As we start the month of October, we recognize many observances. One that is important to our daily work is National Bullying Prevention Month. This month marks people from around the world uniting with the powerful message “bullying should never be a part of childhood” and promote “kindness, acceptance and inclusion.” It is easier to anonymously cyberbully when not in person and youth are isolated and looking to make connections. And youth see each and every day during this election how adults are “bullying” each other over their thoughts, ideas and beliefs.
Here are useful tips for preventing bullying for children and youth that were developed based on YMCA’s work serving youth and families by Jenny Collins, executive director of the University Y and Beacons. Please share and if interested in an interview to discuss how to help children, teens and families during this time of intense pressure, please contact Joan Schimml at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips for preventing bullying for children and youth:
- Model empathy and connect with people of all backgrounds and experiences. Bullies may target people based on race, ability, or perceived difference. Encourage youth to build relationships with people across differences and to practice considering the feelings and experiences of others.
- Encourage specific caring behavior when you see it! Instead of praise (“Good job!”), offer specific feedback on their efforts (“I saw you working really hard to problem solve with your friend on Google Classrooms even though you were getting frustrated!”).
- Talk about current events with youth and help them consider how they can show caring and empathy towards others. Discuss injustice in this country now and throughout history, and share stories of changemakers who worked and are working to make our country better live up to its values.
- Be engaged with media (news, social media, YouTube etc.) your young person is consuming. Limit screen time so young people can have a break from social pressures and the stress of current events.
- Connect your child to more positive adults they can trust. Nurture their relationship with their classroom teacher so they feel comfortable telling them if bullying is happening in the classroom. Family members, YMCA camp counselors, sports coaches, and school staff can become additional important adults that youth can confide in if they are being bullied or are engaging in bullying. If you are limiting contact to some of these adults due to COVID-19, consider finding ways to still provide time remotely (Zoom call with an aunt/uncle or virtual therapy for example).
- Support wellness through practicing mindfulness. Today’s complex world and all of the emotions that we experience can be a lot for youth and adults to manage. Take time for wellness and mindfulness for you and your child/teen. Practice breathing, spending time outside, yoga, or other strategies to relieve stress and calm emotions.
- Talk with (not AT) your child or teen. Side by side discussion can work better than face-to-face, for example on a walk around the block or while cooking together. Try questions like “What is one time you felt great today and one time you felt bad?” Try not to react immediately but keep your face calm and continue to ask questions if you hear something upsetting.
- Have direct conversations about bullying periodically. “Do you feel safe at school (online or in person)?” and “Do you know what bullying is? Have you seen it happen or experienced it?” may be important questions for them to hear, even if they don’t always give you much of a response.
- Seek resources and de-stigmatize mental health concerns. Bullying can lead to depression and anxiety, and if our families can’t talk openly about mental health challenges experienced by so many youth and adults in our society, this can further the sense of isolation.