Do you know what one of the best ways to prevent bullying
behaviors? Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) is empathy. Empathy skill
building can be crucial in teaching your child how to effectively relate to others, communicate and identify feelings, respond with respect and take other’s feelings into consideration (even yours).
about this, what stops many of us from acting on a negative impulse or treating
another in a rude or hurtful way (usually, what we play through our heads as a "I'll show them attitude)? Often
times, our first reaction may be to think about the consequences (i.e. I would probably lose my job
if I told my boss how I was feeling), however, many of us may actually take a quick moment to put
ourselves in the other person’s shoes; “as much as it would feel great to say
that, I probably wouldn’t want someone say/do that in return.
Guess what? That's empathy!
As children grow up, we often react to their negative behavior by asking, “how you would like it if they did that to you?” The purpose of
this question is supposed to encourage the golden rule, treat others, as you would be treated. However, as with most positive habits, it’s not something that
can be taught overnight. However, the good news is that building empathy within your child is easy enough to embed right into your
playtime, redirection of negative behaviors, discipline techniques and even story
telling- all the stuff you're doing anyway! Starting young is always helpful, but teaching your child at any age,
the value of thinking of others in never a bad thing! One amazing school is working
to prevent bullying behaviors by educating youth on social skills such as fairness, responsibility, respect, empathy and dignity. I am loving this,check it out! Imagine if we ran our homes this way?
5 Simple Ways to Encourage Empathy in your Child:
1. Tell them what it is! Empathy is easily defined
as “stepping into someone else’s shoes.” Depending on the age of your child, you may need to
pull out an actual pair of adult shoes, and have the child step into them. Ask a few questions and then explain how
important it is to think about things from someone else’s position/perspective.
Understanding someone else’s feelings
Being aware of someone else’s feelings
Being able to experience someone else’s feelings
Whose shoes are these?
Do these shoes fit you?
Why don't these shoes fit you?
What kind of person/adult could wear these shoes (other than the owner)?
Could the same person that worse these shoes, fit into your?
2. Once they have a semi-working definition of empathy, it's best to just show them the how! When you are at the park, have them do some “feeling finding.” Ask your child to identify some of the feelings of the children around the playground. You may find it easier to begin with some guiding questions. Obviously, in an effort not to encourage awkward staring, this exercise might be best during snack time on the bench or picnic blanket! The goal of this is to have your child connect emotions/feelings and behaviors to others. “See other kids often feel the same way you do!”
Why do think that little boy/girls is laughing?
Why do you laugh?
Why does mommy or daddy laugh?
Why does your sister/brother laugh?
Does anyone look upset, happy, excited or sad?
How do you know (talk about body language, facial expressions, tone of voice)
You get the point, the more you can connect the behaviors to
then to others, the better the exercise!
3. Redirecting to the other’s person’s feelings may
already be part of your parent repertoire. “How do you think it feels when you
hit Sarah to get your toy?” “How would you feel if someone knocked over your fort?” These simple questions encourage a conversation and a chance for
learning- natural learning opportunities! Ask often how someone else might feel when your child is having
positive, negative or somewhere in between behavior! Again, this helps the
child connect their behaviors to the feelings of others, which is key! 4. Feeling flash cards. This is an easy and
interesting way to engage your child in a few things: communication, feeling
identification, feeling communication, vocabulary and finally, empathy! The goal
of the flashcards is to have the child connect someone’s body language or
facial expression to how they personally would feel, then how another person would likely
feel. I use this all the time in my therapy with kids and you can find them
right here! The cards have a diverse youth making a variety of expressions
based solely on body language and facial expression. Spread the cards out and begin asking a few
questions. Note: most young children find it easier to project their feelings onto others. So, you might find that what the
child in the picture is “feeling” is very similar to what you child is likely feeling.
Does anyone here look happy, sad, excited, mean?
Why, how can you tell (talk about body language, facial expressions, tone of voice)
How do you look when you feel that way?
If you were saying something mean, nice, kind, etc. to this person, do you think they would look the same way? How would then look (again, facial expression, body language, etc.)
Have you ever felt like that?
What do you look like when you're happy, excited, mean, etc.?
