Strategies for Preventing Bullying

One characteristic of bullying that sets it apart from aggression in general is the perceived imbalance of power between the child engaging in bullying behavior and the child who is targeted. Those who bully focus on others they perceive as inferior in some way.

Young people who are perceived as "less than" have characteristics that set them apart from the rest. Some of these characteristics make children more vulnerable to bullying, such as our LGBTQ children and those on the spectrum, but any of a host of reasons place our children at risk, from food allergies to gender and ethnicity.

Cheryl Dellasega, PhD, and Charisse Nixon, PhD, co-authors of Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying, offer two powerful strategies for bullying prevention. Although written for girls and young women, these research-based strategies are applicable for all young people, regardless of gender.
  1. Build social-emotional skills at an early age. Begin your child's social education as early as preschool. Instill in young children the value of their unique qualities and respect for that uniqueness in others. Also, model empathy and kindness, and recognize them in your children. The authors urge us to remember that "behaviors that are rewarded are repeated, and those that are not are abandoned." Finally, frame bullying in a "moral context": bullying hurts and can damage others. This will help to prevent the social/relational bullying that reaches its peak in middle school. 
  1. Give children and young people the courage to be kind: Help your child understand the qualities that make up a good friendship and the disadvantages of relationships that exclude others. Support your child in becoming a good friend, encouraging connections that are supportive and caring. Teach your child/young person to be assertive, rather than aggressive. Help them to see the difference between expressing feelings, thoughts, and ideas versus pushing them on others. Finally, nurture in them the confidence and courage to speak up and to speak out when they feel they should do so. 
A 2001 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association surveyed over 15,000 American young people about bullying behavior. Dr. Tonja Nansel and her associates found that those who bully and those who are targets of bullying have social and psychological difficulties making and keeping friends. In bullying prevention the importance of human connection as the context needed to build social-emotional fitness and to nurture kindness and compassion cannot be ignored.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential of turning a life around.   ~Leo Buscaglia


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