Remember the Lindsay Lohan movie Mean Girls, where high school students created a burn book to spread rumors about each other? While I, too, enjoyed the movie and often joke with my friends that “on Wednesdays we wear pink,” the movie exposed some very harsh realities when it comes to bullying. Sadly, the issue has only progressed since the flick came out in 2004 with the rise of social media, and the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why provided an even clearer picture of the nationwide epidemic.
Having two young daughters ages six and three, I figured we’d have a few more years before we had to address the issue, but the numbers don’t lie: 33% of elementary school students report being bullied at school, with teasing starting as early as kindergarten (girls being more prone to it).
I thought sending my daughter to kindergarten would be sunshine and roses, but it only proved that mean girls do exist. She’s got a few “frenemies,” who constantly give her a hard time about anything and everything, and she’s recounted stories to me about having her shoe pulled off while hanging from the monkey bars.
So, what am I doing about this? Well, in a world of mean girls, I am teaching my daughters to choose kind and I’m already seeing the payoff. Will my children always be perfectly behaved? No, but I am content knowing they won’t dish out or take any type of bullying behavior. Here are the philosophies we live by.
Research shows that children who bully others often do so because they are unhappy with themselves and want to deflect the attention. Talk to your child about what makes them different and unique, and encourage them to celebrate these differences. A happy child spreads kindness.
Stress the importance of inclusion
Has your child talked about another classmate who is withdrawn? These kids are likely the targets of bullies. Encourage your child to show they care by including them. It can be as simple as inviting them to the same table at lunch or to play together at recess.
Raise upstanders, not bystanders
Even if your child isn’t bullying anyone, acting as an audience for the bully and saying nothing is just as bad. Often times, bystanders don’t know what to do. Speak to your child about the importance of using their voice to take action to tell the bully to stop or to report the behavior to an adult.
Acknowledge to your child that not everyone is the same as them and that it is okay. Role play and ask them how they might feel in someone else’s shoes. When they can understand empathy, they will learn to genuinely care about others.
Whether it is organizing a toy drive for needy children or serving meals to those less fortunate, provide meaningful opportunities for your child to experience giving back in the community.
Model positive behavior
Children take cues from their parents, so what you do is more important than what you say. Let your kids see you opening the door for strangers or giving up your bus seat for someone who is elderly. Simple, kind gestures like this help you role model the behavior you want to see from your kids.