Updated: Apr 4
This is the second in a 10 part series on how to teach empathy to young children through play
The more time you spend with bullies, the less you like yourself! That’s a good statement for all of us to think about. It says a lot about life in general and has implications for the ways we choose to raise and teach our children.
How would you like to equip your kids with a bully-proof vest that protects them from every mean person in the world?
Seem impossible? Maybe. But it IS possible to give your child the ABCs of non-violent communication with assertiveness skills that give them the tools to succeed in these areas for the rest of their lives.
How do I know about the bully-proof vest? 43 years experience with children ages 0-8+, and a BS and MA in education and human development respectively.
More important than that is the hundreds of hours of training attended and books read all the time applying the knowledge, observing the results, and adjusting my methods before trying again. I know a lot about how kids develop and learn, but I'm always the first to admit that parents and sometimes teachers are the real experts on each individual child.
It's from there that I like to talk about behavior.
I think it’s best to deal with the types of behavior that lead to bullying and victimization before the age of three. Yes, you heard me right. That's because 80% of a child’s brain pathways are developed by then and we need to be sure the right ones are being activated over and over again so that being a bully or being a victim doesn’t become ingrained in their beings and personalities.
Here’s what you’ll learn in this lesson
The ABC’s of equipping your child with a bully-proof vest, Awareness, Boundaries, and Choices.
Why self control is the key to unlocking doors on both ends of the bully vs. victim spectrum
Why making kids say they're sorry has gotten such a bad wrap and what you can say instead to promote empathy in very young children.
The video above shows the development of empathy which is the polar opposite of bullying. We defined empathy as being different from sympathy in the first lesson on listening. The truth is that all humans are born with both the capacity for empathy and the capacity for narcissism. It's the way we're wired.
Just like it's important to be aware of how empathy develops and to encourage it, it's important to be aware of bullying and how it develops.
Bullying is when a person or group deliberately tries to make someone else feel upset, scared, or ashamed. People often bully others who have any difference of behavior, appearance, culture, race, class, ability, or identity. There are four types of bullying:
• Physical bullying means harming or intimidating someone physically.
• Verbal bullying means taunting or hurtful teasing.
• Psychological bullying means leaving someone out or saying bad things so others will think less of them.
• Cyberbullying means using online and mobile technology to harm someone emotionally and socially.
Everyone is susceptible to bullying and anyone can be a victim in certain situations. So let's talk about how to prepare people and give them the skills they need to hold their heads up and take good care of each other.
With very young children 0-3, The process starts with awareness of self. Last time we talked about Floortime as being a good model for supporting children’s self-awareness by letting them lead the play on regular occasions. This week we’re going to extend that to a new skill I want to highlight called Laptime.
note: Floortime doesn't necessarily need to be on the floor and Laptime doesn't need to happen on the lap. It's a feeling of being in tune and in sync with each other. The difference is that Laptime usually includes physical contact and Floortime might not.
What is Laptime?
Laptime is defined by me as time spent either on the parent or provider's lap or in close physical contact if that's what's comfortable for both. It's time spent together, looking at books or magazines, reading and/or talking about emotions, and speculating how characters in books, ourselves, or others in the world might feel. It's also looking closely at facial, body, and language expressions that help us know what others are experiencing outside of ourselves. It's based on this premise:
all feelings are OK, all action (and words) are not
Laptime is a time for questioning and wondering about human interaction in the presence of a non-judgemental and trusted person. It's an awesome way to teach emotions to kids ages
0-8+. And it's information they'll need when it comes to talking about bullies.
30% of families in the United States don’t read to their kids at all. That's a lot of missed opportunities to teach their children about emotions and empathy.
The Danes, who've been consistently voted the happiest people in the world, already know what works to teach emotions and they have a program to teach it in school. It's called Step By Step that teaches young children to identify emotions by looking at pictures of faces and talking about how people are feeling.
Free of Bullying, a program designed by Mary Crown Princess of Denmark, teaches children 3-8 about bullying and teasing so they can learn to be more caring with each other. The program is mandatory for all school children.
There's something else that they stress in Denmark that we don't always make sure to include in our American child-raising. It's a subtle shift in thinking that they start instilling in children very early on.
Danish families actively encourage children to notice the best in each other by using phrases such as, "Isn't that child clever?" and they also talk about poor behavior as being separate from the child with phrases like, "Do you think he was grumpy because he was hungry or tired?" or "Maybe she skipped her nap, today." rather than labeling the child a pest or a bad sport.
Maybe there's some wisdom here for us to think about.
Our kids need to learn to set boundaries and like it or not, we're the ones who're going to have to teach them. We do it by example and through coaching. The first rule in setting boundaries is using "I messages".
You really need to tell people what you want if you want to have any chance in the world of getting it. I would recommend starting your requests with the word "I" or the word "when". for example:
"I see you trying to bully her into giving you her lunch and I want you to stop!"
"When I'm sure I can trust you, then I'll be your friend."