How can we ensure that our children do not become bullies?
Last week, my husband and my son went to a gathering I didn't attend. It was familiar people, and the boys hadn't seen each other in a while and were happy to be playing. That night, as I tucked him in, he told me that he and one other boy had formed, "The Cool Kids Club," and a couple of people weren't allowed in.
My son is six. I inquired further, and learned those not allowed in were the younger kids - the toddlers who tended to destroy hard-built Lego sets, and I understood where he was coming from. But I told him, in no uncertain terms, we are never to have 'clubs' where you get in simply because you are 'cool.' We discussed how 'cool' was subjective, but more, how everyone was 'cool' in their own unique way.
Related: 5 Social Traits to Instil in Your Kids for Bullying Prevention
My husband later said, "You know, that was innocent." I knew it was.
But that's how it starts. When we let our children, even in play, believe that exclusivity should be based on our appearances or our 'status,' we start letting them think that it's okay, even natural, to judge on differences instead of look for commonalities.
I know. I know as adults, we do. I know that in the real world, I won't ever be allowed into this club because I don't have x amount of money, or that club because I didn't go to such and such school. I understand that this is a world of diversity and differences, and I work to celebrate them all.
But what my son was in the early stages of doing was excluding, and it broke my heart. Unintended, and certainly not malicious, I knew I had to work harder to have gentle and age-appropriate discussions about how we work to include space for everyone, and celebrate them for their individual unique attributes.
So what can we do?
I believe we have to have honest talks and discussions. I showed my son the video of Keaton Jones, crying about bullying. At the end, my son said, "But I wasn't being mean like that." I told him I knew he wasn't, but it started like that and we had to have the growth mindset to look at how others feel. Try to have your children see clear examples of the bullying and disparity (sadly, there are many online to use) and then have discussions about how they'd feel and want people to act if places were reversed.
Bullies sometimes don't even realize they are bullies, and often, groups of children don't even realize they are becoming 'cliques.' It's our job to show them where those definitions lie, and how we can work to make sure they are not ever hurtful in any way.
Related: Ask the Expert: How Do We Combat Bullying in Our Communities?
Science says one of the easiest things we can do to help ensure our children not only don't become bullies, but protect and defend those who are, is to teach kindness in all ways every chance we get. It sounds simple, but it actually takes purposeful activities and opportunities, and mostly, it makes us adults change the way we look at 'success' in our children and our world.
Research done by Harvard University students as part of the Making Caring Common Project found that nearly 80% of high schoolers surveyed learned from their parents that personal happiness was based on personal success and achievement, versus being concerned and caring for others.
While I believe that it's important to instill pride in our personal successes and achievements, the reality is that I am more concerned that my child has a caring, serving heart in this ever globally-interdependent world he is living in.
Even if that means I have to take a hard look at my expectations for him as well.
Show kindness. Teach kindness. Live kindness. If we want to rid the world of bullying, we have to fill it with kindness.