Prevent Bullying through Social and Emotional Learning
Bullying is something we hear of all too often. It happens at school, on the playground, on sports teams, on social media, and even in the workplace. Bullying may start with one child being mean to another. If it gets out of hand, it can turn into bullying before we even realize it. However, bullying can be prevented if we support our children in becoming confident and caring individuals who look out for themselves and their peers.
People will always have differences in opinions, personalities, and ways of handling conflicts, and it’s supposed to be that way. Still, it is essential that children also learn to respect and appreciate those differences, even from a young age.
When thinking about preventing bullying, there are two different sides to consider—the one being the bully and the one being bullied. The supportive strategies are quite similar, though. In many cases, a bully may feel overwhelmed, overpowered, and like a failure. The reason they bully could be to try and get some control over themselves and others.
For us as parents, the best advice is to listen to our children and to observe
If your child tells you that other children are being mean to them or if they show signs that something is wrong, such as feeling ill, having headaches or stomach aches, or not wanting to go to school all of a sudden, it would be good to investigate. Parents know their kids best and when you have the slightest inclination that your child might be bullied, don’t just let it go.
There are various things that parents can do at home to set their children up for success and to prevent them from becoming bullies or being bullied. Just as we are aware of our children’s physical, cognitive, and motor development, we also need to be mindful of their social and emotional learning and well-being and help them develop the skills to become confident and caring individuals.
Spend time together
Life is often rushed, and we sometimes tend to live past one another, even if we live in the same house. Try to make a point of having a meal together as a family at least a few times a week. Instead of eating in front of the television or having a device at the table, chat with each other. Speak about your day, and ask the children about theirs. Don’t be afraid to share when you didn’t have a great day. Use it as an opportunity to talk about what helped you get through it.
It is quite an adjustment for a parent to be able to share this with their children. So often, we feel that we are expected to be strong and fearless, but life happens, and we certainly don’t always feel that way. Acknowledge when perhaps you were treated in a way that made you feel bad. Chat about what you did about it or what you would like to do differently next time. Occasionally you could even ask your family members for ideas: “Has someone ever said something to you that made you feel bad? What did you do? What else could we try?”
Remind your kids that you are there for them
Spending time together, taking an interest in their interests, and showing up for the things that matter to your child already gives them the message that you care about them. Even though they might not thank you for it or even acknowledge it, they notice. Create opportunities to chat, but never force your child to talk to you—just be there. It can be as simple as taking a walk together or having a snack together after school. If you feel it is necessary or notice some unusual behavior from your child, you may even want to remind them you are always there to chat if they need someone to talk to.
Help your child build confidence
Confidence can go a long way in preventing bullying. There is no need to be arrogant, but being confident can cause a bully to leave you alone. Help kids build confidence by building on their strengths and reinforcing them when they try hard, work hard, and challenge themselves. When they feel more confident in themselves, they will gradually become more confident in social situations. Another good idea is to practice looking confident. Stand in front of the mirror with your child and show them what a confident person looks like—shoulders back, head upright, and feet shoulder-width apart. This can be practiced and even if you don’t feel very confident (yet), it certainly gives others the impression that you are.
Encourage your child to befriend others
Bullies do not usually bully because they feel strong and good about themselves. They often target those who are vulnerable or on their own, or who have a hard time fending for themselves. We can teach our children to look out for the kids sitting by themselves during lunchtime, those who don’t have anyone to play with, or those who are always the last ones to be picked for teams and group activities.
Encourage your children to include these kids—not just to try and be nice, but also potentially to make a wonderful new friend. It would be good to remind your child of times when they felt left out or were sitting alone during lunchtime. Chat about what that felt like and how they could ask a friend to spend some time with them. These social and emotional skills will take some time to learn and practice, but they will be beneficial throughout your child’s life.
Talk with your kids about anxiety
A child who has experienced or even observed bullying is bound to be affected by it. One of the consequences may be heightened levels of anxiety. A bullied child may feel anxious about going to school, or being alone during playtime or lunch. Children deal with anxiety in different ways. Some kids tend to withdraw, some may be afraid to speak, and some may even feel ill with physical pain. Others try to fight off feeling anxious by being silly or boisterous. When we look out for these signs, we will recognize when our child may be feeling anxious.
It is essential to speak to your kids about anxiety. Every person feels anxious at times—it is the body’s way of warning us when we might be in danger. Sometimes our body overreacts, though, and we might start to feel anxious even though we are not in danger. Children can learn how to be in control and manage their anxiety. Teach them to do slow, deep breathing or use supportive sensory toys when they feel anxious. Help them find ways to ensure they are safe, and then practice talking to themselves to remind them that they are safe.
Practicing mindfulness could be a good way of managing the anxiety that can arise from bullying, for both those who are bullying and those being bullied. Just as our lives are often rushed, it can be the same for our kids. Children, especially as they get older, may be under a lot of pressure to get good grades, excel in sports, or be the class leader. Combine this stress with the normal changes and uncertainty children go through at different stages of development, and things can be quite overwhelming for them.
Children who are overwhelmed may not be in a position to be kind, caring, and understanding toward themselves and others. We need to help our children find time to slow down, unwind, and reset their focus as it gives them moments to release stress, and consider their actions. This may mean spending some time doing physical exercise, going for walks, listening to music, or relaxing on the couch with some hot chocolate. The best way to teach it to our children is to model it!
Time spent teaching our children about social and emotional development is never wasted. The world needs more kind and caring individuals. Our responsibility is to teach the next generation to become those individuals. Be sure to take a look at Moshi’s Kindness, Caring, and Sharing with Dewy and Cali’s Rockpool of Inclusivity. These stories are a great way to reinforce and consolidate for kids those skills that we are teaching them in a practical (and entertaining) way.