There are many labels and many variations on the same theme. Kids aren't always nice. Even nice kids get caught up in mean behaviors. We all remember being young and getting picked on. Or maybe we were the instigator of trouble. Chances are we've been on both sides of the line. Whatever roll we had, we know that this is not new behavior. But that doesn't make it any easier for parents to watch their kids suffer at the words and actions of other kids.
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We all need to talk with our kids often about their lives: what they are doing, how they feel about things, what they are looking forward to, dislikes, and more. Many kids clam up when it's time to open up, and sometimes the best thing for a parent to say is simply, "I'm here if you want to talk later."
Sometimes a general talk about bullying behaviors is a good idea, whether you suspect some bullying is going on or not. As with most things, a little prevention is worth a pound of cure.
If you see your own child saying or doing something that could be interpreted as mean, pull them aside and point it out as soon as possible so the memory is fresh in their mind. Children and young teens often don't even realize what they've said or done can be taken in a negative way. Don't punish or yell at them for the words. Don't belittle them. Making them angry will only block their mind to seeing another point of view. Use this time as a teaching moment to point out what was said. They might not get it right away, but later you can role play and see if they can understand better in a different situation.
I've put together things to use as talking points. Don't try to tackle this all in one sitting. Talk about one subtopic at a time, but talk often.
What else would you add?
- A small comment that seems to not be so bad to you can make someone else feel awful, even if you didn't intend for it to be. Those comments often come out of the blue and you don't give it a second thought, but the other person can dwell on its negativity for a long time. Even worse are the comments that are repeated over time.
- You cannot change what others do or say, but you can change how you respond to what they do and say.
- If you did or said something hurtful, it can't be taken back, but you can ask for forgiveness.
- If you know you're tired or in a bad mood, try to be extra careful before you say anything.
- Don't send texts when you're angry, sad, or tired.
- Don't reply to a text that makes you angry, scared, or sad. Show an adult if it is a threatening text or if it really upsets you.
- If you have negative thoughts, keep them to yourself. This might mean that you think someone got something they didn't deserve, someone's a teacher's pet, or their hair is awful. Whatever. Nothing good comes from sharing a negative opinion. In the end, people will see that you are negative and won't want to be around you as much if you share those thoughts.
- If in doubt about saying or sending something, save the thought overnight and see if you still think it needs to be said. Think about the wording to make it constructive and not destructive if it does need to be said. Talk to an adult if you're not sure.
- If you wouldn't say something to someone's face, don't say it at all.
- If you hear someone saying something negative, tell them to stop. Let them know you don't like hearing negative comments. This might teach them what they are saying is hurtful, because sometimes people don't realize what they are saying. They can learn to be a nicer person- what a great friend you can be to help them in this way! If they don't change their behaviors over a few days or weeks after being told what they are doing (depending on how severely or intentionally they are being hurtful) then you need to tell an adult. Doing nothing or agreeing with them puts you down to the level of being a bully, even if you didn't start it. If you don't feel comfortable telling them to stop, leave. If you stay, you’re part of the cruelty. Leaving means you refuse to be part. If they don't have an audience they won't continue.
- If you realize that something you said was hurtful to someone, talk to them about it. If you have a hard time talking face to face, a nice note can work. Have a trusted adult help you wordsmith what you will say so the words don't get twisted. You must be careful to not put blame back on the person or put them down again when you apologize. It can be tricky to find the right words, but it is possible.
- Texting is a dangerous way to communicate emotional or sensitive issues. It is great for simple questions and answers, but short phrases in texts can easily be misunderstood or incomplete. If you are disagreeing with someone, do not use texts to talk it out. Remember that anything shared electronically is public and permanent. Even if you think you are sending it to just one person, there are many ways for it to be seen by others. These words and pictures can be very hurtful. Never send anything you wouldn't want to put on a sign on your front door for all to see.
- Kids are often afraid to tell adults things for many reasons. It is okay to tell an adult if you are trying to help someone or yourself, but not if you are trying to get someone in trouble. Think about it. There's a difference.
Positives drown out the negatives...
- Every day write down (or discuss as a family) one thing that you really appreciate or are grateful for. It can be anything, but think of things that really mean something to you. It can be as simple as a person said something really nice when you were feeling down, or you did well on a test you studied hard for. It doesn't have to be a huge thing like winning the lottery, but it should be something that you really feel thankful or happy about. Focusing on the good things really helps keep life in a healthy perspective. It can help protect you from the negative effects of other people's behavior.
- Smiling really can make you feel better, so try it.
- If you see a friend struggling because negative things have been said, say kind words to him or her. Be extra nice to him or her so they know they aren't alone.
- Praise people when they say nice things. Recognize the kindness. Make it contagious!
- Try to do something nice or say something nice to at least one person each day. Notice the response over time in yourself as well as others.
- Respect yourself enough to do what is right. Eat right. Exercise. Get 9-10 hours of sleep each night. Don't take unnecessary risks, such as smoking or drinking alcohol.
- Respect others. Say kind words and keep negative thoughts to yourself. Don't make anyone else do something they aren't comfortable doing. Don't make fun of people.
- Be sure people respect you. If someone says or does something that you feel is disrespectful, let them know. If they don't change their behaviors, avoid them and find other people to have fun with. Get away from people who make you uncomfortable or scared immediately. Find new friends if your friends repeatedly disrespect you. Get help from an adult when needed.