The bullying antidote: modeling kindness

As a psychologist with Behavioral Health, I have the good fortune to hear children talk about their doubts and fears — I say good fortune because I hope together we can work on cultivating their courage and forge a new path to a stable self-esteem.

I am, however, dismayed with the increasing reports from children about the unkind behavior of their classmates.

It is good that the Stuttgart community has made a commitment against bullying, where respect for others is encouraged. Bullying or joining in bullying is not tolerated; bystander intervention and reporting bullying to an adult are supported.

Unfortunately, even with a joint school-community policy in place, there are gaps. Children continue to be unkind to other children — especially to those who are vulnerable. There have been reports of children with special needs being teased, and there are reports of emotionally hurtful interactions among children on the playground and on buses.

The playground and the school bus can be places where children experience relative independence and find out for themselves how interactions among children can unfold and develop. Sometimes they learn how to successfully manage the doubts and fears brought on by challenging peer interactions, which might include being teased or called a name, being told that someone else wants the swing (or the bus seat), being told scary stories, or hearing someone brag about watching a scary YouTube video clip or even playing a violent video game that “was not scary but, oh, so cool!”  Unsuccessful coping with these experiences can set a child’s emotions and thoughts reeling.

While children are encouraged to report incidences of bullying, some children believe it will do no good or fear it could result in more bullying. They also might not want others to think they are scared. Children might not trust to tell their parents about such experiences even when they have been feeling sad and troubled, and are directly asked.

Children are unkind to their peers for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it feels good to appear stronger or better than someone else; it can be a reflection of their own frustrations, their own lack of worthiness or unsatisfied needs.

Some children who experience unkind actions from peers are able to manage the vulnerability it provokes in them with resilience. Other children are not able to rise above the situation: They feel anxious, anticipate future provocations, and might even begin thinking poorly of themselves (“I am not liked by others and I don’t belong”). They grapple with self-doubts and fears.

It is known that children learn by observing their parents and other adults as they make their way in the world. As Dr. Brené Brown, author of “Daring Greatly” suggests, it is important for adults and parents to demonstrate or model what we want our children to become, rather than
simply telling them how they should behave.

Through important everyday relationships children can learn about kindness. Adults can take advantage of these opportunities by practicing what we want to teach and by showing children what we want them to become. When they experience respect, validation and kindness we help children cultivate feelings of worthiness. We support positive thoughts about themselves. If children are happy with themselves, they might have fewer reasons to be unkind to classmates. Instead, they might take interest in the needs of their peers and even show compassion.

If you need parenting support, contact
Behavioral Health Services at 430-2858/civ. 0711-680-2858.