To ensure our children treat others fairly and speak up when they see a peer being bullied, we should start teaching them these behaviors while they are young and build on their natural ability to show empathy. Empathy, a key tool in dealing with and preventing bullying, shows up as early as the toddler years (picture a toddler offering a hug or a stuffed animal to a friend who feels sad).
Recently, a Harris poll found that two-thirds of parents worry about their young children being bullied. This result should inspire us to have deeper conversations on this subject and develop new and creative ways to educate and inform our youngsters about what bullying really is, how they can prevent it and how to find the appropriate channels for reporting it if or when it occurs.
Bullying Versus Typical Behavior
Bullying differs from typical day-to-day conflicts. Toddlers are starting to explore their independence and using their new vocabulary to assert it. If a peer tries to play with a toy they want, the back-and-forth “mine!” game begins. This is typical toddler behavior. Bullying involves behavior that is aggressive, intentional and intended to intimidate a specific peer. Determining what is bullying and what normal behavior is for toddlers is difficult because young children are still learning right from wrong and acceptable play behavior.
Fostering Empathy and Teaching Children to Speak Up
As parents, our duty is to foster empathy in our children. We can pay close attention to small acts of kindness our children display, praise them for being considerate and encourage them to speak up when someone is being mistreated. Since bullying is fueled by silence, we can help stop it by teaching our children to treat others kindly and speak up at appropriate times.