Most of us would agree that while homeschoolers encounter bullying to a lesser degree than children in public (or private) schools, no one can totally escape bullying and its effects. Although homeschooling is a valid way to help a child escape a bullying situation, it's not a "get out of jail free card." Homeschoolers do socialize (contrary to some ridiculous stereotypes), and can still encounter personal conflicts at co-op, during sports, or at other community activities.
Teaching our kids about bullying is a life skill that may not find its way into an academic curriculum but is nonetheless essential. We homeschool parents have a responsibility in the fight against bullying:
- warning our children how to handle a bully
- teaching our kids how to help someone being bullied
- guiding our children how not to be a bully themselves
Among these three facets to targeting bullying—teaching the bully how not to bully, teaching bystanders how to step in, and teaching the bullied how to stand up for themselves—the most direct solution is to start at the top. If we stop the bullying, there will be less of a need to teach people to stand up for others or themselves.
Bullies typically bully others for a few basic reasons: a lack of control in their own lives, being bullied themselves, and stress.
Teaching Empathy to Prevent Bullying
The one key to stamping out bullying is empathy—a skill that can be taught by anyone and has a great effect. Here are five ways to promote empathy in your kids and prevent their becoming bullies or standing by when others are being bullied.
1. Read Books
Books provide a way to get close to a character and experience their pain in an intimate way. While it can be difficult to experience what another person is feeling, books open us up to intimate feelings. Here are a few links of books lists to get you started:
Any book, really, can teach empathy. The key is thinking from the character's perspective and vicariously experiencing his emotions. So while you are reading, be sure to ask your kids about how the characters feel, what the characters are thinking, and why they do what they choose to do. These kinds of questions help your child to see from someone else's point of view—and that's the foundation of empathy.
2. Talk About Feelings
The ability to identify feelings we experience does not always come naturally. Kids need to be given the tools and words to describe how they feel. Discuss and describe feelings as often as possible. Don't be afraid of negative feelings. Label them and help kids with constructive ways to manage them.
3. Model Empathy
Talk through your own feelings and the way you react to situations. For example, the next time someone cuts you off while driving, you could vocalize your thoughts, "Maybe that driver is having a difficult day or simply made a careless mistake."
4. Have Them Argue the Other Perspective
A common technique in writing persuasive articles or debates is to argue the other point. This switch of sides is also effective for developing empathy. It helps us put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and can open up a thought process that we wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
5. Open Lines of Communication
Talk a lot and talk often. Discuss relationships, situations (real and made up), and everything else. Having an open line of communication with your children or other children will always improve empathy. And if your child is being victimized by bullies herself or has witnessed someone else being bullied, she will have an avenue to let you know.
A Bullying Toolkit of Illustrations
It is beneficial to teach our kids why bullying is so harmful. It can be challenging to understand why some words hurt more than others or how certain words can hurt people in ways we don’t understand.
Kids have a tendency to believe that an apology can fix anything (Some adults believe this, too!). Of course, it’s not quite that easy. Words can leave lasting wounds which is why we endeavor not to hurt people in the first place. Here are four activities that illustrate this point well:
Find something that comes in a tube (toothpaste, for example) and instruct the kids to squeeze as much out as possible. When they are done, ask them to put the toothpaste back in. Then explain that our words are like the toothpaste. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get all of it back in. Once we say something, the words are out there.
Choose a fruit that bruises easily (apples are a good option). Drop it repeatedly. You may choose to “bully” the apple while dropping it, but that isn’t necessary. Just indicate somehow that the apple is being hurt. After a few drops, note that the apple looks okay from the outside. Cut it open and find the bruises on the inside.
Use a dry erase board to illustrate how kindness can cut through hurtful words.
Start with a clean piece of paper with no folds or wrinkles. Ball up the piece of paper, crumpling it as much as possible. Then open it back up and smooth it out. Point out that no amount of smoothing or straightening will return the paper back to the original form.
We can all play an active role in preventing and stopping bullying whether our kids are in public schools, private schools, or homeschooled. Having a no bullying toolkit at your disposal helps you play your part as a homeschool parent to root out bullying.
About the Author
Erin blogs at RoyalBaloo.com where she inspires people to make learning fun! Through printables, games, activities, and unit studies, learning becomes an adventure worth having.