Bullying is a severe problem all over the world. Whether it’s in the form of face-to-face or cyberbullying, aggressive and intimidating behaviors can end up affecting children’s mental health – particularly teenagers.
According to Clinical Psychologist and Mind Expert Leanne Hall, “although schools do have a duty of care and responsibility when it comes to managing bullying behaviour, parents are often in a situation where they feel helpless.”
Mothers and fathers need to take action before their kids start school to help prevent their child from being bullied – or from being the bully. These tips will help parents arm their preschoolers with the soft skills required to avoid the consequences of trauma, depression, and anxiety derived from bullying:
How to Bully-Proof Your Kid
#1: Develop empathy at an early age
Empathy development begins during the first years of life. From 0 to 2 years old, we build the foundation for emotional abilities, and parents can help their children by mimicking emotions and describing how others are feeling.
Later, from 3 to 4 years of age, kids become aware of their own feelings. And they start to be able to understand and respond to how others are feeling, even if they don’t share the same emotion. At this stage, parents can teach their children new words to express emotions and display pictures depicting empathic scenes. They should also have regular conversations, asking open-ended questions that inspire empathy.
At a later age, parents may also want to continue helping their children mature their empathy for others. For instance, being an empathic role model and openly discussing sentiments within the family will be significant for kids’ own empathy development.
#2: Allow kids space to express their emotions
Having great parent-child communication is vital to build trust and encourage kids to open up and share what really bothers them. This should also begin at a very young age.
Parents can design spaces for children to express their emotions by creating talking rituals, such as around the dining table or when driving together. To do it right, parents should observe their child’s conversational style. One child may be a lively morning talker, while another one may not tolerate direct questions in the same way.
Parents should find the right balance to avoid coming across as a therapist or going over the top with reactions. Listening, nodding with the head, and avoiding judgments will help kids to open up.
#3: Build your child’s strengths and self-esteem
Building your child’s self-esteem is a key component of bullying prevention; this is fundamental to help children feel good about themselves and to make them aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. Developing healthy self-esteem from a young age is important for those who are bullied, as well as the bullies themselves.
Kids who bully others frequently hide other underlying problems that need to be dealt with. They will be less likely to bully their peers later in life if they have already built strong self-esteem. On the other side of the coin, confident kids will be less likely to be targeted by bullies. And if they are, an assertive reaction will put bullies off from picking on them again.
#4: Inspire play and peer relationships
Encouraging your kids to play and build peer relationships will be extremely beneficial to preventing bullying when they start school. Playing with other children outdoors or at home, toddlers develop social skills and make critical connections in their developing brains.
When interacting with other children, toddlers are building their cognitive, social, and emotional abilities, which are necessary for living and meeting new people as they make their way through life.
Children at 1 and 2 years old are beginning to learn how to share with others, and there will be some situations on the playground when your kid fights with another child over a toy or to be next on the swing. Helping them deal with these situations in an appropriate and productive manner will help enhance your children’s social skills and prepare them to be more empathic and better equipped to handle interpersonal issues in the future.
#5: Educate your child about cultural diversity
Kids who bully others tend to look for victims who are physically or emotionally weaker or different in some way. Teaching children from an early age that we are all different on the outside, but the same inside will help them internalize those differences.
Children’s books are a great resource to help children develop their own identity as part of a diverse group. But real exposure to other cultures and ways of living will bring more personal meaning.
In this sense, there are a number of things parents can do, such as traveling to explore different cultures, encouraging their children to develop cross-racial relationships, attending events that celebrate particular ethnic groups, cooking international foods together, or watching movies set in other cultures.
Overall, young kids will learn from what they see, so being a positive role model could make a big difference in their future behavior. Parents should instill good habits from an early age and teach their kids to express their feelings. Educating the youngest ones on appropriate social interaction will help prevent bullying.
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