Bullying is a problem: One out of every four students reports being bullied at school (and it’s why the entire month of October was devoted to bullying prevention). With the takeover of social media in the lives of teens and pre-teens, there are even more ways to bully than ever before.
But what can you, as a parent, do about it? You might feel helpless, but you’re not, especially when it comes to preventing bullying.
I’m frequently asked to speak to kids about important things like bullying, sex, drugs, and alcohol. My preference is always to speak to parents instead. As a pediatrician, I have learned a couple of things about kids and what changes who they become.
First, actions speak a lot louder than words. We can tell them important things — and we must — but far more important than speaking to them is being good adults in front of them. Our actions impact our kids far more powerfully than our words.
Second, when it comes to who influences kids most — their peers, a professional like me, or their parents — there is no contest. A parent holds all the power in a child’s life because every child is connected to his parents by his needs. He wants to know what his parents think, feel and believe in. Once he can figure this out, he is on his way toward modeling his behavior after his mother’s or father’s.
Here are some simple tips you can try today that will prevent your kid from becoming a bully or being bullied:
1.) Watch how you speak to and interact with others. Make sure you treat others with respect and dignity by standing up for what is right in grown-up situations. Behave well in front of your kids, and you empower them greatly.
2.) When talking to your kids about their day, be specific. Ask, “Who did you play with, and what did you do on the playground?” Your child’s answer may lead to more details about her social life and bullying.
3.) Let kids play. Don’t overschedule your child. Free play helps kids work out their emotions and gives balance to the highly stressful, media-obsessed culture in which we live.
4.) Be assertive. In a respectful way, of course. If your child sees you stand up for yourself when it’s important to stand up for yourself (for instance, if someone is speaking rudely or condescendingly toward you), she will believe she can do it, too, and will begin modeling respectfully assertive behavior.
Tell your child that telling on a bully is not tattling.
5.) Reassure your child that he or she can talk to you. Teach your children that they should tell you when something happens that might be harmful. Often adults tell kids not to “tattletale.” This could keep some kids from reporting important information. Tell your child that telling on a bully is not tattling.
We can always intervene and stop bullying, but if we want to prevent it, we have to focus on what’s happening at home, and that starts with your behavior.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the new book “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need” (Regnery Publishing, 2017), as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.