How to Help Your Child Develop Empathy

There are many myths about bullies. Bullies are really cowards. Bullies are loners with low self-esteem. The best way to handle a Bully is to hit him. Bullying is just part of childhood. However recent studies have shown that bullying in real life is not quite like the old TV shows would have you think.

When CNN looked at bullying in a midwestern middle school, they found that four out of five students said they had acted like a bully in the past month and apparently were eager to admit it! Another study looked at preschoolers and found that aggressive and confident children often grew up to be bullies. Bullies are often popular with both teachers and students. How could we have been so wrong?

Many of the same traits that are found in heroes – athletes, firefighters, and green berets – are also found in many bullies. These kids are physically strong, well-coordinated, and confident with high self-esteem.

Many parents would never suspect their popular children are indulging in physical aggression, social ridicule, teasing, name-calling, and issuing threats. How can a parent help their children become heroes and defenders of the weak, instead of bullies?

  • Bullies often have been exposed to a lot of violence – on television, in movies and video games. So, monitor your child’s media experiences and help him chose programs that don’t include a lot of violence. Be especially conscious of programs and games that seem to glorify violence as a mean of problem solving.
  • Bullies often lack empathy. Bullies often simply never consider the feelings of their victims and consider their teasing and name-calling to be “all in fun.” Take opportunities to discuss the feelings of others. This is another time that television viewing with your child may be helpful. In programs that glorify the aggressive behavior of the power bullies, talk about how the victims must feel. Remind your child of times when he was afraid and how that felt.
  • Bullies tend to focus on negative traits. Many movies and television programs for kids and teens derive much of their humor from jokes about the shortcomings of others. If your child seems to tell you mostly bad things about other children, ask him to come up with one good thing about each person he knows. There is something to admire about everyone; help your child to focus on those things.
  • Bullies make great defenders if their strengths are refocused. Ask your child who is the most picked-on kid in class. Discuss why the child is picked on and how the victim must feel. Talk about how heroes are those people on how to stick up for those who don’t defend themselves well. Tell about times you stuck up for someone or you wished someone would stick up for you. Praise your child for any stories where he stuck up for someone else.

If you suspect your child already engages in bullying behavior, consider asking his teacher for help. As you implement the steps above, your child may need some extra supervision to avoid slipping back into old bullying habits.

Praise each step your child takes away from bullying and toward being the hero you know he can be.

Praise each step

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