I’m blue in the face from “Bully Talk” because between writing, commenting and having conversations about bullying, the dialogue (for me) has not stopped since my first article the first week of October. I think that it’s terrific, especially in light of the fact that this was all done because October is Bullying Awareness Month. We are all certainly more aware. The point I hoped to make over the past few weeks, and what I hope came across most, is that kindness and prevention starts at home. Whether it’s being more aware of what you say around your children, making sure that your own children aren’t being hurtful, and being vigilant about what is going on in your children’s lives (virtual and real) we can all really help to extinguish bullying.
I hope you choose to give your children a “soft” vocabulary – believe me, they’ll learn the other stuff on their own, but they will mostly emulate what you model for them. Please, Thank You, and compliments leave a mark in your child’s mind, and having polite and grateful mini-me’s goes a long way. The same way so many parents have a horror story where their kid used a bad four-letter word they heard from mom or dad, there are stories of children who seem so advanced or precocious when they say “thank you” when someone holds a door open for them, or complimented another child for the way they played in a sporting event. Watch the words you use around your children as carefully as the words you say directly to them. Have your child learn to be pleasant and supportive by them seeing you be pleasant and supportive. Like the old PSA from the 80′s says, “I learned it from watching you.” Teach them to side with the underdog and to always do the right thing by doing that yourself, whether in real life or by examples shown on television programs or books you share. Actions speak as loudly as words.
If you catch your kid being antagonistic and nasty, don’t brush it off. Address it. Even if you think it’s no big deal, if you let it slide, your child will think it’s no big deal, either. I’m a big believer in picking and choosing your battles, but when it comes to making sure your child is kind to others (unless its their annoying sibling) no battle is too small. If my own kids use a hurtful word, I’ll explain what it means because a lot of the time they don’t even know what they’re saying, and give an example of somebody calling them that word; we go through different scenarios – how they would feel, what the intent would be, and what they would say or do in return (I have no interest in raising doormats either and believe a good defense can sometimes be your greatest offense.) Tell your child in no uncertain terms that you will not tolerate cruel behavior from them and always follow through. There are times when it’s hard to gauge if your own child was just really responding to a situation, but let your child know that you are are on alert and watching.
If you sense something is going on in your child’s life — whether they’ve become easily agitated, cry for no or any reason, or seem withdrawn or apprehensive of things that don’t normally bother them — ask them “leading” questions. Become that detective on tv who always tricks people into giving answers they wouldn’t normally give. Dig, delve, pester. Ask around; ask your friends if they know anything. And if things seem to be escalating, life is too fragile and way too indelible to let things slide. You are allowed as a concerned parent to “violate” their trust, especially if you believe there are exigent circumstances. Get into their heads, whether you search their text messages, go on their Facebook/Twitter pages or read their journal if they have one. Call their school – speak to their teacher, principal or anyone else who may have input. It’s not an optimal situation, and should always be used as a last resort, but you have to protect your child no matter what. Like I said in my last article, they may hate you for it now, but hopefully they’ll be able to look back on it and laugh or at the very least, understand.
Bullying does seem to be a part of life these days, but it doesn’t have to be part of your child’s life. Lead by example by being a compassionate role model and when possible, have your kids circulate with other nice kids. If you need any support, visit www.stopbullying.gov for a comprehensive list of resources.