*This is a guest post
Bullying is a problem that is far too prevalent in children’s lives. Even if they are not the victim, almost every child has witnessed bullying in some form, whether by a sibling or family member, a classmate, on the playground, or around the neighbourhood. Some children can just laugh it off, but for others, it is devastating harassment that will scar them for the rest of their lives.
We may never stop bullying entirely, but we can certainly minimize it with compassion and empathy. Children should not have to be afraid to go to school or leave their homes because a bully might hurt them. With the insidiousness of cyberbullying, a child doesn’t even have to leave the home – the bullying is transmitted over cell phone, computer, or mobile device any time of day or not, directly to them. Boys may use physical force to bully, but girls add social ostracization to their bullying, causing their victims distress, depression, and in extreme cases, suicide. Is there anything that can be done to stop it before it gets to that point?
Talk to Your Kids
The best way to prevent bullying is to talk to your kids about it. If your child is being bullied, make sure they know they are welcome to talk to you or another adult without repercussion. Many children don’t report bullying, especially cyberbullying, because they are afraid they will lose privileges or be humiliated. Teach them how to deal with bullying and cyberbullying. If your child is the bully, work with them on learning social cues and teaching them how to tell when their actions are hurtful. Some kids bully because their own self-esteem is low, and others engage in the behavior because they see it at home from parents or siblings. Be the example that they follow outside the home. For advice on how to talk to children see here.
Introduce Children to Pets
Pets have an amazing effect on all of us. Just petting a dog, cat, horse, or other animal releases hormones in our brains that have a calming, pleasurable effect. For a kid that is being bullied, this contact can be extremely meaningful. A pet is also someone a child can confide in to help cope with bullying – a confidante who will listen, not judge, and not repeat embarrassing emotions. However, there is more than that. Every child who has a pet can learn empathy and compassion by taking care if it. Would-be bullies can get a dose of self-esteem as well as theory of mind, which is the understanding that other people have different thoughts and emotions; while this typically develops between ages 3-5, kids with low self-esteem have a harder time with it. An interactive pet, such as a cat or small dog, is better for teaching kids empathy and responsibility, but don’t underestimate the healing power of our furry, feathered, and scaly friends.
Not everyone can have pets, but everyone can have empathy. Teaching children empathy is a matter of teaching them emotional intelligence (also called EQ), which is accurate identification of emotional states. Children naturally develop empathy as a result of theory of mind, but helping them understand that everyone is different, has different thoughts, different feelings, and different likes and dislikes can go a long way toward helping them understand altruism and respect for others.
Above all, pay attention. If bullying is happening, many children are hesitant to tell anyone; cyberbullying may lead to the fear that devices will get taken away and in-person bullying can lead to humiliation, especially if an authority figure such as a parent or teacher tells the child to “get over it” or “suck it up” (this insensitive advice has been the conventional wisdom about bullying for generations). Children nervous about going to school, showing up at home with unexplained injuries or torn clothing may be obvious signs, but some children go to great lengths to hide bullying, so being alert can help spot a problem before it gets out of hand.
Bullying is never easy, for kids or their parents. With diligence and some compassion we can avoid bullying and the consequences it can bring. Helping children understand the effects of bullying and building empathy within them can go a long way toward stamping it out, someday eliminating it altogether with love and respect.
Author Bio: Cassie Brewer is a health professional. In her free time, she enjoys writing about her passion (healthy living of course!) and everything beauty related. Nothing makes her happier than helping other be the best version of themselves they can be. You can read more at cassiebrewer.weebly.com and follow her on twitter @Cassiembrewer.