I’ve got some pretty ridiculous parenting nightmares floating around in my head. For instance, my biggest fear while pregnant was that my kid would pretend to be an animal all the time. (Totally freaked me out and of course, came true. She loves howling at the moon with her neighborhood friends…)
But one of the main concerns I have now is that my child will suffer from bullying in the same way I did in school— as the kid who doesn’t fit in anywhere, the kid who gets made fun of for their hair color, or skin tone, or the fact that gingers have blonde eyebrows, so yeah, it looks like my forehead goes on for miles…
Now, to be clear—my kid gets along with most everyone. Sure, she’s slightly nerdy and reminds me of a baby giraffe with all knees and elbows, but she’s a cool little kid. I seriously doubt she’ll have an issue fitting in to new classes/schools/grades/whatever.
But what if she does? What am I going to do if she comes home one day crying because no one will play with her on the playground? What if she gets made fun of for her love of Lego Ninjago or Star Wars? What if someone picks on her for her pale skin and beanstalk body type? What if she comes to me feeling like it’s the end of the world because she has no friends and she thinks she’ll never be happy?
Whew, ok, that escalated quickly. As mamma-bears, I’m sure we’ve all had those “what if” moments where we prepared for the worst and acted out scenarios in the shower or car for if and when our little baby cubs might be attacked by the other baby cubs out there. But we can’t really be glued to their side every day at school to make sure they’re playing with the other kids, not being picked on for wearing mismatched socks, or even not being the one who makes fun of the little boy who has a stutter.
Bullying isn’t some vague parenting fear that most of us will look back on and giggle about at some point. It’s a reality for most kids. And as our society keeps growing in the cyber-sphere, social media and cyber-bullying just keeps rising.
With bullying, as with most things, the key to eliminating it is not having it happen in the first place—a long and arduous process that needs to start now.
But while we can’t control how other people parent their kids, we can certainly teach our own kids to be considerate, kind, and advocate—both for themselves and those around them. Here are some big ideas to get across to kids and some fun, local ways to reinforce them.
Responsibility: Teach your kids to be responsible for something other than themselves.
I think an easy first step to learning compassion is to get kids to care for something outside of their own needs. To be responsible for something else’s welfare and health. For littles, maybe a Christmas Cactus or Beta fish would be a good start. Pick something that can withstand a little neglect (or that mom and dad can easily feed/water if it’s forgotten.) Help your child know that they are caring for and feeding their pet/plant and that they are responsible for it. They can also help out with family pets like dogs and cats if they’re present in the house, and then later the amount of responsibility can grow with them. Take a trip to Shelburne Farms or the Echo Center and talk about how we need to treat the plants and animals around us. Even a hike or a stroll down the waterfront can be a great teaching moment for kids.
Compassion: Get your kids helping their community.
Volunteering is a wonderful way to help kids understand the need for compassion and kindness. Gathering coats, toys, and food essentials is an awesome way of getting involved in the community and makes a great gateway into discussions about others being less fortunate than we are. You don’t even need to purchase the items yourself. Get involved with the local schools or shelters and see what your kids can do to help. I think you’d be surprised at the number of opportunities that are out there. Don’t just wait for the holidays, either. Food shelves and shelters need help year round. Summer is a great time to check and see what needs there are in your community. Look into the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, COTS, SPECTRUM, or your local Humane Society to ask about volunteer opportunities.
Ethics: Model good behavior for them.
I know it’s hard sometimes to think about how our kids are watching our own behavior, but it’s highly important to know that we are role models. Even flippant remarks at the grocery store can get absorbed by their pliable little brains and then repeated later to a sibling, friend, or stuffie in moments of play. Even if it feels forced, make sure your kids are seeing positive interactions between you, your significant other, other adults, and other kids. If they think it’s okay for you to mistreat other people, they’ll assume it’s all right for them to do so, too.
If you run in one of Vermont’s marathons or donate to United Way, let them know you’re doing it and why you’re doing it. Show them that you care about others, too, and they’ll be more inclined to make those good choices in their own lives.
Self-Esteem: Make sure your kids know how special they are.
I mean, who doesn’t dote on their little princes and princesses? We all have amazing kids and they need to know that. Even on days when they’ve been replaced by an alien child from the planet Ihatemyparents, we still need to remember that their self-esteem is practically non-existent at a young age. We’re an incredibly important part of their development in every aspect. Keep a good balance, and make sure they know it’s okay to make mistakes while still striving for their dreams. Try to build them up to a place where they will never feel that their self-worth is dependent on other people, or that they need to put others down to make themselves feel better. It’s finding that balance, that happy medium. Check out all the amazing books (like Rosie and Friends One-Of-A-Kindness by Helen Hipp) and activities at our local libraries or youth centers, like the YMCA, that can help make these concepts and ideas accessible to our kids.
As scary as it is out there, there’s only one thing we can even mildly control as parents when it comes to our kids and bullying—how we raise them to treat others. By banding together and creating a new generation of caring, compassionate people, maybe, just maybe, we can make the world a better place.