Society is littered with the cliché images of some older grade kid pushing down the neighbourhood geek wearing broken glasses and stealing all of his lunch money for the week; to many this is the only visual that comes to mind when they hear the word bully. But modern society has come up with many more hashtags than just your basic Sandlot crew; add cyber-bullying, fat shaming, and more to the list.
And while protecting your kids from the worst of it is your job, the key to figuring out how to target bullies is by going straight to the source, and identifying what is bullying and what just hurtful behaviour.
When it comes to bullying, there are three things to consider: intent to harm, power imbalance, and repetition. Bullying happens, usually, frequently and when a child chooses to take part in a particularly hurtful activity and don’t stop despite seeing that they are causing harm. And most of the time, signs of bullying come from children who are experiencing hurt or bullying as well, and see hurting someone else as a release of their own pain and feeling.
Kids that are mean to more than one person, or use the internet to publicly post harmful comments, are establishing a precedent for cruelty, and are on their way to true bullying. For unintentionally or intentionally hurtful comments once, it’s mean. But once a pattern emerges, and someone has told the person to stop, then it has escalated from rudeness to bullying and a common thing for bullies are their inability to understand the pain of others. If you can get your children to understand that compassion is an incredibly important part of building positive relationships with others, you can decrease their chances of turning the occasional rude comment into full-on bullying.
Even with the increase of technology use in our children’s lives, it hasn’t significantly increased actually incidents of bullying; most kids these days are not engaging in cyberbullying, and continuing this trend is all in teaching your kids that they have to be responsible in the way they treat others. Let them know that they should report abuse that they see online, rather than let it happen, either through the website itself or to an adult.
And in the event your child makes a mistake, turn it into a teachable moment. The first step is to always be a good role model by how you treat those you encounter in life. If you’re always helping the old lady at the grocery store reach the top shelf items, your kids will pick up on this. If you’ve got incredible road rage and can’t make it through traffic without yelling obscenities, your kids will pick up on that too. It all starts at home, and showing them what you expect from them is the most significant factor if instilling good values.
The next step is in letting them know their actions have consequences, even when they can’t see them. Sometimes sorry isn’t enough; the damage is too deep just for one word. Teach them how to show that they are sorry rather than just saying it, by encouraging good behaviour, and positive life changes. If you treat people, including your children, with respect, they will in turn treat the people around them with respect, and while it doesn’t mean everyone will be holding hands every day, or ending bad days forever, but it means most of the days they do live will be happy, positive ones.
So while we’ll never get rid of bullying, and your kids can’t be protected from everything, letting your kids know that they have tools to stopping it, or teaching them not to do it, is a great way not to get in the vicious cycle in the first place. Strong kids who turn into strong adults is the end goal here, and when we work together we can make it happen.