Working in schools over the years I have certainly seen my share of mean kids. Early in my career I was a surprised and saddened to see how severe hurtful behavior can be at such a young age. I've spent a good portion of my career educating parents and children on how to appropriately discuss hurtful behavior that becomes a pattern (known as bullying) and emphasizing the need to correctly label the behavior (e.g. teasing versus name-calling) in order to hold an effective dialogue with children of all ages. As a result it is not surprising that I have opened the conversation with my own children from a very young age. We have role played, utilized stories to discuss behaviors and feelings, and even worked through sibling interactions that could have been interpreted at hurtful behavior.
Despite all of this awareness on my part it still saddened me severely the day my oldest son came home talking about such a scenario from school. It felt like an intrusion in many ways. I overheard my older son explaining to my middle son that he was on a classmate's "birthday list" and that he too could be on the birthday list if he liked this child's bracelet. He shared this story with enthusiasm and excitement without any awareness of what was really happening. My heart sank with sadness. Sadness in thinking about the nativity of my son and sadness for the fact that this was all entering our home so seemingly early. After all, this is only kindergarten.
I immediately engaged both older boys in a conversation about friendship and invitations. I was mindful to stay away from leaving the impression that my older son had done something wrong by choosing to like this child's bracelet and separated out the issues into two categories: choice and friendship.. After reflecting on this incident I've come back to some of the same governing principles we've used in our home from the very beginning and the importance of ongoing conversation.
1. Utilizing stories (picture books in particular) to discuss important themes. When it comes to the topic of bullying some of my favorite titles include:
2. Model and discuss hurtful behavior as they occur. In my effort to keep an ongoing conversation about hurtful behavior I keep the following strategies in mind:
3. Create leadership opportunities in the home. Establishing the chance for children to take on age-appropriate responsibilities helps them recognize positive ways they are independent. This empowers and enables a child by teaching them skills, such as problem solving, that can translate to social situations at school. Whether it is allowing your child to wipe up spots on the floor with a wet rag or having them assist with putting the groceries away, they will find confidence in completing these responsibilities and mental strength through navigating the cognitive challenges required to successfully complete such tasks.
I know this is just the beginning of what outside influences will filter into our home and as the boys grow the topics will become increasingly challenging to tackle. The key ingredients are for there to be a conversation no matter the topic and we will all learn as a family from each experience no matter our age.
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families as an educational consultant and parenting coach.
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Based on a work at http://www.strongtots.com