Parents, what are you doing to teach your children about being kind to their peers?
With Pink T-Shirt Day in honour of anti-bullying happening next week, I find myself thinking a lot about teaching my kids to treat others with respect, compassion and understanding. My daughter is in kindergarten, my son in grade one and already I’m hearing stories from them about name-calling or being picked on at school. Most of what I’ve heard so far is fairly tame but I can’t help but wonder: am I doing a good enough job of teaching my children about bullying?
Recently, my six-year-old son has mentioned to us that he is sometimes getting picked on at recess, usually by kids in other grades that he doesn’t know, but there have been a couple of times that it’s from schoolmates he plays with. He appears to be handling it well and in general seems mostly annoyed by it all, but there was one time that he got upset when someone who’s supposed to be his friend called him a mean name.
My son is a very sweet kid. He’s smart, funny, caring and always strives to do the right thing. When I hear these stories from him about other children picking on him it’s difficult to control the mama bear part of me. I just want to protect him from ever being hurt, emotionally or physically, but I can’t be with him every moment of the day so all I can do is teach him how to handle bullying.
I know all too well what being picked on is like because I was bullied as a child. It was terrible and I never want my son or daughter to ever have to go through what I went through. My experience has motivated me to keep the lines of communication open with my kids. When my son told me what happened to him at school, I explained to him that I want him to always feel like he can come talk to me or his dad about any problems he might have and to not feel embarrassed. When I was a kid, I never spoke to my parents about being picked on. It’s not like my parents ever made me feel like I couldn’t talk to them, but I felt ashamed about being bullied and kept a lot of it to myself. It was a very lonely place for me and I would never want my kids to feel that way.
Since the topic has come up recently it has given my husband and I the chance to speak with our son and daughter about not being a bully and to always treat their peers with kindness and care. We explained to them that just because someone might call them a mean name or push them doesn’t make it okay for them to do the same. As parents, we never want to think that our child could be hurtful to one of their peers. I mean, I look at my kids and it’s difficult for me to imagine them being a bully. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, and I sincerely hope it never does. I want them to treat others the way they would want to be treated and to understand that their words and actions toward others can be very powerful so they should always choose them wisely.
We also chatted with them about defending their friends, and how meaningful it can be to show your friends how much you care when you see them being treated badly by someone else. My husband and I were happy to hear our son tell us that he stuck up for his friend when someone said something rude about her. This made me proud, as I know the value of having a friend who will be there for you when you’re being bullied.
I truly believe educating kids about bullying must start at home. Parents, be role models to your children. Show them that you treat others with respect. If you have a bad day and perhaps don’t behave nicely with your kids, own it and apologize. Part of the lesson is recognizing when you’ve done something wrong and showing remorse. Sometimes we can unknowingly hurt someone’s feelings, like one time when my daughter was being silly and said something which upset my son. I explained to her that even though she wasn’t trying to hurt his feelings on purpose, she still did and should say sorry to her brother. I used this example as a way to explain to my kids that this could perhaps happen when playing with their friends, and if they ever say something hurtful, even if they didn’t mean to, they should apologize.
Teaching our kids about bullying will be an ongoing conversation for me and my husband to have with them. As they get older, the bullying scenario will become different for them and it is important that we continue to remind our son and daughter to conduct themselves respectfully.
This mama bear may not be able to protect her children every moment of the day, but hopefully, I’m giving them the tools to continue to grow into thoughtful and considerate people.