Sunday, October 2, 2011

Humility: the Anti-Bully

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a topic that is important to me because it affects most of us at some point or another.  I will post information all month on our facebook page about bullying.  I don't want to repeat details of recognizing and stopping bullying -- there will be lots of great information posted, keep watching our wall!

I want to talk more about learning how to prevent bullying from a different perspective.  The slippery slope of when friendly banter or bragging turns into hurt feelings.  The way kids treat family members can reflect on how they will treat friends and classmates. The way kids are treated by family members also shapes their behaviors.

Bullying varies in severity and type.  We all recognize severe verbal bullying and physical bullying, but there are shades of grey. When is it bullying and when is it just kids being kids?

Bullying is when kids hurt other kids on purpose, but what if it isn't on purpose?  Kids still feel hurt.  How can you tell if it was with intent to hurt or just a blunder?

  • My team is better than your team.  Bullying or just a friendly competitive spirit?
  • I got an A on my test!  Pride or making another feel small without knowing it?
  • You got your hair cut? (in that voice)  Surprise reaction -- or does hurting feelings mean bulling?


Kids don't always recognize when they say something hurtful. They haven't learned to always think before speaking or acting.  This doesn't make the action acceptable, but it offers a teaching moment.

  • Tell them when you hear words that can be hurtful. Ask how they would feel if someone said that to them.  
  • Discuss how the look on the friend's face lets you know something is wrong.  Talk to kids about how to understand when another person looks hurt or changes their mood suddenly  it might be due to what was said or done.  When they see face changes or moods fall or become angry, they need to quickly think back to what was said.  They can ask the friend if they said something wrong.  They should apologize if the friend's feelings were hurt, whether the friend admits hurt feelings or not.
  • Teach kids to speak up for themselves when someone says something hurtful.  Until their friends learn to recognize what they say is hurtful, they need to be told.  A friend will stop.  Hopefully the friend will apologize, but maybe they haven't been taught that yet.  Teach your kids to accept apologies and offer forgiveness. 
A bully will keep doing the same behaviors even after the behavior has been called to their attention.  Bullies tend to pick on kids who have less self confidence, so build up your kids. Let them know they are loved.  Teach kids that it is okay to ask an adult for help.
I believe that teaching core values and showing a child love can help prevent bullying.  This is counter to many of societies goals.  It involves a tricky balance between building self esteem with praise without over-inflating the ego or demanding perfection.  Love kids for who they are, not what they do.
Bullies are self-indulgent and impatient. They try to feel better or inflate their self esteem by putting others down, but don't feel happiness.  They blame others or the system for problems.  They often feel unfulfilled and need more out of life but they don't know how to achieve these needs.  They probably don't even see that they are unfulfilled.
Kids who know that they shouldn't lie, cheat, and hurt others because it is wrong might think twice before intentionally hurting someone's feelings or spreading lies.  Young children must learn this.  We need to talk to them about how their words make others feel.  How would they feel if someone said that to them?
Don't tell them how they would feel.  Ask them, guide them.

I think humility is the anti-bully.  Humble people put others first and treat others with respect.  They are not weak and they are not step stools.  They have self confidence and inner strength, but are happy when others are happy.  They don't need to prove themselves to others.  Kids who put others first will be less likely to try to put others down to make themselves feel better.  A mistake should not break their whole self esteem because they know they are loved for who they are, not what they do.  They shouldn't have to defend themselves.  They can admit their mistakes and not lie to cover them up.

Do not confuse humility with humiliation. Humiliation is of course bullying and the opposite of being humble and helping others.  

The best way to teach humility is to be a humble example.  Serve others. Volunteer.  Give praise freely and unconditionally.  Show caring and respect to all.  Give credit where credit is due.  Accept responsibilty.  Ask for forgiveness when needed. Offer forgiveness to others.


Teach kids to give out praise often to others.  Who doesn't love it when others notice them? What can we say to people with genuine heart felt praise?  Think of ideas together and praise them when you see them hand out praise!  This builds confidence all around.  Confidence protects against bullying!

Teach kids how to respond truthfully without making others feel put down and without seeming over-confident.  (No one likes the kid who brags...)
  • "You scored the most goals.  Great job!"  
Reply: "The whole team was great. I couldn't score if they didn't pass the ball."
or "Coach taught me a great move.  I couldn't do it without his help."
  • "Wow! You got an A on the test.  I tried so hard and got a C."  
Reply: "The way the teacher explained it really made sense to me. I couldn't do it without good teaching."
or "I had to study really hard too.  Maybe we can quiz each other next time."
or "Math might be easier for me, but you are great with music!"
Teach kids to apologize when needed.  No one is perfect, and there is always a need to know when and how to apologize.  Words must sound sincere.   Don't allow kids to work around the situation or lie to get out of trouble.  Don't allow them to put blame on anyone or anything else.  

Teach kids they can only control what they say and do.  No one can control what another says or does.  How can they change their words or actions to change the outcome of a situation?  
Have you ever read one of those books that have multiple endings?  The ones that say things like, "If you want to go into the house, go to page 43. If you want to go to the park, go to page 46." 
Have kids pretend that their life is one of those books.  
Tell him to pick a time that someone's feelings were hurt, a fight started, or he got in trouble.  
Now have him change one thing he did or said.  Play out the rest of the situation.  
Ask: How would the other person respond to your new action? How does that change the end of the situation?   
This takes some practice, but we can all learn from this type of reflection.
Adults need to model these behaviors.  Kids can't learn humility just from being told. They must be shown these behaviors daily.    

Kids who know what to do if they see bullying behavior or feel bullied can help stop the cycle.  Many schools have anti-bullying programs in place.  

Does yours?  
Do you model anti-bulling values at home?