As parents, we all want to raise our children to be kind, loving human beings but how can we ensure we’re doing just that? And what can we do when we see our children demonstrate less-than-kind behaviours?
Though bullying isn’t fun to deal with or talk about, it's so important that we know how to address it when it comes up.
Today, February 24th, is Anti-Bullying Day and Pink Shirt Day in Canada. It’s a day where we’re all encouraged to wear pink to symbolize our collective stand against bullying and to remind ourselves that we can always choose to be kind.
To support and spread the message behind this important day, we asked our friend Caron Irwin, certified Child Life Specialist and Founder of Roo Parenting, for her advice on raising kind kids and some tips on what parents can do if they learn their child is bullying others.
1) Instill empathy in your child from a young age.
As adults, we know the important role empathy plays in our lives but, as Irwin reminds us, this isn’t as clear to our children: "children are not born with empathy, it's something they learn with growth. It's our responsibility as parents to teach and prioritize the skill of empathy within our children."
Irwin believes a great place to start this journey is to ensure your children understand, acknowledge and label their feelings.
An easy way to achieve that? Talk about your own feelings and the feelings of other people around you - children learn by example.
"When you’re reading different stories to your kids, point out the different characters and how they’re feeling, and label those feelings," suggests Irwin.
Games are another fun and easy way to promote empathy in children. One of Irwin’s favourites is Emoji Charades: Print out a ton of different emoji images from the internet, cut them up into individual pieces and throw them into a hat or small bag. Have your kids pick out an emoji and act out the feeling the emoji portrays!
2) Raise your child to be an ally.
In order to be an ally, your child needs the confidence and skills to stand up to a bully and say no.
Irwin emphasizes the importance of being honest with your child and sharing the realities of bullying, “every 7 minutes, in a school yard, a bullying instance occurs. The statistics also show a bullying instance will stop within 10 seconds if a peer steps in and tells the bully to stop - share this information with your child."
Real, tangible statistics like this convey the important role your child plays in stopping these incidents from occurring. From there, work with your child on building the skills they need to step in.
Irwin suggests role-playing. It’s a great practice to help nurture your child’s confidence and empower your child in the moment. Role-playing provides the rehearsal space your child needs to work on what they would say and do if and when the situation arises in their everyday life.
Showing your child the different allies in their own world is another great way to encourage the practice. Relatives, actors, writers, athletes, teachers, friends and other figures in your child’s life are all wonderful examples to show them. Irwin recommends asking the following questions to your kids: “what did the ally do, how did they do it and what impact did it have?”
If we share the stories of what people in the world are doing to be allies, this will empower our children to embody that themselves.
3) Teach by example.
Children are constantly learning and we can't expect them to know how to manage social situations without any negative instance, says Irwin. As parents, the most important thing to remember is if you do not acknowledge and address these types of behaviours right away, they will become a habit.
“The first time you hear about your child being a bully, or doing something mean towards another child, it’s important to respond and react in that moment. Let your kids know what they did was not cool and help them come up with a way to deal with that situation more appropriately next time,” suggests Irwin.
She also believes that as parents, we all need to work together as a team: “the parent of the bully does not always see these interactions, which means they can't always respond. If you, as another parent, sees a bullying interaction happen, you should step in and say that's not right. Be an ally."
Parents can often feel uncomfortable “parenting” another child, but as Irwin reminds us, this is not about parenting another child, this is about providing a great example for all involved - especially the children.
To learn more from Caron, check out the clip below or visit the mini mioche Instagram page.
Caron Irwin is the founder of Roo Parenting. She’s a mother of three young children and a Certified Child Life Specialist. Roo Parenting is a consulting service that supports parents through the unknowns and challenges of raising young children.
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