Most adults can remember at least one instance of bullying or exclusion they experienced as a child. For some, exclusion defined their lives, impacting how they learned to relate with others into adulthood. In an effort to keep their own children from becoming victims of bullying, these scarred adults inadvertently teach their children how to instigate bullying and exclusion, thus creating a cycle of behavior that can continue indefinitely, unless the cycle can be interrupted.
The Statistical Variety of Bullying
How many children today experience bullying? The statistics often vary by school district and age, but 2016 statistics indicate that 1 in 5 students have been bullied in school, with 5% of that bullying defined as bullying by exclusion. But are these statistics accurate? According to a 2014 study conducted by the National center for Education Statistics, teachers reported that up to 58.6% of 3rd-graders purposely excluded others from play.
It is difficult to provide an unequivocal answer for the number of children who experience bullying, since the definition and perception of bullying changes over time. What is clear, however, is that children in today’s school systems–all of the them–are bullied, act as the bully, or know someone who is being bullied.
Exclusion as a Type of Bullying
When done intentionally, modern educators consider social exclusion of students a type of relational aggression, which is a form of bullying. Social exclusion includes spreading rumors, excluding students from group play or refusing to speak to a particular child. Students rarely receive punishment for excluding others, which helps it to proliferate the trend and sends the message that it is a normal part of childhood.
Changing the Narrative
A 2001 paper by professors at York University and Queen’s University reported that nearly 60% of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes in support of a student being bullied. Where do these life-saving peers come from? Well, they originate from households where they’re taught how to be compassionate instead of judgemental, inclusive rather than exclusive. As a mom, you can provide your children such an environment.
What you can do to Raise an Inclusive Child
How do you empower your children to be inclusive with others? First, you have to be the kind of person you want him to be. Show compassion, tolerance and kindness to the people in your life (this includes your ex if you have one)! Your child takes behavioral cues from you. Other ways to create an inclusive child:
- Explore your own biases. It is easy to treat a people differently who have belief systems or lifestyles that you disagree with–and you might not realize you’re doing it.
- Broaden your horizons. Learn about different cultures and make sure your kids learn along with you. The more diverse your circle of friends, the more your child will learn to value the differences in their own friends. Talk about the problem. It is easy to gloss over the bad parts of your child’s school experience. If you see bullying going on or your child brings something to your attention, talk about what is wrong with the situation. If necessary, take it to school leaders.
- Recognize imperfections. It’s likely your child will hurt another child’s feelings or exclude them occasionally, either on purpose or accidentally. If it happens on purpose, discuss why it happened and what he/she can do to make it better.
Inclusive Summer Fun
The summer season provides ample opportunities for adults and children to learn and meet new people. Perhaps a class or activity that is somewhat out of your comfort zone or teaches you and your children about a new culture? Exposure to other people and cultures can really open children and adults up to acceptance and inclusion. Some ideas to broaden your exposure are:
- Go to a museum or exhibit that you wouldn’t normally attend.
- Try a new restaurant that offers food of from other cultures that are new to you.
- Take a break from social media and meet with people in person.
- Invite someone new to join you in an activity; expanding your child’s group of friends.
- Volunteer. Helping someone else in need often does a lot for the person helping in addition to those being helped.
In a world where hatred, bias and bullying can be seen on television and in real life every day, teaching your child to ignore the accepted behaviors and forge a path of compassion and tolerance is often difficult, but it is a journey well worth the time and patience.
Maxine Chalker is the founder and Executive Director of Adoptions From The Heart, an adoption agency in Philadelphia. She holds a MSW and LSW which she uses to give adoption a new face by breaking down the barriers and taking some of the mystery out of the adoption process. Chalker is also an adoptee.