Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bullying and Empathy

Don't touch my cookie. I am not sharing.
 One of the life lessons that we are teaching Rowan these days is about how to treat others. As a toddler with lots of energy, he often uses this energy in a way that is undesirable. Taking toys from others, hitting to get his way- all are natural stages of development. But they are not acceptable, and we are working with him to get him to understand how to treat others.

We talk a bunch about bullies and the different ways they act and talk. Some bullies are obvious- a kid too eager to take things away from others, call people names, or make other kids afraid of them for personal gain.

We talk to him about sharing and saying nice things to people, and loving others and letting them love you. "Don't be a bully," we say. "Bullies don't have friends." This helps him navigate typical toddler scenarios in concepts familiar and understandable to a kid his age. But some things are just over his head. And we struggle to explain them.

Recently, he saw pictures I was looking at on the internet of police brutality. Mama reads stories like that and he saw the picture of a police officer choking an unarmed person. It was a scary picture. I am sure that his grandparents have told him that policemen are nice and that they help people. So this picture confused him. "Is that police man a bully?" he asked. I think how to respond: "Yes, Rowan. He is." Sometimes people take a job with authority not to help others but because they are handed power with that job. And they abuse that power." Hmmm, time to scale back the language to toddler level. "Yes- Rowan. he is a bully. Not all cops are nice. Some are, some aren't."

Learning empathy and helping from a friend.
Peer relations are touch and go for Rowan right now. He loves playing with other kids. But he also hits or pushes, takes toys from others, and screams at mama and daddy while trying to get his way. When he doesn't he sometimes calls people names. I know that all of this is a natural phase of development. But I personally find it horrifying. As a child, I was the anti-bully. I protected others and animals from abuse. So this kind of boisterous toddler behavior is hard to deal with sometimes.

We here at Kunning Hallow talk a lot to Rowan and play games getting him to guess the motivations or thoughts of others. As we read a story, we extrapolate for him: "I bet that duck is sad right now, thinking he won't see his mommy again. What do you think he is feeling?" I also have a chart that shows cartoon faces for different emotions and I ask Rowan to point to the one he is feeling at times. He is developing the language around feelings and I hope that we are imparting to him that others have feelings, too- and he can influence feelings for good or ill.

What are some things that you parents of toddlers (or former toddlers) have done to curb bullying? To cultivate empathy?


  1. Thank you for posting this. I'm struggling with this with my 2 1/2 year old right now. When she's at home, she can be rough on the cats or on us, her parents. I try to point out that "Kitty is happy" when she's petting him nicely, to encourage empathy. Or "that makes Mommy sad" when she throws a tantrum. But at the same time, I don't want her to always be concerned with making other people happy - sometimes, you're unhappy and that's okay! So I struggle with this.

    I also struggle with teaching her to stand up for herself. She only started preschool recently, so other kids are "new" to her and she doesn't know how to react when other kids are "mean" to her. Usually she just stares at them, trying to comprehend. I think this will come with time as she builds her social confidence.

  2. I know what you mean. I wonder about the social differences in raising a boy versus raising a girl I bring this up because you mention specifically not wanting your daughter always concerned with making other people happy. If I had a daughter, I know this would be a concern to me as well. It has not come up for me raising my son- because I know he will getting subtle messages from other people about how he need not concern himself with others' feelings. So I am doing the opposite of you!

  3. We were just talking about bullying today. I don't have children, but I was bullied as a child. Me and my husband were talking about adult bullies who bully kids. Usually an adult who 'jokes with' or 'horses around' with their kids or nieces and nephews, these people will usually say that they don't mean anything by what they do, or 'you take things too seriously'. This attitude infuriates me. If you don't mean anything by what you say, then why do you say it? It's not ok to pick on someone, then get upset and/or defensive when that person gets upset for being picked on.


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