Empathy

These bully issues just will not go away.  Your child is in tears, or you notice behavioral changes, complaints of stomaches and headaches and avoidance of school and social interaction.  Every parent I know has felt that helpless moment when your heart constricts with pain when your child as been hurt and you can do nothing about it. You are leveled by a myriad of emotions, not the least of one is anger. I have been asked the same question from friends, relatives, acquaintances and strangers, parents all who want to know when their child has been victimized by a bully, “What can I do? What should I do to help my child?”

I will list websites that have articles with information and tips I have found particularly thoughtful and easy to implement in the daily life of the family.  First, though, I would like to hand out kudos to two proactive parents who put forth extraordinary effort for their own children and all children, and by example, have given the community invaluable resources to educate and combat bullying:  Khari Touré and Andra Liemandt.

Through his pain seeing his daughters bullied, Khari Touré wrote a body positive rap song and produced a video, “Love Yourself.” And, as he said in an interview in Today, it is his “… love letter not only to my daughters, but to every child who’s been bullied, made fun of, and made to feel less-than, unworthy or unattractive.” Watch the video on YouTube and download the anti-bullying song with your children.  Teach them the refrain of Love Yourself: “I’m beautiful. I’m worthy. And those mean words can’t hurt me. I’m priceless. I’m smart. And I love myself, I’m focused on my health.”

After a friends’s twelve-year old child committed suicide after having endured being bullied at school, Andra Liemandt, a mother of two girls, did some research and found the tween and teen suicides steadily increased, but there is a dearth of preventative programs and resources for elementary schools.  She established The Kindness Campaign (TKC), an internationally recognized non-profit organization, which posits ”that if we teach children how to first be kind to themselves and then be kind to one another, we can change the peer-to-peer culture in schools and ultimately save lives.”

Adra Liemandt has this advice if you suspect your child is being bullied:

  1. Don’t ignore possible warning signs, even if they end up being typical teen/tween issues
  2. Stay involved with what’s happening at school and on social media with your children
  3. Most importantly, begin the conversation early so that your little one grows up knowing what is kind (appropriate behavior) and what is the opposite of kind.

We ordinary parents may not be able to preform such feats, but we surely can do something.  To combat bullying, we need to teach children empathy. It is the one most powerful tool we have. Large concept, but exactly how does that happen? Foremost, by example.  As parents, caregivers and educators, our actions translate to our children what the world expects of them.

I am going to use a rather long quote from an article in The New York Times, Motherlode /Teaching Children Empathy” by Jessica Lahey to illustrate my point:

“Educators will tell you that a classroom full of empathetic kids simply runs more smoothly than one filled with even the happiest group of self-serving children. Similarly, family life is more harmonious when siblings are able feel for each other and put the needs of others ahead of individual happiness. If a classroom or a family full of caring children makes for a more peaceful and cooperative learning environment, just imagine what we could accomplish in a world populated by such children.”

There is a website, Greater Good Magazine, that has core themes in its articles of gratitude, altruism, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, happiness and mindfulness.  Read these for concrete ways to teach empathy.  One article I found excellent is in Greater Good Action Science-based Practices for a Meaningful Life:  “Seven Ways to Foster Empathy in Kids” by Jill Suttie June 10, 2016; she gives seven ways to help your child not just act kindly, but embody kindness.

Another website, www.verywell.com has many helpful and enlightening articles on bully issues, well worth your time and attention.  One I found fascinating was “How Positive Thinking Benefits Bullying Victims  Learn how optimism can reduce the stress of bullying” by Sherri Gordon.  She breaks it down simply as to how replacing the bully message with affirmation can make significant changes by dint of positive thinking:  coping with stress of being bullied, having hope that the situation can change by getting help from others, and having resilience.

These are important and insightful websites available for anyone to go to and get advice.  If we teach children to be empathetic and kind, we have fewer bullies, not just on the playground, but throughout our lives.  Today, and tomorrow, our world needs to be a better place for everyone, our children and everyone’s child.