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, then 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 their social life and bullying.
3. Let kids play.
Don’t over-schedule 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.
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 “tattle-tale.” 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.
To learn more about bullying prevention and what to do if your child is being bullied, visit StopBullying.gov. If a crime or immediate risk is involved, call 911. If your child is feeling hopeless or thinking about suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).