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Stop Bullying, Educate
Stop bullying before it starts, teach children how
Children need parents’ guidance when it comes to either being bullied or being the bully. With taunting and teasing on the rise in schools today at an alarming rate, kids have to be taught from an early age how to deal with this serious problem. Unfortunately, the issue is becoming so disturbingly prevalent that it’s no longer a case of if faced with it, but rather when. Even if your child is not directly affected by this abusive behaviour he most likely will witness some form of bullying on or around the school ground. It’s therefore of primary importance to prepare kids for what they may be faced with when they begin school.
Do you teach your child to look both ways before crossing the street? Are they told never to go with anyone, even if the person is known to them, without asking for a secret password? Of course you do, you’re a responsible parent. Educating them about bullying is, in reality, no different, it’s just a more sensitive subject to broach.
Bullying is a social problem in communities worldwide. It’s in your backyard, it won’t go away if ignored and it’s not someone else’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem and we have to become proactive in order to avoid irreversible damage to our children.
1991 statistics from research done by Toronto’s Board of Education documented that in grades four to eight, one child in five was victimized periodically, while one in 12 was bullied weekly or daily. More recent studies show that 10 percent of children across the board are harassed on a daily basis, 30 percent of youth 11 to 15 have been a victim or predator of bullying and nine out of 10 have witnessed someone being bullied.* You can’t turn a blind eye to increasing statistics such as these.
Swedish born, Dan Olweus was a pioneer in bully and victim research with his first systematic intervention study in the 80s. Generally referred to as the ‘father’ of bullying research, Olweus is quoted as saying, "A person is being bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons."*
Far too often this type of behaviour is accepted by parents, children and teachers as part of growing up. I was privy to this attitude when my children were in elementary school. I intervened after witnessing two smaller, grade two students being taunted by a substantially larger, same aged, bully and escorted all three to the principal’s office. The response I received from the principal was an appalling eye-opener. She informed me that if parents, teachers or playground supervisors jump in to prevent such behaviour children will not learn how to deal with confrontational situations on their own. How can children learn to deal with any issue unless they are given the tools and skills to do so? You don’t throw your kids into the deep end of the pool without first providing them with swimming lessons.
So, what can we do to educate and inform our children about bullying in a safe way, one that will not leave them fearful? Age appropriate books on the subject are widely available in bookstores and libraries. Utilize them to start talking to your kids, at an early age, about bullying. One I’ve come across is, Oliver Button Is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola, First published in 1979 it’s recommended for ages four thru 14 and is an excellent tool to get your children on the road to being bully-free.
Parents need to provide ongoing communication in order to succeed raising respectful, responsible kids. Whenever an opportunity arises to have a discussion take advantage by asking questions, build on the words of your child. So often I hear parents of toddlers telling them to ‘use their words’ and too frequently I see the words fall on deaf ears.
If, as a child, you experienced being teased, taunted, called names, shunned/left out by peers or any repeated, hurtful act, draw on them to help teach and protect your children. As they grow, the more you share of yourself at this innocent age, the more they will communicate to you when they arrive at the tender, difficult teen years. If we continually empower children to develop a sense of self-worth, allow them to draw conclusions by using reason and encourage their strength to stand-up for what they believe in, the better chance they have of not becoming a victim of a bully.
Teach a child self-worth by encouraging them in everything they do, show how proud you are of them for minor accomplishments not just major ones. Project your own self-worth by not giving into their every whim.
For instance, your child has a tantrum and pushes the sofa cushions onto the floor and defiantly refuses to put them back in their place. Try not to get angry and don’t pick them up because it’s easier. Instead ask if you went into their room and threw all their blankets on the floor and didn’t pick them up would that be a nice thing to do? Unless he lies, which would add insult to injury, the response has to be ‘no’. Then ask if he feels you should have to pick the blankets up because you made the mess. Most children will answer this with a yes because they don’t think it would be fair if they had to. Next ask if you went into their room and made the bed for them, just because, would that be a nice thing to do? Again, the answer has to be ‘yes’. Now ask the child if he thinks he should pick up the cushions because he made the mess. Because of that innate sense of fairness he’ll usually respond with a positive answer. You’ve not only projected your own self-worth, but you have coached them in arriving at their own conclusion using reason.
As for encouraging children to stand-up for what they believe in, the best way to teach them is by example. Don’t be a bystander. Openly stand up for your own beliefs and they will follow suit. Let’s say you see a frustrated mother yelling at her child while you’re in the mall and you believe it to be wrong. Instead of ignoring the behaviour approach her and ask if there’s anything you can do to help. You may be told to mind your own business or you might be the shoulder she needs at that moment. Either way, you’ve openly demonstrated to not be a bystander.
Another tactic that can be employed is a pretend scenario; make a game out of it. Maybe begin with this one.
‘Do you think if another child was hurting your friend/sibling it would be a bad thing to do?’
‘What would you do if you wanted him to stop?’
Response: ‘Hit him.’
‘Okay, but then you would be hurting that child the same as he’s hurting your friend, right.’
‘That wouldn’t be good would it?’
‘So what else could you do that would be better?’
Response: ‘Tell him to stop or I’ll tell.’
Now it’s your child’s turn to ask you a similar question.
Recently I came across a touching item on the Internet, where a mother shared her story of her little girl approaching her while she (mom) was preoccupied in the kitchen. Her daughter said, ‘Mommy, look.’ To which she replied, ‘Uh-huh, that’s nice.’ Her daughter came closer and tugged on her sleeve saying, ‘Mommy, I want you to look with your eyes.’ Everyone should heed this wise, little girl’s advice. Communication is a wonderful thing.
*BullyBust 2009 CSEE (Centre for Social and Emotional Education
*Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do (Olweus, 1993)