teaching kindness: start early

It's never too early to start talking to your kids about recognizing inappropriate, hurtful behaviors and to how to promote kindness and respect for all.

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It's not all about the name-calling, teasing, or taunting. Learn what bullying is and how you can teach your child to be a tolerant, inclusive, friendly companion to others.
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Sadly, there have been many reports in the news recently about bullying and how hurtful, dangerous, and at times even tragic it can be. While most of the stories are about older kids or college students, bullying is prevalent in young children's lives as well. In fact teasing and bullying occur frequently in grades kindergarten through 3. One thing we do know for sure is that bullying, teasing, and excluding are not harmless behaviors and can negatively affect a child's health, learning at school, and emotional well-being.

So that leads us to the question: What exactly is bullying? Bullying is intentionally hurtful behavior that can take place over time or in short bursts and can manifest itself in many forms. It can be physical (hitting, pushing, shoving), or verbal (making fun of someone, name-calling) or exclusionary (saying "no" you can't play)--all things that make children feel bad. Although boys are three times more likely to be bullies than girls, bullies tend to consider both boys and girls as equal opportunity targets. However, boys, when bullied, will frequently respond physically. Girls, on the other hand, tend to fall back on name-calling, taunting or teasing.
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The good news is that there's a great deal parents can do to help. You are your child's first teacher. How you behave toward others matters because your children take their cues from you. You can help children develop empathy and learn to treat others fairly and kindly. You can help them learn not to tease and bully, and to stand up for themselves and their friends in safe ways. In other words, you can stop hurtful behavior before it starts. Here are some ways how:
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  • Teach your child to be kind, courteous, and generous with our possessions--and lead by example.
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  • During the day make a list of all the ways your child has been kind: Did she ask a friend to play or share a toy? Did he take turns in the park or feed your pet? Talk about your child's acts of kindness and generosity at bedtime. Write them down, using pictures and words, and put them up on the refrigerator.
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  • Talk about feelings--what makes your child feel happy, sad, angry? Help your child draw pictures about the way she or he feels.
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  • Here are some books on bullying, inclusion, and differences that we recommend you read together and spend some time after talking about the story and any lessons that can be applied. Ask your child if he or she has ever felt that way or if he or she knows someone who has felt that way.
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  • Talk about what your child can do if he or she is being bullied, for example:
      • You can walk away--sometimes just walking away can avoid a confrontation.
      • You can stand up for yourself
      • You can get help from an adult
      • Be sure to stress that your child's safety comes first.
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  • Use stuffed animals or puppets to help your child express feelings or to talk about something that is bothering her or him.
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  • Help your child understand the difference between telling and tattling. Tattling is getting someone in trouble, oftentimes for doing nothing wrong at all. Tattling is generally perceived to be unacceptable behavior and the child who does tattle may be labeled a tattletale and become unpopular with his peers. Telling can best be described as conveying information to protect or defend a child who is hurt physically (or about to be) or upset emotionally because of bullying, taunting, teasing, or other humiliating situations. Telling an adult or teacher about hurtful behaviors is appropriate.
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  • Celebrate difference--make a book about everyone in your family and talk about all the ways you are alike and different.
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    Barbara Sprung and Merle Froschl, co-authors of this article, are Co-Directors of the Educational Equity Center at FHI 360 and the authors of The Anti-Bullying and Teasing Book for Preschool Classrooms.
    nick jr. video