As a parent, the last thing you want to learn is that your child is being hurt in any way by anyone. Bullying can be a difficult subject to address with children. The line between friendly teasing and saying something hurtful can be very thin and very hard to identify, especially if your child is young.
Young children are often repeating words and behaviours that they hear from others, whether that be from you, other parents, their peers, or media. As a parent, it does no good to try to prevent this kind of exposure and keep your child in the dark. What you want to do is control their exposure and help them to understand what they’re being exposed to and the good and bad things about it. (All easier said than done!)
Bullying is merely the side effect of insecurity, ignorance and anger, all of which can be lessened by educating people starting at an early age about acceptance, equality and simply just being kind to one another.
There’s More To Bullying Than Teasing and Shoving
Bullying has been getting a lot of attention lately and there seems to be new anti-bullying campaigns popping up every week. There’s a – it is one of the most important topics to cover with your children. Teaching your children to recognize all forms of bullying and how to deal with it are crucial for their mental health as they grow up.
Bullying is not just children pushing each other and calling one another names. Bullying includes a wide range of behaviour:
- Verbal or emotional put downs
- Anything directed at how someone looks, their ethnic background, their self-identification, their socio-economic status.
- Physical violence
- Intimidating someone
- Any action that makes someone feel unsafe or insecure
Helping your child understand the wide range of what bullying looks like will help your child recognize bullying when it happens.
Teachers And Other Adults Can Bully Your Child Too
Bullies aren’t just children in the park–adults can bully too (adults can bully children, young adults and other adults). Tell your child that it’s OK to “tell” on an adult too – just because they’re a “grown up” (especially ones that our children are told should be respected, like a teacher) doesn’t automatically mean that they’re right. Let your child know that they need to first and foremost respect themselves. Try to make your children comfortable with telling you or other trusted adults about bullying (or other behavior that makes them feel confused or uncomfortable) regardless of who is bullying them.
It’s very important that you don’t make your child feel like they’re vulnerable to bullying just because they’re young. Rather, help them understand that there are some “bad people” who bully others. Making this distinction with your child squarely puts the responsibility for bad behavior on the bully. You don’t want to make your child feel like they are inevitably going to be in danger until they are grown up. By teaching these facts of life at an early age you are fostering smarter, more confident and secure children. This will give your children an advantage, not just when they are dealing with bullies but with all kinds of situations as they grow older.
Teach Your Child Not To Be The Bully
More than anything, it is so important to teach your child that they can’t make fun of others or insult anyone either to their face or while talking to others. Explain that all people look, sound and act differently. Teach them about different religions, ethnicities and life situations and that they are not “less” than another, just different. (This might be a time for us to evaluate our own prejudices, behaviours and reactions) Helping your child understand and not just tolerate, but accept all individuals absolutely has to start young. Prejudices against ethnicity, disability, gender and so on can be imprinted easily on young children even inadvertently from both their peers and other adults.
If you find out that your child has been bullying another, try to figure out the nature of the bullying (who were they bullying? What were they bullying them about – appearance, gender?). Once you know what the conflict was and why your child felt they should bully this individual, you can begin addressing the problem.
Explain to your child that whatever they were making fun of this individual for isn’t something that makes them any less in any way. Don’t just tell them “you can’t call people that”, tell them why. Make it known that bullying is taken seriously – tell them that insulting someone is a very serious thing to do. Once your child understands how serious of an offence this is, they will hopefully be more sensitive to what they say and what others say in the future.
Okay, how do you actually deal with it?
Children are not always inclined to come forward about bullying for many reasons. They may be embarrassed, scared of what might happen if they tell or it may feel like letting the bully win.
- Take note of behavioural changes in your child, in sleeping and eating habits or a reluctance to go to school (or wherever the bullying may be taking place)
- If you suspect something might be going on but your child isn’t telling you about it, consider meeting with their teacher or whoever is with them during this time.
- If you do discover that any form of bullying is happening, take action. Let your child know that you are on their side, no matter what.
- Set up a meeting with a teacher or parent of child doing the bullying.
- Again, it’s not just about punishment, it’s about explaining and helping bring about an understanding in all those involved about why the bullying is hurtful and why it’s inappropriate.
Schools do what they can to teach conflict resolution, character traits and how to deal with certain types of bullying (physical bullying and cyberbullying, mostly). Unfortunately, schools and daycares can only do so much (and that can be sadly lacking), and you as a parent have to supplement this and play a role in educating your children about these things.
Fostering acceptance, kindness and just a human empathy in children at as young an age as possible makes a world of difference in their lives and all who interact with them. Be a great role model for your child and be conscious of how you’re acting towards different people. Imagine yourself in other people’s places in life and how you’d want to be treated if you were them. Pass this way of thinking onto your children and they will surely become some of the most respected and kind people out there.