The Littles

Are We Teaching Our Children to be Victims?

Stop Bullying: Part II

This is the long-overdue second post in my anti-bullying series. You can read the first post here. Bullying is a serious problem that requires our attention. Raising awareness of the issue and teaching our children that bullying is not acceptable are both important ways to combat bullying. Teaching our children to be kind to everyone and inclusive of others is also important, and something I discuss in my first post of the series. However, there are multiple ways to approach and solve a problem. We also need to teach our children healthy coping skills, how to process difficult emotions, and to defend themselves.

Zero Tolerance: Turn the Other Cheek

When I was growing up, my generation was taught to never start a fight. But if someone started a fight with us, we were taught to defend ourselves. However, today we face the Zero Tolerance policy in schools. Today as a parent, I worry that if I teach my children to defend themselves against bullying, they may be unfairly suspended or expelled. Are there any other parents out there that have this same concern?

More on the Zero Tolerance policy, it seems it is another way of saying “turn the other cheek.” Being a moral concept taught in the Bible, it seems noble in this light. But just as we develop physically in stages – first we turn over, then we crawl, and then we walk – we develop morally in stages as well. Are our young children mentally, emotionally and morally developed enough to grasp and practice this concept? In not allowing them to defend themselves, are we by default teaching them to be victims?

So how do we deal with bullying? Raising awareness of bullying and promoting kindness is important. But no matter how much we may decrease the problem, it will never completely go away. There will always be bullies. This is why we need to teach our children good and healthy coping skills to combat this problem. Just like we cannot always be there to tie our children’s shoes or do their laundry, teaching them healthy and effective social coping skills is vital to their living a happy, healthy life.

My Little’s preschool sets an excellent example of teaching healthy coping skills. When children are having difficulty working out their frustrations, they go to the thinking step. Next to the thinking step is a poster with different faces expressing different emotions. They spend time thinking about what it is they are feeling and different ways they can choose to deal with those emotions. Instead of being punished for experiencing emotions we all feel, they are taught how to understand them and work through them. Below are some of the coping skills taught at the preschool, as well as a few thoughts of my own.

We need to stop teaching our children to be victims and teach them healthy coping skills instead

Be assertive. This should be the first go-to. Teach our children to state how hurtful comments make them feel and tell bullies to stop. Sometimes children know they’re being hurtful; sometimes they don’t. Likewise, sometimes this tactic will work, and other times it won’t. But no one can change something if they don’t know they’re doing something wrong in the first place.

Idioms. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. We all learned this when we were little. Have you taught your children this little idiom yet? Nursery rhymes and idioms have been used for centuries to teach children important life lessons, but it seems many of us are falling away from this practice today. My Little’s preschool teacher has been a teaching preschoolers for a couple decades now, and she’s noticed that many children no longer know their nursery rhymes. I remember classmates saying hurtful things when I was in elementary school, and somehow repeating these words to them made me feel better. In saying it, I believed it.

Ignore them. Bullies often want a reaction. Ignoring them denies them that satisfaction. I tell my Littles to let it “roll off their shoulders” when someone says something unkind to them. It gives me so much joy to hear them repeat those words back to me and see how they simply decide to not allow a hurtful comment to effect them.

Walk away. Remove yourself from the situation. Walk away, play on another part of the playground, stand somewhere else in line, sit somewhere else on the bus. If someone is being unkind, we can choose to not allow them any of our time.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. When someone bullies others, it is a reflection of their character, not our own. They are likely lacking self esteem or generally unhappy. They take out their frustrations on others or seek to pull others down to make themselves feel better. Talking through these different possibilities and teaching our children to put themselves in someone else’s shoes helps them put the situation into perspective. It teaches them to not take hurtful comments personally. And it teaches them to not base their self esteem on how others treat them. Self worth comes from within, not from without.