If you hurt them in some way (provide common examples: took their toy, hit or pushed, called names), how might that make them feel? How do you feel when
5. Explain how you feel when your child has
negative behavior directed at you. Please remember that the negative behavior needs to stopped and addressed first. So, if your child is hits, name calls, or
yells at you, be sure (after you’ve taken a few deep breathes and don’t feeling
like reacting in just the same way!), you use this as an opportunity to connect
back to how their behavior affects those around them. Be advised; don’t ask
things of your child that you are not willing to do yourself!
“When you hit mommy that hurts my (arm, leg, back,
etc.) and hurts my feelings. I know that you love me and want to make sure not
to hurt me, so how could you have expressed your feelings using words?” – Depending
on the age, you may need to offer a few positive alternatives.
After negative behavior is addressed through a
time out, removal of activity, etc. be sure to dialog with your child about 1)
why they had the time out, 2) how their behavior impacted the people around
them- explain how it made them feel 3) connect those feelings back to the child
and ask if feeling sad, etc. is something they like to feel 4) provide a positive alternative and finally, 5)
remind them that you love them, only want the best and part of a mommy or daddy’s
responsibility is to help their child treat themselves and others with
As always, feel free
to email or contact me with any questions!
Last night I had the privilege of being a part of Edgewood Middle School's screening of the documentary,Finding Kind. The producers of the film were in attendance and I have to say, I was quite impressed. The film discussed the concept of relational aggression among girls and even women. It discussed the every day reality for the majority of young girls (and adult women) in America- rumor spreading, pinning friends against each other, fighting over boys, name calling, jealousy, revenge and other bullying and aggressive behaviors. The documentary was extremely well done and the mission was simple, Be Kind.
Lauren and Molly- the film's producers
What very much stood out to me was the way the film discussed the concept of an apology, a true apology. Part of the mission is to encourage girls to own their mistakes, behaviors and how they have hurt others. This ownership than translates into an apology.These apologies created very moving and meaningful scenes in the film. As I have mentioned before, when using media, it is important to process with youth both before and after. We can use media to start the dialog and raise awareness, but we need to actively continue efforts over time if a culture is to be changed.
Tonight I will be part of 'Bridging the Gap,' a community TV show that is taking time to discuss bullying behaviors and what is being done. I will be sure to post particulars when I can.
As always, please feel free to leave any comments, questions or feedback. Thanks!
Often times, parents have difficulties understanding why their child act in certain ways or doubt their confidence in terms of successfully responding. This is completely normal! If you are a parent of a child who has aggressive or bullying behaviors, I'm proud of you for doing your research. The following includes a few of the most common strategies I encourage parents to employ.
1. Check yourself! It's important that when you receive news that your child has bullied or used aggressive behavior, you don't react emotionally (you may need to give yourself a few minutes), but that you respond with a desire to resolve the issue in a healthy and meaningful way. Remember, one of your goals as a parent is work to create healthy problem solving adults- you need to be a role model!
2. Encourage a dialog. Often times, parent move right past listening and into consequences. Ask your child their side of the story. If you do all the talking, the child might start to tune out!
3. Identify why it's happening. With some prompting and guidance, try to understand the reasons your child is behaving aggressively. Most common responses are, "he deserved it," or "she was annoying me." Remember, bullying behaviors are about a desire for power and control. In addition, they may be struggling with their own sense of powerlessness, which is why they are seeking power over others in other ways. They may have underdevelopment empathy skills, want to fit in a certain peer group or even for revenge. I encourage you to ask your child, "why do you think you did this," or "what were you hoping would happen after you did this." These answers may help give you some insight into what's really going on. Remember, you're being an active listener and you're not reacting emotionally!
4. Consequences. Yes, even with all your amazing active listening skills and empathetic gestures, you still need to give your child consequences- given that you did not uncover that they were not responding to their own role as a target of bullying. When I was younger and get in trouble (yes, I actually did), my parents would often ask what I thought the consequences should be. More often than not, I was harder on myself. I would encourage you to ask your child, "where do you think we go from here?" Also, it is important that you explain that it is because you love your child that you have to give consequences. They need to learn from their actions. Consequences can include losing privileges, more chores or some kind of restitution- doing something for someone else. Please do not use any physical punishment, as this perpetuates that violence is an effective way to solve problems.
5. Talk about your expectations. My parents would often start the consequence conversations with reviewing how much they loved me and the other positive characteristics they believed I possessed. Creating warm and open communication styles can be done even when you're "laying down the law." I would encourage you to review the expectations you have for you child- that they treat themselves and others with respect, learn to communicate their problems or concerns with safe adult or peer, leave the target alone, fulfill any consequences at school and learn from this experience. All this may take time, so it is important you consistently remind them of your expectations and their abilities.
