Bullying. It comes in three forms: emotional, verbal, and physical. It’s prevalent among children and teens and the problem seems to only be getting worse.
Now before you read any further, let me just preface this with the fact that I am NOT an expert by any means. I am a mother. I am a former kindergarten and first grade teacher. And I was raised to follow the golden rule of treating others the way you would like to be treated. Now, by all means, please read on.
I’m sure many of you have heard about the mother whose daughter was teasing a fellow fourth grader about her appearance so she decided to teach her a life lesson by having her wear unflattering thrift store clothes to school. You can read more about it here. Some professionals believe that this form of “shaming” is not the way to teach your child. I believe it depends on the situation and I, for one, believe this mother deserves to be commended for forcing her daughter to empathize with the girl she was bullying.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones for making it through the school years without having to deal with much bullying. Although it has always existed, it now seems out of control whether you live in the suburbs or an inner city school district. Too many times I have heard about a teenager who could not take anymore bullying from his or her peers and decided to end their own life. I cannot even wrap my brain around that. It is overwhelmingly tragic and heart-breaking. My husband is a high school teacher in an affluent, suburban school district and some of the stories he shares with me about the bullying that takes place in the school disgusts and infuriates me.
It starts at home. As parents, it is our responsibility to do the best we can to teach our children humility, compassion, empathy, and kindness (to name a few), and we should start when they are very young. It can be as basic as teaching your little one to share, play nice, be gentle, use kind words, say please, say thank you (I’m sure these sound familiar?). At times it may feel cumbersome repeating yourself over, and over, AND OVER again but when your child starts doing those things without you prompting them, or your reminders, it is such a great feeling. Those little, every day acts of kindness are the building blocks of their adult character!
That’s not enough though. If you’re going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. What effect do you think you will have if you tell your 8-year-old to use kind words with their siblings but do not show the same courtesy when you get angry with your children, spouse, or perhaps the parent of a child on the opposing sports team? Ok, we are human and make mistakes but I’m talking in general. Thinking before speaking or acting out can be extremely challenging, but it is also crucial.
Catch your children being good and reinforce the positive behavior you see. For example, whenever I see my 3-year-old share a toy with her 1-year-old sister I try to say something like, “Oh Caroline. You’re such a nice sister to share that with Emma!” I find the more I encourage a positive behavior, the more she continues that behavior (like sharing). Also, I try to teach empathy when she doesn’t want to share by asking her questions like, “How would you feel if Emma didn’t share her toys with you?” Sometimes she uses words like sad or mad in the right context and I know she is starting to learn how to put herself in other people’s shoes.
Clearly our children will be influenced throughout their life by more than just their parents (shocking, I know) and I have a feeling that once my girls reach their teens I will occasionally need to take a deep breath and remind myself that my husband and I have done our best to give them the tools, the building blocks, they need to be decent and moral human beings.