10 Ways Adults Teach Kids to Bully

As parents and teachers, we spend a lot of time talking to kids about bullying and encouraging them to treat others with kindness and respect. Yet in our own lives, we often contradict ourselves. We forget that kids are always watching and learning from our behaviors. Often we say all the right things to our kids, but we teach them all the wrong things with our actions. We do this unintentionally through actions that seem like common practices.  Here are 10 ways adults (often unintentionally) teach kids to bully.

Excluding Other Adults
We encourage kids to include one another, invite all of their classmates to parties, etc., but as adults we’re often very choosy about who we interact with. Have your kids ever seen you change plans at the last minute so you could spend time with someone you liked better or listened to you beg off an invitation to a party because you don’t really like those people much? Maybe you have a group of men or women you regularly spend time with. Does that group come off as exclusionary? Do you only interact with certain parents during pickup and drop off or at school functions? Even if you don’t like certain adults or have nothing in common with them, taking the time to say hello to them or include them in a conversation can go a long way. And, as you likely tell your children, who knows, you might make a new friend.

Calling People Names
“He’s a jerk.”
“That idiot took my parking spot.”
As adults we often throw around put downs without stopping to think about what we’re really saying. Yet when our children do the same, we’re quick to put them in their place. While occasionally putting someone down isn’t die-hard bullying, it’s still a bad practice to teach to children and can lead to behaviors that do represent bullying. If there’s someone from work or in the neighborhood who is always getting on your nerves, choose your words about those people carefully, especially when your children are around.

Criticizing Others
Calling people names isn’t the only way you can indirectly teach your children to bully through your words. Do you always come home and criticize a co-worker or talk about how bad someone is? If all you do is criticize the people you interact with, what do you think your children will do in their own conversations? This applies to how you talk to your children too. