Today, many schools have anti-bullying programs. These work best when parents are involved, and information is reinforced at home. Through their families and time spent in childcare centers — long before the first day of kindergarten — kids learn skills and behaviors that establish how they will get along with others.
Adults can superpower their kids with inner strength by:
- Boosting self-esteem, self-care, and self-regulation.
- Teaching them how to communicate more effectively and assertively.
- Creating a family culture where respect is modeled and mean words and behaviors are not tolerated.
Parents have more power than they realize to prevent and stop bullying. Childcare providers and other caring adults are also in the position to "nip meanness in the bud" and teach pro-social skills. Parents can create a solid foundation for healthy, positive development. They have the authority to make rules to ensure survival, safety, and constructive connections. Parents have enormous power to promote respectful attitudes and behaviors and discourage disrespect and meanness. They can create a positive, bully-free family climate based on respect, connection, and belonging.
It is the job of caring adults to teach kids what is acceptable and unacceptable, what is right and what is wrong. It is their job to hold kids accountable. If kids can get away with bad behavior early in life, they are more likely to lack empathy, to continue behaving badly, and to bully others when they are teens and adults.
There has been enormous confusion in recent years since certain "normal" parenting practices have been found to actually increase bullying! Parents with the best intentions are undermining the wellbeing of their children. Without realizing it, they may be teaching the bullying dynamic.
Profound cultural shifts have been challenging families over the last two or three generations. Greater permissiveness in families and society, for example, plus the tech tsunami and widespread consumer culture all contribute to the bullying epidemic. Disrespect and incivility have been on the rise, while kindness, empathy, and courtesy have eroded.
For more than 35 years, Dr. Dan Olweus studied the causes of and solutions to aggression and violence. He concluded that, contrary to popular belief, bullying behavior is not a "normal" behavior, nor is it "just a stage" that kids "get over." Olweus also found that widespread child-rearing practices are linked to the development of "hostile reaction patterns" and other antisocial behaviors in children. Olweus noted the following points of interest in his research:
- Negativity on the part of the primary caretaker. When a caregiver exhibits a negative emotional attitude instead of the warmth and involvement that healthy child development requires, children become emotionally insecure. This increases the risk that they may become aggressive and hostile toward others.
- Permissiveness of a child's aggressive behavior. If the primary caregiver is generally permissive and does not set clear limits on aggressive speech and behavior, the child's aggression level is likely to increase. Parents, therefore, are tacitly teaching that hostility and aggression are okay.
- Use of "power-assertive methods." When parents don't know what else to do, they may try to resolve conflict with power, aggression, and violent emotional outbursts. Children raised with spanking and physical punishment are more likely to become aggressive.
During his decades of research, Olweus also found a set of key qualities among adults in school and home environments that successfully limit or prevent bullying problems in youngsters:
- They convey warmth and positive interest
- They set firm limits for unacceptable behavior and enforce them.
- They use discipline positively and consistently when dealing with unacceptable behaviors and rule violations.
Parents must continue to educate themselves. All we do to prevent and curb bullying today will create respectful, bully-free homes and families tomorrow.