At the playground on a sunny afternoon, my six year old son was waiting for a turn on the slide. Ahead of him was a little girl, no older than three, fiercely determined to get up all by herself. While she struggled a bit the other children waited patiently.
Except for the last boy in line.
After groaning and shouting out some mean words, that last boy got out of the line and shoved my son to the side. Then the boy started reaching and tugging at the little girls legs and calling her a “stinky baby.”
Stop that right now! I heard as I walked over.
Stop. I want you to stop hurting her.
My son stood calmly but confidently in place looking right at the boy. The other children joined in with variations of stop and stop that now. Also the little girl joined in with a soft stop it but tears had filled her eyes.
Bully Proofing Kids
Aggression and bullying between children is often ignored.
According to recent research in the United States, 85% of incidents of bullying receive no kind of intervention at all from children, parents, teachers or caregivers. Most children don’t speak up about being treated unfairly by other children. The most common types of bullying incidents are verbal and social (Statistics from the US Department of Health & Human Services)
- Name calling – 44.2%
- Teasing – 43.3%
- Spreading rumors or lies – 36.3%
- Pushing or shoving – 32.4%
- Hitting, slapping or kicking – 29.2%
Not every case of child to child aggression should be considered bullying. In fact raising alarm bells that toddlers and preschoolers that take toys, refuse to share, get frustrated, kick and bite are bullies is not helpful.
It is helpful to understand what bullying really is:
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. (stopbullying.org)
Even more helpful is to consciously parent in a way that bully proofs our children. So that they can feel confident when faced with a situation like the one my son encountered at the park.
Taking a positive approach to discipline and parenting has the potential to raise resilient, kind, empathetic children. Children that feel ready and able to stand up for themselves.
Treating children with respect when setting limits is part of an effective parenting strategy. So is listening attentively and focusing on emotion coaching and problem solving instead of trying to win power struggles and impose consequences. This positive approach makes boundaries clear, and can make a huge difference to the well being of a child and how they choose to relate to others.
So when we say no and set limits for our children, we help them discover predictability and safety in an otherwise chaotic world. And we build brain connections that allow kids to handle difficulties well in the future.. -No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel, Tina Payne Bryson
At the playground, my son had been able to confidently affirm his personal space. He also defended a younger child. Stop! had delivered his message clearly. I want you to Stop! Expressed his confidence. It also expressed that at age six, he did not feel afraid to set clear boundaries with others.
Realistically, this isn’t always going to be the case (for my son and other children). Many children find themselves in difficult and dangerous situations. Sometimes, children are simply too scared to stand up for themselves. Parenting in a respectful manner does however offers our children a solid blueprint to follow when possible.
Helping children develop assertiveness skills and the ability to speak up is essential to raising resilient, capable children. Here are a few parenting strategies that can help your child feel more assertive and confident:
1. Discipline with respect: Every child deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, even when boundaries are crossed, rules are broken and limits are tested. Choosing a positive approach to discipline gives your child a model of how to treat others well. And what it means to be treated fairly.
2. Communicate clearly: Set your expectations by communicating with your child clearly and calmly. You can encourage more cooperation and listening from your child by being kind and clear every time you must ask your child to do (or stop doing) something. Demanding and nagging your child only increases stress and anxiety. Saying what you mean, and meaning what you say models assertiveness.
3. Let your child use their voice: When children have space at home to share their opinions and ideas they are more likely to be able to speak up outside the home too. You don’t have to open negotiations for every little thing. Just give your child practice grounds for finding his voice. A child that can say “I’d rather have carrots instead of broccoli please” at home is more likely to be able to say “it’s actually my turn on the slide, you can go after me” at the park or school.
Kids that know how to argue well also tend to not engage in back talk. Read more about teaching children to argue well as a way to end back talk.
4. Rethink Tattling: This is a biggie, because parents and teachers really don’t want children to be tattling all the time. But if a child is observant and shares an injustice, only to be met with “stop tattling!” they may quickly learn not to watch out or help others.
Parent Coach Nicole Schwarz advises parents to Listen to the “tattling” and better yet, frame tattling simply as an opportunity to problem solve. Try asking your child “What do you think you can do about this?” or “Is there a way I can help you with this?” instead of seeing “tattling” as negative behavior.
5.Connect with your child daily. The stronger your relationship with your child the more your child will feel well, secure and capable of facing daily challenges. Amy McCreedy, author of The Me, Me, Me Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World recommends a daily dose of Body, Mind and Soul time with each of your children. That is 10 to 30 minutes each day where you listen, bond, play and just spend time together.
Bullying could happen anywhere so make it clear to your child that all feelings matter and that you believe that they are capable of standing up for themselves.
Parenting and bullying expert Michelle Borba explains that many children are “bound to encounter children who are deliberately mean” And she stresses that teaching children effective ways to deal with such encounters is important. She also reminds parents that “no child should ever have to deal with ongoing teasing, meanness and harassment.”
That day at the park, the “bully” was taken aside by his mother for a chat. My son ended up offering some comfort to the little three year old girl by saying “that must have been so scary for you. I’m sorry that happened. Do you want to try again?” And the other children once again waited for the little girl to climb and slide, even though it took a little while.
Every child has the capacity to be kind and assertive especially if we are willing to show them the way.
Peace & Be Well,
October is National Bullying Prevention Month if you would like some ideas for activities you can do with your child or more resources on this topic you can check out the following sites: