There are a lot of articles out there focusing on keeping your kids safe from bullies, and no doubt a few on this website especially. But what we’re going to talk about today is something a lot of parents may not even consider – the possibility that their child could wind up being the bully.
For the most part, parents try to raise their children to be as friendly, kind, and hard working as possible, and that’s evidenced by the small percentage that bullies make up of the general population. Bullying behavior isn’t typical, and it’s something that is learned at a really early age.
The link between loss of free play and the rise in bullying
Believe it or not, the social skills that your child will one day use as an adult are ultimately honed in their youngest years, from preschool and kindergarten ages. It’s during these critical years that kids begin shaping their communications skills based on their interactions with their peers, and further developing those skills as they cross into elementary and junior high school.
So where do things go wrong? A lot of factors can facilitate the kind of aggressive and domineering behavior we see in a bully, but more than anything it’s the ‘helicopter parenting’ that doesn’t allow children to work to solve their own problems from the start.
Studies have shown that with the rapid decline in unsupervised free play, children are having more and more difficulty communicating in constructive ways, resulting in problems with numerous relationships later in life. Without this unstructured play time with kids of varying ages, kids never develop the social skills needed to both get along with others and assert themselves.
I know what some of you may be thinking. What?? Unsupervised play? But what if something happens, what if they need me! The key here is to give your kids the space to solve problems on their own, but be there if they should ask for help. All too often a parent is ready to jump up and defend their child or help them, and that of course is wonderful, but it means their child never has to figure out anything for themselves.
Take a step back and let them figure things out on their own, then intervene if they decide they need your help. Even at that point though, always ask your child questions, and walk through the steps toward finding a solution, rather than just presenting it to them.
Leading by example
Next comes the bigger picture, of raising by example. Though everyone has their own parenting methodologies, it’s generally understood that children will emulate behavior they see, particularly that of their parents. Use of threats and force with your child to get them to comply with requests may prompt them to behave the same way with their peers.
Though it’s easier said than done when dealing with a tyrannical toddler, it’s important to at least start the process of conflict resolution in your home with a conversation. Don’t just lecture, listen. Ask them why they’re acting that way, and tell them how it makes you feel. Work together to find a solution or compromise, and this is something your child is more likely to do with others later in life.
Bullying as a defense machanism
One major reason that bullies act the way that they do is that they feel constantly on the defensive, like every innocent action is instigative and threatening, and they react accordingly. It’s not only how they justify their actions, but often why they result to them in the first place.
Teaching your child to listen to others and talk out their problems before jumping to conclusions helps to mitigate this problem, and opens their minds to feelings like empathy.
More often than not, bullies have little concept of how their actions may negatively affect others, and are even out of touch with how others perceive them. They don’t think they’re a bully, they feel they’re doing what is necessary to “survive”.
Teaching your kids how to communicate and listen to others will help them to empathize with their peers, and not just avoid becoming a bully themselves, but stand up for other students who may be dealing with those problems.
How to give your kids perspective
Though a certain degree of bullying is biologically normal, continued behavior is not, and can be seriously damaging to future relationships. Kids that grew up bullying others are statistically more likely to suffer from emotional disorders, and commit acts of child and domestic abuse. It’s unimaginable to consider, but this is what our kids could become if we don’t teach them to respect and communicate with others.
Teaching empathy and kindness can be difficult, particularly with kids going through the “mine” phase. There are however a lot of activities you can start at a really young age that teach kids to the world through another person’s eyes, and will also bring you closer together as a family.
Take little trips all the time
Travel has been shown time and time again to be wonderful for building perspective. No matter what you can afford, take your kids on regular trips to any place that offers a change of scenery. Encourage them to try the local foods, take them to the mom and pop shops, and immerse them in a life that’s different than their own for a weekend.
Get involved with your community – together
Acts of charity are also excellent for building these skills in children, and also offer opportunities to communicate with others. Working with a women and children’s shelter can give children an opportunity to help kids they may perceive as very much like them, just in a different situation, and help to enhance their perspective. Donating toys, time, and energy to a cause solely to help someone else is going to show them how to be compassionate, and that it’s never okay to turn a blind eye to someone that needs your help.
Teach them to respect all life
I also strongly suggest having your kids around animals as much as possible as a kid. If dogs and horses aren’t something you can swing, take them to a farm for a day, or go volunteer at an animal shelter with them. Kids who grow up with compassion for animals are kinder and gentler with others as adults, and vice versa – children that display domineering behavior with animals wills likely do so with peers they perceive to be weaker than them as well.
So how do you keep your child from becoming a bully? There is no simple, straightforward answer, but ultimately it comes down to setting a good example for them. That old saying, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ has no place here – it’s time to show your kids the way they need to treat others by walking the walk.
Give them the freedom to figure things out on their own, give them the experience to see things from another’s perspective, and give them the kindness and respect you want to see them show others.