When we start to think about bullying, it’s important to understand exactly what bullying is and what it is not.
Bullying is when a person, or a group of people, with more power repeatedly and intentionally cause someone hurt or harm . It can take many forms including negative words and actions, and it can include the use of technology. It is not single acts of aggression, being disliked, or rejected, nasty words or mutual arguments.
Similarly, any child can become a target of bullying. They may be seen as ‘different’, a threat (possibly if they are a high achiever or are just someone everyone likes) or simply lack a support network.
It’s amazing how often conversations about bullying or cyberbullying come up these days: whether they happen in the playground, on the sports fields, in the work place, on social media or at home. Many of them are in response to an incident of bullying being exposed in the media or a disturbing episode closer to home.
As parents, it’s time to revisit bullying and turn our conversations towards prevention. Let’s focus on the key social and emotional skills our children need to be respectful and kind, and avoid being a target for bullying behaviour.
Developing empathy is a strong preventative strategy, but there are other things we can do to help ensure our children are less likely to be the target of bullying as well as less likely to display bullying behaviour themselves.
One of the best ways to do this is to model the behaviour you’d like to see in your children. Don’t jus tell them what to do. Give them opportunities to learn and practice things like:
• Values e.g. friendliness, respect and acceptance of differences
• Emotional skills e.g. learning self-respect and impulse control (like “think before you act”), anger-management and empathy, acknowledging that not all feelings are positive, and that everyone experiences a wide range of emotions, including negative ones.
• Social skills e.g. skills for making friends, resolving conflict and sharing and cooperation in play, sport and work.
• Thinking skills e.g. thinking through the consequences of their actions and looking at situations from another perspective.
With parents and children working together on these skills, they can help develop sensitivity to, and appreciation of, others around them.
Sources include: Dr Helen McGrath, Students, Cybersafety, Relationships and Life Education, 2012, National Centre Against Bullying, www.ncab.org.au, Early Childhood Australia www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au
Practical activities to do at home
Decide, as a family, to try the following over the next week:
1. Practise small acts of kindness and friendship . This could be helping someone, or talking to a new child/parent at school.
2. Show appreciation to others. For kids, this could be recognising the great work mums and dads do in the school canteen by thanking them, or thanking the volunteer coach.
3. Practise understanding others’ feelings. Create a scenario e.g. “There is a new boy in your class and he is finding it hard to make friends.” Discuss how might he feel. Or discuss “how does cheating in a game make people feel?” or “if your friend got a new puppy, how would they feel?”.
4. Talk about other people’s needs e.g. When you hear about a disaster or personal tragedy, discuss the needs of the people involved and how they might be feeling with your kids. Brainstorm what you could do to help in that situation?