How to Teach Your Children About Bullying

Pink shirt day may have gone and past, but the conversation should continue throughout the year. We must take a stance and continue the conversation with our loved ones about bullying, whether they are being bullied or the bullies themselves. Not just in schools and in cyberspace, bullies are everywhere: they exist in workplaces, grocery stores, restaurants, and in families. We hear stories about children being bullied in school, and how it carries with them throughout their adulthood.

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This subject is hitting closer to home than I imagined. I came home one day to find my little girl sitting on a chair being really quiet, and asked for a cuddle. She quietly asked me if her smile was ugly. Immediately my mama bear instincts went rogue and knew something wasn’t right. You see, we aren’t allowed to say the word ugly at home. It’s a “bad” word. She couldn’t aptly articulate her feelings, but after a small talk, she revealed her “best friend” said this to her. This was a tough one. How do I tell her a friend she adored greatly was bullying her. It wasn’t the first time. This same friend also told her she was scribbling (come on, my daughter is not even 4 yet!) and it wasn’t allowed. It made her feel very self conscious and frankly, just plain sad.

One billboard advertisement suggested we “erase bullying”, as if this were possible. It angered me because it’s not about erasing or deleting bullying. It’s about education, having conversations about stereotypes and discrimination, welcoming and celebrating differences, forgiveness and relationships. 64% of adolescents report they have been bullied, and 40% of adults are bullied in the workplace. The damage is real. Let’s work together to combat these numbers.

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Here are a few tips to help lower these statistics.

Don’t be a bystander. Step up and speak up. The chilling case of Kitty Genovese in the 60s being beat up outside her home with neighbours around not helping frightens us all. This is not an urban legend nor a blast from the past. It still happens today. More recently, it took 16 minutes for paramedics to help a man who was severely hurt at a Quebec metro station earlier this month. He eventually died, but videos showed several bystanders walk past him without seeking help. Similar with bullying, if you know someone is being bullied, seek help and offer support to the person being bullied. You are just not helping with one situation but sending a message that what is happening isn’t okay and we all need to pitch in and help.

If it feels wrong, it probably is. Bullying comes in several shapes and sizes. It may not be typical loud mouth bullies coming to beat you up physically in the alley. If you feel uncomfortable and someone is preventing you from being yourself, then it is very likely bullying. Speak up and confide in someone who can help deter these actions.

Celebrate diversity. If you have a family with young children, start by teaching them about differences and inclusion. Teach them that people come from various racial and cultural backgrounds, physical and mental abilities, gender and sexual orientations, and they are all like us. Thankfully there are a lot of books and toys that can teach children about this. Recently I pleasantly saw a selection of dolls with physical disabilities, glasses, and from different racial backgrounds.

Speak up. Look at the big picture. Bullies are just like everyone else, except they use intimidation to get what they want. Don’t let them. Speak up and curb their behaviour before it becomes mentally draining. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking up, confide in someone who can help you in the situation.

Don’t fuel the fire. Our natural instincts when we are hurt by someone is to hurt that person back. It is a lot easier said than done but acting vengeful doesn’t help any situation and can make it worse. Remember words hurt and be the bigger person by stepping away.

As for how I dealt with my daughter’s situation, I consulted one of my colleagues who specializes in early childhood development.  He suggested to discuss the idea of bullying and empower her to speak up.  In very simple terms, I told her whenever someone consistently says or does things that make you unhappy, this is a form of bullying and it isn’t okay. I also advised her to speak up and tell her friend that it makes her sad when she says things like this. It is also her duty to let her know friend that the line is crossed. I hope this will be a good start for her to develop skills to defend herself and others from bullies.

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