Bully-proof Your Child with Emotional Intelligence

October is national bullying prevention month. What can you do if your child has been bullied or is doing the bullying? The field of emotional intelligence can help parents learn and teach skills to navigate this difficult challenge. According to a recent U.S. study, one in five students have been bullied "sometimes" or more often. (Olweus Anti-Bullying Prevention Program, 2015)


Synapse School in Menlo Park is a place where emotional intelligence is taught alongside reading and math. Founded by Stanford-based educators, it is kind of a laboratory school (project-based learning, no grades) where children learn social and emotional skills every day and a big component is teaching parents to practice at home. That doesn’t mean there is never any teasing or bullying.


Ben comes home from Synapse School one day obviously not himself. His mom, Jill, is attuned to her 5-year-old son and can read from his body language that it has been a tough day at school.


As they sit down, Ben volunteers, “Mommy, the kids were mean to me at school today.” Keeping calm, Jill says in a neutral tone, “Tell me about it.” Ben tells her about the “Save the Bugs Club” that was started by one kid in the class, and how some of the kids were allowed in while some were not. Not only was he excluded, within minutes half the kindergarten class was calling Ben a bug killer.  


When the teachers saw Ben being bullied, they immediately called a meeting. They empowered Ben to tell his side of the story. Ben told his classmates that he was very MAD that everyone thought he was a bug killer! He was SAD that some of his friends went against him. He asserted that he was not a bug killer; and in fact, he LOVES bugs. 


Hearing about Ben’s feelings, the kids empathized and saw that they really hurt him.  Members of the bugs team were then asked to make an “active apology” to Ben where they came up with three things that they most appreciated about Ben. They created a poster of the active apology and there was a round of hugs from everyone. Ben felt much better, and trust in the classroom was once again restored.


Even in kindergarten, there is a strong human desire to belong, and in so doing, sometime to exclude others. Equally strong is an urge to restore social harmony in a group once there has been conflict.


What if we were to give kids and adults the tools necessary to help to rewrite the typical script for the bullying process or prevent it from even starting? What if we were to teach them the skills of Emotional Intelligence (EQ)? 


As parents, we can teach EQ at home to prepare kids to NOT be perpetrators, victims or bystanders of a bullying process. We can raise them to feel empowered to stand up for themselves and for others when they feel that something is wrong. Foundational to developing emotional intelligence is the process of Know yourself, Choose yourself and Give yourself.


1. Know Yourself is about increasing self-awareness, recognizing patterns and feelings.  It helps you to understand what “makes people tick”.

Encourage your kids to be curious about their emotions and those of others, and to develop the ability to accurately recognize and appropriately express emotions. Emotional Literacy can facilitate greater understanding, bridge differing viewpoints and prevent kids from ostracizing and dehumanizing others.


One way to practice Emotional Literacy with your kids is with a mirror, piece of paper and pencil. Take turns picking and expressing an emotion, observe the facial expression in your mirror, and then from memory, draw a picture of that emotion. Warning: the exercise may lead to lots of laughter.


2. Choose Yourself is about building self-management and self-direction. It’s the ability to consciously choose your thoughts, feelings, and actions.


We can teach our children to Apply Consequential Thinking.  This is the ability to pause to assess the influence of feelings so that we are careful about our choices. Help your kids learn to ask themselves what will happen if they act in a certain way. If I hit the bully back, what will happen next?


When we teach kids to engage their Intrinsic Motivation, they respond and act on their own feelings rather than those of other people This inner compass will take years to develop but it starts with something as simple as letting the mismatched socks go to school! For kids to believe that they can shape the world around them, they need to practice with making decisions from early in life. As Babara Colorosso, author of The Bully, Bullied and the Bystander suggests, one of the most critical life messages  that we should send our kids is, “I have agency in my life.”


Practice Optimism.  Especially for victims of willful acts of meanness, optimism is probably the most powerful EQ skill. Help your children see that adversity is a temporary (T) and isolated (I) situation that can be changed with personal effort (E).  Utilizing TIE is an effective way for many kids to deal with adversity in life.


3. Give Yourself is about aligning your daily choices with your larger sense of purpose. It comes from using empathy and the value-based decision-making.


All of us are born with the capacity for empathy;  and like any muscle in our body, empathy can be strengthened through intentional practice so that we can turn intentions into habits. Ask your child to imagine how a classmate who is being bullied feels and explore ways they can respond (you can model this).


Finally, children also need to feel connected to something larger than themselves. Pursuing a Noble Goal can start with something as simple as connectedness to nature. Children can be taught to align their daily choices with the principles and purpose of kindness and service to others. They can participate in pro-social acts, such as sharing, cooperating, or helping without expecting personal benefit or reward.


From the Dali Lama Foundation, "For children to learn kindness, we need to surround them with compassion and kindness. Nurturant environments are rich with acceptance, tolerance and empathy and we can build these environments in the every day places that children live.”


When we parent through consciousness (Know yourself), choices (Choose yourself), and connection (Give yourself), we afford our children and ourselves space to develop the skills of emotional intelligence to prepare them for dealing with the array of adverse situations in their lives.





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