You’ve probably noticed the huge surge in anti-bullying campaigns towards kids. With school starting I’ve decided to chat (again) with my charges about bullying. It’s always been an open conversation for us but on the first day of school I got a bit of inspiration. And where else did I find it but the bus stop. All the kids on our street were gathered at the bus stop with most of the parents there as well. Once the bus arrived we said our goodbyes and the kids started to cross the street. As they reached the bus door the dad next to me shouted, “Be kind!” I turned to him in amazement. As we walked back up the street and applauded his efforts. He said something like, “My kids won’t make this life any harder for anyone than it already is.” I was stunned. Touched. I reflected on my way back to the house. This man had just given me the phrase I’d been searching for. “Be kind.” So simple, easy and I was going to make it effective too.
It isn’t easy to talk to kids about things like this. Depending on the age it can be hard to explain. I decided I’d talk with each boy separately and find ways to get on their level (the best way to get to any kid).
First, I needed to be sure they knew what bullying was. I wanted to show them that bullying isn’t always about physical abuse or name calling. Bullying can also include leaving other kids out. It can be saying something mean, then following it with “just kidding”. Gossip and the silent treatment are bullying. As is withdrawing a friendship or threatening to end a friendship. And that bullying can take other forms such as social media (texts, emails, Facebook posts) to make mean comments about another person. Bullying is anything someone can do to make another person feel inferior. Bullying can be based on difference, weakness, strengths… anything really.
For the four year old I talked to him about diversity. I feel like a lot of bullying comes from differences. Kids notice someone is different from them, pick that feature or characteristic about them and prey on it. I wanted to teach him that diversity is valuable to society and that so many people are different but that is what makes the world interesting. So I chatted him up about how the kid down the street has dark hair, as opposed to his own blond hair. The neighbor’s dark hair makes him look different but that doesn’t mean we can’t be kind to each other and play together. Then we talked about how some people like different things. For instance, I like coffee and mommy likes tea but we’re friends anyway. I encouraged him to come up with his own differences and likenesses. This part was a little entertaining to me but I knew he got the point. Then I talked about a few special needs kids he knows from school and family friends. We talked about how one friend doesn’t talk much. I explained that she isn’t trying to be unkind, but that it is part of who she is. He jumped in to tell me that she was still great at building towers and reminded me of a time he got her to laugh (a feat we all attempt). I didn’t bother to tell him about Down’s Syndrome. In the moment I thought labeling her differences probably wouldn’t change anything for the better or worse. We also talked about another friend who is in a wheelchair. He asked when she was going to learn to walk. Telling him that she won’t be able to was sort of strange. And I don’t know exactly how the words came out of my mouth but his response was to explain that she can race him in her chair. I was touched when he began telling me all of the other things that she could do but that she just does them differently. He added that he thought she was funny. He got it! My four year old charge was understanding that he can like people for WHO they are and not WHAT they are. He was seeing passed differences.
My job wasn’t finished. When the seven year old arrived home from school I tried to bring up bullying. My words fell on deaf ears. Elementary age kids hear this stuff everywhere they go. He hears about bullying on PSA commercials on every channel, teachers present it often and pro-athletes even have ads about bullying in magazines. He knows about bullying. I know this because he kept saying “I know, I know. I know!” to each of my points. I decided to take another route. I spoke about kindness. This got his attention: He hadn’t heard as much about that. We talked about how kindness isn’t just holding doors and smiling. Kindness can be including a kid in a game, making sure someone has someone to eat with at lunch. Kindness is more that being nice. It is an action. With a little coaching he started telling me ways people have been kind to him and how he can do the same. He even told me that he could be more kind to his younger brother. Virtual high five, fellow nannies!
A couple of days later I found myself worried about bullying. Not for me, but for my own daughter. She’s only 20 months but I realized that she was going to face this too one day. She was just diagnosed with farsightedness and a crossed eye. She will be wearing glasses in just a couple of weeks and she may need an eye patch or a surgery down the road. This is her first medical issue… otherwise she is a healthy little kid. And glasses are so minimal compared to so many other medical challenges kids can have. Her condition is treatable and likely won’t effect her in the long run. But what about those kids on the playground? Or parents assuming she has special needs just because she wears glasses? How will she handle all of the questions people might ask her? I started to tremble.
I realized that no matter what I do, she will be wearing glasses and I can’t always protect her. What I can do is prepare her. I can prepare her by teaching kindness, and living it by showing her how to be all the things I talk about all the time. I know lots of other nannies and parents are doing the same things I am. The solution is not only to talk about it but also practice what you preach. I am starting to do this in a big way because I want to be the anti-bully.