Stand up for others. Not only do we need to teach our children to stand up for themselves, but we need to teach them to stand up for each other. We need to teach them not to be passive observers when they see someone being bullied. Our children will find strength in numbers.

When Words Aren’t Enough

All the coping skills mentioned above are nonviolent. But what happens when bullying moves beyond words? What do we teach our children then? That is the burning question I leave with you today; I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue.

Further Reading

For more reading on this topic, check out my post Small Acts of Kindness: A New Way to Celebrate Valentine’s Day or 10 Children’s Books that Teach Friendship and Kindness.

Questions of the Day

  1. Is it better to teach our children to turn the other cheek or to teach them to defend themselves against bullies?
  2. How do you teach your children to deal with bullies?

11 thoughts on “Are We Teaching Our Children to be Victims?

  1. This is such a great post. I was just wondering a while back what I should teach my 2 and a half year old when he came back from school saying his friends hurt him. I don’t want him to be the whistle-blower running to the teacher for everything, but I don’t want him to fight back nor keep quiet about it.

    The thinking step is such a marvellous idea at a school, even ignoring them and walking away are very good advice.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Good read! I think it’s better to teach children how to defend themselves to be honest, rather than turn the other cheek. You gave some good tips on how to do that!

  3. It is definitely worrying that a victim may be suspended for standing up for themselves. We’re teaching our daughter to walk away. There’s one boy in her class who lashes out (not realising that he’s hurting others due to a mental disability) so we’re teaching our daughter to tell him that it’s hurtful and walk away. If he hits her, then she needs to tell the teacher rather than fight back.

    I will say that fighting back worked for me and my husband. When we were bullied, we picked our battles. Sometimes we’d walk away, other times we’d fight back–the fighting back seemed to make it clear that we weren’t going to be beaten.

  4. Schools may have programs to raise awareness about bullying, but I feel it is of utmost importance that parents talk to their children about it. The first step they need to know is to talk to an adult they trust. Depending on the level of bullying, even with coping skills the parent has taught them about, it could be too much for the child to deal with on their own.

  5. I think it’s best to teach them to defend themselves that way the bullies don’t feel that they can walk all over them.

  6. I’m not a parent yet but this is an important issue to discuss. I know it must be hard as a parent to want to defend their child and get in the battle — I’m very protective of my little sisters and have jumped into the middle of things but walking away is definitely key. If someone decides to escalate, I think the school needs to enforce a policy. Parents need to teach their kids right from wrong and those parents that are allowing their kids to bully should have to sit in on a program and face consequences with their kid to better that child.

  7. I think it’s important to teach them about bullies at a young age – explain to them that there will be people who don’t always say or do nice things but rather than be ‘friends’ or associate with those kind of people explain to them to be friends with other kids who are nice and uplifting – change the wording around depending on age of course. Communication is key – if you have kids tell them to be sure to tell you if they’re getting bullied and you two can come up with a solution and if it gets extreme you can contact the school.

    ps- I don’t have kids and it’s easier to type these things on a computer rather than being in real life when your baby is getting bullied – can’t wait to read the other comments from real moms.

  8. I feel like ignoring them the first time or two is best because many bullies are bullying for attention. When the whistle is blown, the bully gets the attention he/she wants. Of course, if the bully repeats his actions, something should be said to the teacher. I say all of this, though and I am not a mom.. so maybe my feelings will change one day. I do feel like every situation and child is different (some are more sensitive than others), so it can be hard to have general advice for this kind of thing.
    -SC //

  9. When I talk to my children about bullying I usually let them know that whatever bullies say to them is usually said because something is going wrong in their life that is upsetting them and they do not know how to correctly handle it, so not to take it to heart. I’ve taught them to show compassion and be understanding. But that they can and need to walk away when abuse happens. They have been taught to talk to an adult that they feel comfortable with if they feel things are out of their control.

  10. I don’t have children but I like the coping skills you listed. As a child, I also used to say, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. It’s sad that bullying exists, and not just for children and teens.

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