Bullying Prevention, Bullying Prevention for Kids 0-5

When your toddler uses bullying behavior

I followed my daughter outside as she went to put my grandson in his car seat to go home.  I love this time when I get to interact with him as he is saying goodbye.  As she was strapping him into the car seat, he was very excited, and he grabbed a toy that was in the car seat tray, and he threw it at me, hitting me in the face with the toy.

I immediately said that it was “not a nice thing to do.”  Now my daughter was grown up with me working as a bullying prevention specialist.  She was in 7th grade when I first began my work as a bullying prevention coach in the local elementary school where we lived.  I was always proud of the fact that as a middle schooler she was always happy to have me at school and was never embarrassed when I would come up to her in the schoolyard.  Even when I had to talk with her or her friends about bullying behavior she was never embarrassed or mad at me, we have always had a great relationship.

One of the reasons why I started this blog was ever since she had my grandson, I have been coaching her on how to deal with bullying behavior either my grandson’s or other kids I saw him interacting with.  I am a preventionist at heart; I enjoy tremendously teaching kids coping skills and educating them on how to stand up to bullying behavior or how to get their needs met without using bullying behavior.

So, without missing a beat, she very firmly told him that was not a nice thing to do and that he had to say he was sorry to grandma.  At the time my grandson was about 16 months old, he was not verbal yet.  But he understood immediately that the throwing the toy was wrong and that somehow, he needed to make restitution for the aggressive, hurting behavior.  A lot of parts do not understand that even at this age children are fully aware of what is being said to them and that it is very important at this age to begin to set boundaries of behavior that is aggressive and mean.  Do I believe that he meant to hurt me, of course not.  He was hyped up because he was getting ready to leave and he impulsively grabbed a toy and threw it.  But the result of the action was that he hurt someone, and he needed to know that this kind of behavior was not going to be tolerated by Mom.  Laying a foundation of teaching your child how not to use bullying behavior is to let them know when they have used behavior that is unacceptable and enforce consequences, consistently.

In this instance, after Mom had told him he needed to say sorry, he picked up a pretty toy and handed it to me in a gentle, and conciliatory manner.  I knew immediately that this was his way of saying that he was sorry for having hurt me.  I took the toy, said “thank-you” and the episode was over and done with.  Lesson learned.  This may have to be done over and over as he begins to understand that aggressive behavior will not be put up with and if he “hurts” someone then he needs to make restitution.

As a preventionist, I believe that it is imperative that parents begin to teach their children at this critical age of 0-5.  This stage of their life will be the building blocks of future behavior and boundaries.

Bullying Prevention, Bullying Prevention for Kids 0-5

Empathy the building block of a healthy human

Empathy:    The ability to walk in another’s shoes, to see their point of view over your own experience, or as part of your experience.

I have been working in bullying prevention going on my seventh year.  I work in the trenches with the kids, looking for bullying behavior and calling attention to it.  I work with the child to find a more positive and healthier way of coping with conflict.

Bullying behavior and I emphasize behavior because we do not want to label people bullies, it implies that they cannot change.  I chose to focus on action, what kind of conduct constitutes bullying?  The obvious choices of pushing, shoving, but also yelling at a person, excluding them from joining a group, any type of behavior that seeks to demean or devalue another human being.  When you focus on behavior, then that becomes the game changer with the kids.  I have conversations with the kids about their behavior, and we discuss alternate choices for their behavior.  Sometimes this is a 30-second conversation, sometimes depending on the age of the child, it can go longer.

Always as part of my conversation with kids about the choices that they make about their behavior towards another person is a conversation about empathy.  The conversation goes something like this, “Why did you hit Tommy in the shoulder?”  “He pushed me because he wanted his toy back.”  “Do you think that it was right that he pushed you?”  “No, it wasn’t right, that’s why I hit him.”  “Do you think that hitting is a good way of solving problems?”  “Well, he pushed me.”  “Do you think that it was right that he pushed you to solve his problem.”  “No, but I was mad.”  “Do you like to be pushed or hit?”  “No, I do not.”  “Then we should not be pushing or hitting another person if we do not like it to happen to us.”  You want to humanize the other person, get the child to think of the other person regarding their own experience; I do not like it when I get hit. Therefore I should not hit another person.

Being mean on purpose, that is what bullying behavior is on the surface.  Helping a child to have empathy for a person who is being mean on purpose should help them to understand that the behavior is not about them.  That’s why bullying behavior can be so devastating to a child; they make the mistake of taking the mean behavior as a reflection of who they are.  “I must be a bad person for my friend to treat me so horribly.”  As a caregiver to children, we should be guiding our child with our words to help them process correctly what is happening to them.  We, adults, have a bigger perspective, we have lived many years and have gone through much and hopefully have gained lots of healthy wisdom from the experiences.   Having empathy for another person’s situation should never overshadow the fact that that person uses mean behavior to cope, and this aspect needs to be part of the conversation with your child.  “Why do you think that Tommy was mean to you?”   “Probably because someone is mean to them at home.”  “You are probably right, but what they did to you is wrong, so you must decide on how you are going to handle it.  Do you want to talk with him about it, do you want to ignore it and play with someone else and stay away from Tommy?  What do you think is the best way to handle this?”  Giving the child choices helps them to pick the course of action that is most comfortable to them.  They must know that while they can forgive the behavior because of someone’s circumstances, but they can also choose to stay away from that person because of the choices they make.

As a caregiver, it is essential to understand that the most effective way of teaching your child anything is to model the behavior, consistently.  If you want a child that is kind, then you need to show the child what kind looks like.  If you want a child that is empathetic, you must model empathy.  If you want a child that will not use mean behavior, then you must not use mean behavior.  “Do as I say, not as I do,” is hypocritical, and children can spot hypocritical behavior in an instance.  This requires a level of honesty with us as adults.  Self-reflection is critical to making sure that we are modeling behavior that we want our children to copy.  Do not beat yourself up if you have behavior that needs to change; the first step is acknowledging it.  Be honest with your child, “Mommy gets angry and yells sometimes, this is not the way you want to handle getting angry.”  Let them see you trying to do better, you are modeling that not everyone is perfect, but we must take responsibility for our behavior and change what is not desirable.  Effective parenting is not easy, but it is a growing experience and your children, and the world will benefit the process.