October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. And, admit it, there’s no shortage of bullying examples with the presidential election just weeks away. While educators and students are working toward anti-bullying campuses, kids are learning how not to behave, thanks to campaigning politicians.
A recent study showed 49% of students in grades 4-12 experienced being bullied at school at least once during the previous month. And 30.8% admitted to bullying others during that same time. Name-calling and rumor-spinning. Being left out or humiliated. These are part of the school experience. But with more bully-related suicides each year, schools are working to diffuse dangerous situations.
The town hall turned mud-slinging debate was embarrassing for most of us. But the 10-year-old in our house left the room with her ears covered, saying she couldn’t watch “grown-ups screaming names at each other”.
I didn’t laugh. I was sad. Sad that a fifth-grader (with current events now part of her curriculum) was learning our political system through behavior she sees on the playground.
I realized two things: Kids do notice. And even when we are at our worst, adults are always role models
We teach our kids the importance of good behavior. At my granddaughter’s school, students intervene and report inappropriate behavior. They are commended for standing up for someone or sitting next to someone new at lunch.
Nobody wants their child to be bullied. We don’t want to raise a bully, either. We want our kids to stand up for themselves. But we don’t want them ridiculing someone to win or keep friends.
Being a kid is fraught with dilemma and inconsistency.
Insults and name-calling work well for politicians. Humiliation and intimidation are part of the sports world. We live out our inner playground selves in adult conversations and on social media.
Even if our children aren’t watching television or on the internet, the trickle down is predictable.
What can parents do to convince kids that good behavior is still our goal?
Dr Charles Fay, president of the Love and Logic institute suggests these ways to create an anti-bullying atmosphere at home:
Model the behavior you want your children to display.
“Demonstrating compassion and forgiveness toward others is probably the biggest tool parents can use to shape these attitudes in children.” Fay says.
It’s not only how we act toward others; it’s also what our kids overhear us saying about others. If we want our kids to respect other people, Fay suggests they overhear us talking positively about them.
They should also hear us saying things like: ‘Well, I certainly know that I’m not perfect,’ ‘Everybody makes mistakes,’ and ‘I choose to forgive people because it’s the right thing to do, and I feel better, too,’ he explains.
Be an empathic parent.
“When kids are treated with great empathy, they learn to provide it to others,” Fay says.
This doesn’t mean refrain from discipline. It means we allow them to experience the consequences of their actions, while providing sincere empathy.
Teach your children to be victors, rather than victims.
“Wise parents rescue their kids from emotional or physical danger, only when rescue is absolutely necessary,” Fay says.
“In most situations our children are better served when they learn skills for dealing with bullies in calm, assertive or even humorous ways.”
One boy learned to smile when being called names and reply, ‘I never thought of it that way. Thanks for sharing.’ Then he’d walk away and stand by kids he knew would support him.
As adults we become weathered and jaded. We justify bad behavior as ‘the way things are’ or ‘the way it’s always been’.
We expect better from our kids. What if we expected the same from ourselves? What if we expected it from our leaders?
For more about bullying and anti-bullying programs check here. And for information on Charles Fay’s new book Bullying: When Your Child is the Target.