6. Creating real change. It would be wonderful if every child learned from their mistake the first time, but this is hardly the case. I would recommend you to start working on the reasons your child gave you for the behavior in the first place (question #2). Educate your child on how to identify and communicate their feelings. Explain that is is not wrong to want to be a leader, have friends, be popular or even respond when their peers target them. However, it is how these situations manifest themselves that can be wrong- physical and verbal aggression, rumors, etc. In addition, I would encourage you to work on your child's empathy skills. Asking how they would have felt if they were in the other person's position or someone hurt someone they cared about. Finally, give them some kind of leadership role within your home- teach them how to be an effective and engaged leader.
Working through the above 6 steps is a start. I encourage you to use even the most frustrating and annoying moments with your child to teach them how better to respond and problem solve! Please feel free to email directly with any questions.
A few people have informed me they had some trouble loading the WCL video (below post). So, please feel free to check it out on their site HERE.Windy City Live, Chicago's morning show spent an entire hour on the topic of bullying. I was invited as their bullying prevention expert to answer some of the myths and facts surrounding bullying behaviors.They did a wonderful job and I am hopeful that their efforts will continue over time.
I would also encourage you to 'like' me on Facebook HERE and check out my new site HERE. And as always, please feel free to email me with any questions. Happy Weekend!
I had the privilege of being on Chicago's morning show, Windy City LIVE! It was a wonderful experience and I am hopeful they will continue their efforts to bring attention to the issue of bullying. Check out the clip below or the full show HERE.
The documentary Bully has
raised quite a stir and so it should! I think that this film did a wonderful
job showing some of the horrible realities of bullying. It captured the
physical, verbal and psychological harassment many youth experience on a daily
basis. This movie has raised a lot of support and awareness already, and I am
hopeful that it will be more than a passing fad.
My concern is that many may
think the movie is enough to “scare” youth away from bullying. When in reality,
we know it’s not that simple. The documentary alone is not enough to detour
youth from engaging in these behaviors- we need consistent efforts over time.
Youth need to be educated on how these behaviors can affect their future and
how to treat themselves and others with respect and empathy. Parents need to be instructed on how to
establish open, warm lines of communication with their children and how to
effectively react when their child is involved. Schools need to be a strong
line of defense against the perpetuation of aggressive bullying behaviors.
School districts need to set firm limits and consequences for bullying behavior.
The community needs to engage their stakeholders and work to create lasting
Do not let this film be the only way you connect with your youth about bullying behaviors. If you do use this movie as a tool, I
ask that you take the time to plan for a discussion before and after. Also, it
is crucial that you provide resources for all three parties- the target, those
with bullying behaviors and the bystanders. I have provided some discussion
Be sure to create a warm and
safe place to have a discussion. For those youth that have been involved in
bullying- it may be a sensitive or even scary topic. If this film is being
shown in a classroom where bullying has been a recurring theme, you may
want to meet with the target prior- explaining how serious you believe this
subject to be, that you want things to change and that is why you are using the
film. The youth with bullying behaviors may make light or even make jokes
during the movie- it is important that you explain your expectations before the movie starts- this is a
serious topic and it needs to be treated with respect. You may even want to provide the consequences for anyone being disrespectful. Tell them that you will be processing
what is seen, both before and after. You may find the
"ones" you think really need to watch the film, least likely to
pay attention. Provide incentive for engaging in the conversation.
Before the film:
1. Why do you think we are seeing the film? 2. Do you believe that bullying is an issue? 3. What kind of stories do you think the film will show? 4. What would you like to "get" from the film? 5. How do you feel about watching the film?
*Questions and comments may happen organically- follow that for a little bit and be open!
After the film:
*Be sure to remind everyone that comments/questions need to respectful.
1. What did you think? 2. How do you feel after watching the movie? Encourage them to use 'feeling words' 3. What kind of rules/consequences currently exist about bullying, are they enough? 4. What do you think would need to happen in order to stop bullying behaviors? 5. How could lasting change be made? 6. What kind of changes would they like to see?
Be open and again, work to establish a warm communication style. The information you glean from this, may be the platform to create change in your home, school, church, after-school program or youth center.