My husband posted a thought-provoking video recently featuring Wil Wheaton talking about bullying. Mainly from the point of view of the victim. It is definitely worth a view.
I have read a lot of posts about protecting our kids from bullying. Posts about how to build their resilience. Posts on how to respond, what to do, how to manage such a situation. But I haven’t seen many at all about working to prevent your child from being a bully themselves.
While I’m worried about my kids being bullied because of their differences, I’m also acutely aware that they, like any child, have the potential to be bullies themselves. I want to raise them to stand up for themselves but also to respect others so they don’t inadvertently become bullies too.
The NSW Department of Education and Communities defines bullying as “repeated verbal, physical, social or psychological behaviour that is harmful and involves the misuse of power by an individual or group towards one or more persons”. I have to admit there have been times that I have seen this sort of behaviour exhibited by my own children. And it scares me.
Gilbert can be verbally aggressive at times. Lately it has been pretty much all the time here at home. Mostly he will respond with anger to a request and end with “you moron”, “you idiot”, etc. It is not acceptable behaviour and is a bad habit that I really don’t want him to get into. That response, at school or in another social environment, could easily be considered bullying.
Likewise, Matilda is tall and solid for her age. She can be physically intimidating and has, on occasion, been physically aggressive to others when angered. She is instantly contrite and does not have a mean or malicious bone in her body but I am worried that she will inadvertently hurt someone one day. Again, that response, at school or in another social environment, could easily be considered bullying.
In both cases, I feel helpless. With the added complication of them both falling on the autism spectrum, it makes getting through to them that much harder. It’s difficult to get them to understand that their behaviour is unacceptable or why they need to control their responses or even that there will be consequences for everything they do.
So where do I start? How do I help my children to take responsibility for their actions and not inadvertently become bullies?
How We Can Help Our Kids To Not Be Bullies
Model acceptable behaviour
Children are like sponges – they will take in and absorb everything that you see and do. The best way to guide their behaviour is to be their model. Show them acceptable ways to behave. Always display healthy ways to deal with relationships, even the difficult ones. This will give them the best chance to adopt appropriate behaviours from an early age and become less likely to become inadvertent bullies later on.
Develop resilience skills
I have written before about building resilience in our kids. It’s a vital skill that will help them develop and maintain healthy self-esteem and assist them to build positive relationships with others. Resilience helps people bounce back from disappointment and put problems into proper perspective. Ultimately a child with good resilience skills will be more likely to better handle difficult situations and deal with them in an appropriate manner.
Examples of inappropriate behaviour need to be identified and nipped in the bud immediately. It needs to be made very clear that aggressive behaviour will not be tolerated. My kids struggle with the idea of consequences and often removing something they value in response to inappropriate behaviour can lead to meltdowns. However, I also recognise that these behaviours need to be managed – they need to be made aware that such behaviour is just not on.
Use positive reinforcement
You need to balance the negative with the positive. We need to encourage our kids to make the right choices and reward them when they do demonstrate appropriate behaviour. Again, be on the ball and immediately let them know when they have made the right choice. It’s really a very effective way to reinforce the behaviour you want them to display.
Listen to your kids
Possibly one of the best ways to prevent bullying is to have a real conversation with your kids. Talk to them about what’s going on in their lives. Listen to what is worrying them. Know their friends. Take the time to understand what is important to them and what makes them happy and sad and scared. You will then have the chance to understand them better and help them make the right choices.
I honestly don’t know if these strategies will be enough to help my kids but I’m going to try. They deserve that, at the very least.
What are your thoughts on ways to prevent your kids from being bullies?