(Ohio) – Bullying…it’s something we’ve all either dealt with on one side or the other or witnessed. It’s been around for what seems like the beginning of time, but we can begin to change that in the generation we are raising today.
A while back I did an interview with a woman who ran an organization called ‘unbullyable.’ She was inspired by the book by Sue Anderson. She explained to me that all too often anti-bullying efforts have the approach backward. Instead of creating stronger, more resilient children, these campaigns often focus on alienating other children (the bullies) and allowing the victims to continue to be easily affected and targeted.
She gave me a perspective that will always stay with me. The bully, at least in a school setting, is a child too. They are often lashing out and bullying is quite possibly their response to their own personal challenges and struggles. An anti-bullying campaign almost bullies the bully…in my opinion. I feel it is more effective and holds the potential for more longevity if we do our best to raise our children in a way that cultivates resilience, patience, understanding, self-love and appreciation, kindness, and respect.
I am no expert, but just a mom trying to do the best that I can. So, while my daughter isn’t quite old enough to have experienced bullying first hand, I’ve started implementing a few lessons now in hopes that my approach has a positive and lasting influence.
- Have regular conversations with your child and truly listen. Sure, stories from a 4-year-old can be quite interesting and sometimes go on without an end, but I have made it a point to give her my undivided attention when she’s telling me a story. I’ve found that she begins to feel validated, heard, and even understood…no matter how many unicorns and flying popsicles made a cameo in the eccentric story she shared. I prioritize the ‘truly listen’ part of this approach. I ask questions about her story, I acknowledge her answers and explanation, and even bring up the stories in later conversations. My strategy is to strengthen her confidence in speaking up and sharing what’s on her mind. I want her to know that she is heard and no matter what, someone is always here to listen.
- Every night before bed I ask her to tell me one thing she did that was kind during the day. When we talk about bullying, we must remember that some children are bullied and others become the bullies themselves. In order to truly make a difference in the fight against bullying, my belief is that we need to tackle both sides that our child may potentially end up on. I ask her this question to get her to think about kindness…to understand it…to appreciate it…and to have the ability to repeat it. When we started this routine she had a difficult time coming up with an example. So, throughout the day I would note the kind things she did that I witnessed and share those with her that evening. Eventually, she was able to identify moments throughout her day when she was kind all on her own. I began to see the excitement in her reaction and eagerness to tell me about the kind thing she did that she was most proud of therefore, I hope, making kindness something she seeks out and looks forward to each and every day.
- Celebrate who your child is. If they like ketchup on their mashed potatoes or if they like to watch TV upside down. Whatever the weird and awkward elements are that make your child who she is…even if those things make no sense to you…celebrate them. From what I’ve seen, children who are different: different hair color, different style, different mannerisms, different interests, different backgrounds, and lifestyles…tend to be targeted by bullies. So, start early on in developing confidence in those unique pieces of your child rather than doubt. My daughter has her own sense of style and sometimes…to be honest…I question going out in public when I let her dress herself. But, then I’m reminded that she is her own person. So, I nurture her decisions. Sure, I may ask her to walk me through why she made that choice, but I encourage her to be proud of who she is and that being different and unique is a great thing. My hope is, that if someone questions an outfit she chooses in high school one day (so long as it’s modest…of course…because that’s my only requirement) she doesn’t doubt her choice. But, rather she holds her head up high with confidence and pride and explains that she’s wearing it because she likes it and the conversation ends there without any lasting effect on her day.
- Teach your child that everyone has a story. Again, on the other side of the bullying spectrum, I want my daughter to understand that everyone comes from somewhere. And every single person in the world has a story. Why does this matter to a 4-year-old? Well, I’m hoping she becomes interested in getting to know other people before assuming and without judging. For example, she currently has a little girl in her preschool class that has some behavioral issues. She tells me about her pretty regularly and we talk about it. Instead of leaving her questions unanswered and allowing her to assume this little girl is just bad or doesn’t listen, we talk about how maybe this is her first time being away from her mommy, something my 4-year-old can definitely relate to. We talk about how maybe her favorite blanky or teddy bear couldn’t come to class with her and it makes her sad, again something my daughter can relate to (the infamous blue blanky that desperately needs to be washed). When we have these conversations I begin to see her understanding and even empathizing with the little girl. Then I ask her what would make her feel better in a situation like that…maybe making a new friend? I encourage her to introduce herself and maybe choose to play with this little girl during the next activity center time.
Am I an expert, far from one. Am I even an experienced mother whose seen my approach be successful, nope. But, I love my child more than anything in this world and I want to see her succeed. I want her to be strong and confident in who she is. I want her to know she is always heard and always has someone to talk to. And I want her to think about others and always put kindness first. So, we’ll tack this up as a hopeful experiment with the best of intentions. Which, in reality, isn’t that what motherhood is?