One of the best ways to prevent bullying is to raise kids who don’t participate in or tolerate the behavior. Here are 14 things parents can do in order to not raise bullies.
by Todd Patkin
• Have “the talk” about bullying. The truth is, nobody ever thinks their kid is a bully. It’s always someone else’s child who is calling other kids hurtful names, pushing them around on the playground, and sending nasty texts. But according to Patkin, even if you don’t believe your children have even thought about crossing the line, talking to them about bullying is crucial. Have a specific discussion with them about what bullying behaviors look like, and make sure your kids know these behaviors will not be tolerated in your family. (Think of it as having “the talk” about not using drugs, for example.)
• Make sure your kids know bullying is hurtful. Especially when they’re younger, kids might not have the emotional maturity to make the connection between their words or actions and how they make another child feel. Explain to your children bullying can have devastating effects on others (even if that wasn’t the bully’s intent) and on the perpetrators themselves.
• Share statistics with your children. If you feel it’s age appropriate, take a few minutes to research bullying statistics with your child. A quick internet search will reveal a large number of disturbing facts. For instance, according to www.bullyingstatistics.org:
• Almost 30 percent of young people participate in bullying behaviors or are bullying victims.
• Every day, around 160,000 students do not attend school because they are afraid of being bullied.
• Young people who have been bullied are two to nine times likelier than their nonbullied peers to consider suicide.
Seeing these statistics can prove to your child bullying isn’t just something Mom and Dad are needlessly worried about – it’s something that’s happening at their schools and to their peers.
• Teach your kids to intercede. Teaching your kids not to participate in bullying behaviors is a good start, but it’s also important they not allow their peers to be tormented. Encourage them to step in if they see another child being treated badly – if they are comfortable doing so. If not, make sure your child knows to talk to a teacher or other authority figure when another child is being tormented. Even an anonymous note on a desk can open an adult’s eyes to a bad situation.
• Be involved every day. It’s tempting to think the best thing we can do for our children is to provide a good life for them, to include not only the basics of food, clothing and shelter but also a good school, weekly piano lessons and an everybody-plays sports team to participate in. No, those things aren’t at all bad, but they also can’t take the place of what’s truly the most important thing in a child’s development: his parents. Patkin is adamant no activity, program or hobby can replace time with your kids. Being involved in their lives on a daily, nitty-gritty basis will allow them to stand the best chance when it comes to making all the right choices (not just avoiding bullying). Don’t leave your children’s development in the hands of others or up to chance.
• Don’t be afraid to discipline. Patkin isn’t advocating “spare the rod; spoil the child” – but he is saying kids need to be aware of boundaries from a young age. They need to know if they violate the rules, there will be consequences. Period. It’s important to squelch bullying behaviors the moment they appear instead of writing them off as a “stage” or “normal part of childhood.” For instance, if you see your daughter being nasty or overly bossy to her younger brother, tell her she needs to play more nicely. Pre-determine consequences that will be enacted if the behavior doesn’t change and make sure your daughter knows about them. Then stick to your guns.
• Explain the why. Making sure your children know the rules of good behavior – and the consequences when they step over the line – is a good first step. But if you want those behaviors to “stick” when you’re not around (not to mention after your kids leave home), it’s a good idea to make sure they understand why the rules are there in the first place. For example, explain why you don’t make jokes about the way somebody looks – because it hurts feelings!
• Be a good example. You can’t hold your kids to one standard of behavior and then flout those rules yourself. Make sure your own actions are friendly, compassionate and courteous. Say “please” and “thank you” to wait staff, for example, and resist the urge to browbeat that snarky salesperson into shutting up and helping you more quickly. And if you do slip up, be sure to admit your mistake and point out to your kids how you could have reacted differently.
• Encourage empathy. Look for teachable moments you can use to help your child consider how others are feeling. Getting kids into the habit of considering others will cut down on the chances they’ll bully someone else. When your kids are young, look for children’s books that illustrate how badly others feel when they are left out or teased and read them together. You can also use family movie night as a starting point – after all, very few films are free of harsh words, taunts or nasty behavior (even if they’re PG-rated). Press the pause button and ask your child how he thinks the character who is being treated badly feels. You can also do this as you go about your day (for example, if you see a customer treating a cashier rudely at the grocery store).
• Help your children understand “different.” Many children who are bullied are somehow “different” – from a different culture, a different socioeconomic group, handicapped or other. As much as possible, expose your children to “different” people to promote understanding and friendship. For example, check out a library book about another culture’s religious holidays and read it together. Sign your family up to participate in a walk for autism. The more your kids understand the world around them – and the more they learn that “different” doesn’t mean “less than” – the less likely they’ll be to target other groups.
• Teach them to lead selflessly. It’s an understatement to say our society encourages kids to be leaders. Everything around them practically screams, “Be number one! Climb as high on the ladder as possible! Do everything you can to be successful!” It’s important to teach kids to achieve those goals by earning the respect of others – not by hurting others. Explain to them that yes, you can reach the top of the pecking order by putting others down and intimidating them – but these tactics will ultimately cause you to be unpopular, despised and alone. Talk about how people who work with others to achieve common goals are ultimately happier and more successful.
• Talk about technology. Within the past generation, technology has made bullying much more prolific; after all, taunts no longer have to stop when the school bell rings. Plus, the relative anonymity of an online identity makes kids much bolder than they might be face-to-face. Have a frank discussion with your kids about what is and isn’t appropriate for email, texting, social media and more. Make sure they understand what’s said online can be just as hurtful, and that it’s much more public and permanent than what’s said in the school hallways. Also, talk about the fact even passing on a text that originated with someone else makes you guilty of bullying.
• Encourage them to spend time with positive people. While no child wants to hear from her parents that she’s hanging out with the wrong crowd, you can encourage her to spend time with people who approach life with positive attitudes and healthy perspectives. Also, pay attention yourself to who your child is hanging out with. If you identify a bad influence, don’t be afraid to limit the time your child spends with him or her. Yes, as a parent you’re the biggest influence on your child’s development, but don’t forget her friends will also have a huge impact on her behaviors and beliefs.
Take every opportunity to build their confidence. Many bullies pick on others because they themselves have low self-esteem, and putting down others makes them feel more powerful. By helping your child be confident, happy and fulfilled, you reduce the chances he will be a bully.
About the author:
Todd Patkin grew up in Needham, Mass. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next 18 years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.