As soon as children begin to interact with others, we can begin to teach them not to be bullies and not to be bullied. We can give them words for their feelings, limit and change their behavior, and teach them better ways to express their feelings and wishes. Children do not learn to solve these kinds of problems and get along by themselves. We need to teach them.
When preschoolers begin to call people names or use unkind words, intervene immediately and consistently. In kindergarten, children learn the power of exclusion. We begin to hear things like, "She's not my friend and she can't come to my party." Respond with, "You don't have to be friends with her today, but it's not all right to make her feel bad by telling her she can't come to your party."
In the early elementary grades, cliques and little groups develop which can be quite exclusionary and cruel. Children need to hear clearly from us, "It's not all right to treat other people this way. How do you think she feels being told she cannot play with you? Kids don't have to play with everyone or even like everyone, but they can not be cruel about excluding others.
Boys who are physically small or weak are more prone to victimization. Making fun, picking on, and other forms of bullying need to be identified in their earliest stages. The message needs to be crystal clear: This is not okay. Think about how he must feel. How could you include him and let other kids know it is not all right to treat others this way?
Children who are not bullies or victims have a powerful role to play in shaping the behavior of other children. Teach your children to speak up on behalf of children being bullied. "Don't treat her that way, it's not nice." "Hitting is not a good way to solve problems, let's find a teacher and talk about what happened."
- Encourage your kids to tell you, a teacher, or another adult when they are having a problem. It is important for them to let someone know early, before the situation escalates.
- Explain the difference between tattling and telling. Tattling is when you report something just to get someone in trouble. Telling is when you report that you or someone else is in danger.
- Insist on the buddy system to and from school and in the neighborhood. Children give each other support, and a child who has friends is less of a target. Encourage kids to reach out to other kids. That way they can watch out for one another.