Parents are their children's first teachers. Teaching kids about bullying at a young age will help them feel more confident and skilled in taking measures to stop bullying when they witness it as a bystander.
1. Model good behavior. Parents can do this by shutting down gossip, never talking poorly of others, pointing out strengths in others and never laughing at someone else’s expense. By modeling what it's like to take care of each other, parents can teach children it is not OK to allow others to bully.
2. Identify bullies. Point out bullying in a cartoon, at daycare and even in your own home. Talk about the roles of each player and how a hurtful word or push can make a child feel. This will help develop empathy and a good moral grain when it comes to taking care of each other. It will also help kids recognize bullying when they are older.
3. Problem-solve. Ask your children what they would do if they were bullied, or what they could do to help a friend being bullied. Get your children in the habit of thinking things through and coming up with some solutions on their own because they will need to think on their own feet at times.
4. Develop confidence. Praise children for sharing as toddlers or inviting a classmate sitting alone to join in. Get your children involved in an interest or activity they are good at and enjoy. Encourage them to try again if they fail the first time. Confident children will be more likely to stand up for an injustice, express empathy, admit they are wrong and not be indifferent.
5. Continue teaching. Ask about your kids' school day, including what the response was if they witnessed bullying. After all, doing nothing affects a bystander. Kids may feel anxiety wondering if this is going to happen to them next, or feel guilty about not intervening. Sometimes children turn to negative ways to deal with it — including bullying back. Here are ways they can help their classmates who are being bullied:
- Take immediate steps. Kids can tell the bully to stop by saying “leave her alone” or “knock it off.” They can also get a trusted adult involved right away or break up a bullying scene with a distraction such as “Hey, the bell’s going to ring," instead of being an audience. They can also get one or two other kids and walk off with the child being targeted to dissolve the audience.
- Follow-up. Kids can catch up with the classmate who was bullied and let him or her know it was wrong. They can also give a genuine compliment, offer to walk with him or her next time, give a written account of what happened to school personnel or join or create an anti-bullying club. If the bully hangs out in your child's group or is on your child team, they could privately talk to him or about how bullying really hurts people.
Bystanders can make a big difference. They usually are the biggest audience present when someone is being bullied. There is power in numbers, so discuss how your child can use that power wisely. Talk to your child what he or she would be comfortable doing in a bullying situation ahead of time.
Laura Kelley is a crisis counselor for the Boys Town National Hotline and the Nebraska Family Helpline.