04 Aug Bully-proof: Prevent Your Child From Becoming A Bully
In a previous blog, we addressed how to prepare your child to avoid being a target of bullying. But the same child that might be prone to being a target can also be prone to becoming a bully himself. Childhood is full of uncertainty and insecurity. Children who don’t have practice and role models for reconciling those feelings can turn to bullying as a way to exercise control. The path to recovery for bullies is just as difficult as the path to recovery for victims, so this blog addresses the flip side of the bullying epidemic—how to prevent your child from becoming a bully.
How to prevent your child from becoming a bully
Harvard University’s Making Caring Common project surveyed 10,000 youth and the finding that stood out most to me was the startling discrepancy between what parents say they value and what children perceive that their parents value. 96% of parents say that they want caring kids. They say moral character in children is “very important, if not essential.” But that’s not what kids are hearing. 81% of kids think happiness or achievement is their parents’ top priority. The study showed that “youth are 3x more likely to agree than disagree with this statement: ‘My parents are prouder if I get good grades than if I’m a caring community member.’”
So, consider carefully what actions you praise. Praise them when they score a goal in a soccer game. But also praise them when they help a team member up after a fall. Society sends a pretty clear message that achievement is measured by accomplishment. So you will need to balance that message by broadening the definition of achievement to include kindness and compassion for others.
Be Wrong Sometimes.
Bullies have an incapacitating fear of being wrong, or more precisely a fear of being perceived as wrong. A bully will convincingly argue their position without listening to reason or the ideas of others. And when their point is challenged, they revert to belittling and attacking their challenger. This behavior stems from a fundamental discomfort with being wrong, with not knowing an answer. The irony is, the more you are wrong, the more you are learning. So, the bully who refuses to see error in her own ways, is preventing her own growth.
It’s our job as parents to show our children that failure is often a necessary part of learning and to help them navigate the feelings of being wrong. Start by admitting your own mistakes clearly and with ease. Like in Dirty Dancing, when Baby’s father says, “When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong,” show your children that there is no shame in making mistakes as long as you learn from them. And when your child makes mistakes, praise the effort, and help them learn and grow.
Like anything else, raising an empathetic child requires practice in empathy. Make kindness a daily part of your family interactions. Offer to do a chore for a family member. Make your child’s favorite dessert out of kindness. Put a nice note or drawing on your child’s pillow.
Extend compassion outside the family as well. Give a homeless person a granola bar. Volunteer for community service as a family. Compliment your waiter and show him respect. The more your child is exposed to random acts of kindness, the more compassion and empathy will be entrenched in his personality.
Bullying is a tangible response to an intangible feeling. Feelings of sadness, envy, anger, and frustration are all natural parts of childhood. If parents are either uncomfortable with these feelings or neglectful of these feelings, the child is left to navigate them on her own.
The best way to help your child through these emotions is to acknowledge them in a calm, natural way. Give the emotion a name, talk about what is causing it, give it its due space, and help channel it in a positive way. For example, if your child takes another child’s toy, you might say, “Did you take the toy because you wanted it for yourself? When you want something someone else has, it’s called envy. It’s natural to feel that way sometimes, but it’s not nice to act on it by taking things that aren’t yours.” For some children, you may need to give the feeling a little space and time. “Take a few minutes and then let’s talk about all the things you have that someone else might be envious of. How would you feel if someone took your favorite toy?” Don’t avoid difficult conversations and difficult feelings. Confront them supportively and informatively. This gives your child a sense of control. And will give her the social and emotional skills to successfully process the emotional roller-coaster of growing up.
Kind, compassionate parents only yield kind, compassionate children if they demonstrate this kindness often and expressly. Don’t assume your child will innately obtain these personality traits. Like anything else, they must be modeled, practiced, taught, and praised. Collectively, we can raise the most accomplished—AND compassionate—generation the world has ever seen!