The other day, I got a call from my husband, who told me that there’s been an incident in the bus. Our 5 year old, Sophie, got smacked in the face by this other girl who’s been giving her trouble. The first time it happened, Sophie said the girl spit on her bag. The second time, the girl grabbed Sophie’s water bottle and tried to break it. And now, the face smacking. The sight of Sophie crying while running to me just broke my heart into pieces. When the sadness subsided, the anger and frustration started to set in.
As parents, we try to raise our kids in an environment full of love, kindness and laughter. We teach them to be gentle and peace-loving, and tell them that fighting or hurting another person whether with action or words is unacceptable. And then they go out into the world and see this harsh reality– that not all people are kind, or gentle, or peace-loving. I remember this story about a boy who got into a fight while in the playground, and the father shrugged it off and said, “Well, they’re kids being kids.” I don’t get that. Kids are not born mean and angry and hateful. They grow into it. They learn it, until one day, they’re living it. Mean kids who don’t realize that what they’re doing is wrong grow up to be mean adults. That cycle has to be broken. If “being kids” meant being stupid and making irresponsible decisions, the adults should step in. We have a moral responsibility to make sure that we are not raising bullies. Equally important is our responsibility to raise kids who cannot be bullied.
So how do we teach our children not to be bullies?
- Empathy – At the heart of a kind child is compassion and empathy. It is knowing and understanding what it feels like to be in the other person’s shoes. When your child gets into a fight with a sibling, we should reprimand them, but more importantly, we should use it as a teaching moment and ask questions like “How do you think your brother felt when you took his toy?” or “When your sister ignored you, how did that make you feel?” Teaching them to be attuned to their own emotions help them become more sensitive to other people’s needs and feelings.
- Respect – To respect others means recognizing and accepting that each person is different. Kids come in all shapes, sizes and color; some prefer to play with a large group and others like to just read quietly in the corner. Some are huggers and some require a huge personal space. We need to teach our kids that different doesn’t mean bad, and we need to appreciate all these characteristics that make each other unique.
- Leading by example – Kindness and compassion are best taught by modeling the behaviors. Look for opportunities to show your kids genuine acts of kindness. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing. Some examples are: opening the door and offering to assist someone who’s struggling to carry a huge bag; letting someone with fewer items go in the grocery line first; or making a special meal together and giving it to a friend or neighbor who’s sick. Simple and sincere goes a long way.
Now what about if your child is on the “being bullied” side?
- Help your child develop self-confidence – According to Dr. David Perry, a professor of psychology at Florida Atlanta University, “Confidence is the single best shield against bullying.” Bullies tend to attack a person’s self-esteem through dominance and instilling fear. But they will have very little success doing that to a child who is confident and self-assured. Encourage activities like sports, ballet or gymnastics, playing an instrument, something that your kids can enjoy and be good at. You can also enroll them in martial arts or a self defense class, so they can be confident that they have the skills to defend themselves if need be.
- Develop social skills – Allow your child to form friendships and build healthy relationships. Learning how to interact positively and harmoniously with others limit the chances of your child being bullied. This “agreeability” of course should not be mistaken for being a pushover. There should be a balance of being nice but not too nice that people tend to step over you. You will also want to teach your kids about the value of being vigilant when people are taking advantage of their kindness.
- Teach them not to fight, but to fight back – Let’s face it. While we are all about raising good and kindhearted kids, the truth is, there are just mean kids out there. Fighting back can mean “If somebody hits you, hit them back, harder!” It can also mean learning to choose your fights and learning when to walk away. And when you do decide to walk away, fighting back can take the form of using the proper channels and reporting it to the authorities. School officials have an equally important role in breaking the cycle of bullying and ensuring that the school is a safe place for all our kids.
After what happened to Sophie, my knee-jerk reaction was to hunt the kid down, confront the parents and give them all a good beating. I was so mad, I wanted to get even. But once I calmed down, I realized how childish and irresponsible that was. It goes against everything that we were taught and are now teaching our kids. So I decided I would fight back, the right way — I talked to the school principal and appreciated the quick investigation and the actions they took to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. I am also fighting back by increasing awareness in whatever way I can, hence this post, and maybe future ones as well. This planet is already full of mean and angry people, Let’s let a little, or a lot more love and kindness shine through. After all, no one, especially not one as precious as her, should have to go through what she did.