of difference in people: age, size, religion, sexual orientation, skin color, language, etc. When you model treating all people with respect, your child will learn to do the same. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.
What should your child do if she is bullied?
- Sometimes walking away and asking for help is the best direction to stop bullying. Let your child know it is okay to ask for help. He is not showing weakness.
- Children can also learn to be assertive. Most bullies stop within 10 seconds if someone tells them to stop. Practice with your child what she might say to stop bullying. For example, "I am not going to fight. And you need to stop hurting other people. That is not okay."
We want our children to be confident and want to raise kids to be empathetic who can handle the situations they are confronted with. The best way to encourage these qualities is to treat children respectfully, show your confidence in them, model kind treatment of others, and give them chances to solve problems. In general, good parenting practices that apply in other situations as well will help build your child’s confidence and lessen the impact of any bullying.
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