Empowering & Protecting Our Children From Bully Behavior
The CAP (Child Assault Prevention) program defines a bully as “someone who tries to take your rights away.” This includes a child’s rights to feel secure, powerful, and free. Bullying involves someone repeatedly attempting to intimidate, harm, belittle, coerce, antagonize, or torment a victim. And it’s not just a face-to-face problem anymore. These days we must also consider cyber-bullying, defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.”
As a society, we’ve witnessed the horrific, violent results that can come of bullying. From school shootings to suicides, we have wept with the victims and their families. In addition to these extreme measures of violence, research shows that bullying can cause negative academic, physical, social, emotional, and psychological consequences for victims, witnesses, and even the bullies themselves. These consequences can be brief or long-lasting. Bullying can also have a significant impact on the overall climate of a school.
How can we help our children overcome bullies they may encounter?
First, we can teach them from an early age to stand up for themselves. It can start in toddlerhood as a simple “I message” during a disagreement with a playmate and evolve over time. An “I message” might sound like, “I feel sad when you take my toy. Can I please have it back?” *or* “I feel mad when you hurt me. I need you to say sorry.”
As much as possible we must resist the inclination to swoop in and help them “fix” problems that arise socially. We need to be their conflict role model, support system, advocate, and educator in this area, but we have to empower our children to solve their own problems whenever possible.
Peer support also plays a big role in standing up to bullies. When my husband and I talk with our kids about bullying at home, we try to help them understand that standing by and watching a bully degrade or threaten someone without doing anything to help gives the bully more power. We can encourage our kids to seek help from peers when dealing with a bully and to help stick up for their friends if the need arises.
Kids need to know that if standing up for themselves and having peer support isn’t working, they should seek help from a trusted adult. Some situations are too advanced for children to deal with on their own. As teachers, parents, relatives, and child advocates, we must make ourselves available and listen without judgment so that we can intervene when necessary.
Occasionally, my kids will come home from school and let me know about an incident that made them sad or uncomfortable. A couple years ago I may have been quick to brush this off as insignificant, just a regular part of growing up. Now more than ever I realize the importance of listening to whatever is important in the hearts of my children. If I make it clear to them that I am available for the “little stuff,” my hope is that it won’t evolve to the “big stuff.” And if/when the “big stuff” happens, I hope they know they can come to me. After listening, I also ask my kids to tell me what action they took to stand up for themselves and which classmates or adults they asked for help in solving the problem.
As we ponder the problem of bullying and discuss it with our children, it’s imperative that we make the distinction between bullying and conflict. In reality, most playground and school disagreements can be characterized as conflict, meaning both parties have equal power. There may be yelling, name-calling, even physical violence, but one person is not intentionally trying to make the other person feel powerless.
After a conflict, the participants should apologize and usually demonstrate remorse. Bullies do not feel sorry for their behavior and will continue to seek out situations in which they are able to have power over someone else.
We want to equip our children with the knowledge to recognize and deal with bullies, but we must also teach them that most disputes are a normal part of life and have little to do with bullying. We’re all in this together, and conflict resolution is something we will work on in all stages of life.
Thank you for joining me this week to explore some of the threats that put our children at risk. My hope is that you feel inspired to talk to the children in your life, to empower them, and to take the time to practice safety strategies. Below you will find additional resources if you have further questions or concerns.
National Center for Assault Prevention 1-800-258-3189
National Center of Child Abuse and Neglect (703) 385-7565
National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-955-TIPS
National Runaway Hotline 1-800-621-4000
Child Find 1-800-970-5678
Disclaimer: This week’s blog series was written with the intent to help educate friends, family, and followers about keeping our children safe. Everything included in my post was inspired by my own written notes from a Front Range CAP parental presentation. This is a reflection of my interpretations of the workshop. Some words and phrases may have been written down verbatim from the speaker; others were my own interpretations and ideas offered as a summary of what was presented that evening. I highly recommend scheduling CAP to come work with your community.
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Arvada, CO 80006
Motto: “So every child will know what to do when it really matters!”