I have three children and, like all parents, worry about pretty much everything related to their development. Stories in the media usually don’t alleviate my concerns. Every year we hear and read stories about children bullying other children, and every year those stories are more sensational and usually involve some social media platform I haven’t even heard of yet.
But when I find myself worrying, I do one of two things: decide there is nothing I can do and pray, or decide there is something I can do and take action (and still pray). The media coverage of a specific tragic incident last winter resulted in my tasking the Live Happy team to taking a closer look at the causes of bullying, and how we might prevent it, in our October issue.
It isn’t surprising that many of us worry about our children being bullied, but the reality is we should also worry about our children becoming bullies. It turns out that bullies and those they bully have some of the same psychological issues, such as low self-esteem and depression.
A big part of combating bullying lies in our ability to raise children to be citizens in good standing who treat other people with respect and dignity. There is only so much schools can do to try to tackle the issue of bullying. The more we can do at home to teach our children about the dangers associated with bullying behavior, the better the chances they will live happy and successful lives.
Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D., a professor emeritus at Stanford University who has spent most of his life teaching and studying psychology, says that teaching your children empathy should start from day one. By learning altruistic behaviors and perspectives, children will enjoy greater health and well-being. He also points out that there’s no real difference between the stress levels felt by witnesses and those felt by victims of bullying. Just seeing someone else being bullied can negatively affect one’s mental health.
Mark Dombeck, Ph.D., another psychologist we talked to, expressed the value of modeling good behavior to your children. If your kids see you treating other people with tolerance and respect, they are more likely to mirror your actions. Conversely, if you tend to be overly competitive and materialistic, your child will have a greater chance of developing aggressive behaviors. Mark says that children are not really born with the knowledge of how to treat other people, and that it’s our job to mold them into moral, ethical people.
Even the small acts, like good manners, help in the long run. When we focus on building our children’s emotional and social skills, such as kindness, compassion, and tolerance for differences, our kids will take that behavior to school with them, helping to create a warm and nourishing class climate. Grades will improve, peer relationships will get better, and there will be less stress overall — for the teachers as well as the students.
Here are three suggestions of things we, as parents, can do to help our children (and their schools) combat bullying:
1. Say "please" and "thank you."
These small social acts reinforce the “golden rule” state of mind. We are going to treat other people the way we would like to be treated.
2. Always keep the lines of communication open with your children.
If your child has become despondent and aloof, find out what’s going on. Too often, victims of bullying are ashamed to talk to someone about their problems.
3. Remember that strength-building starts at home.
Teaching your children the value of perseverance, self-control, and empathy not only helps to keep them from being bullied, it helps them overcome adversity and improve academically even if they are bullied.
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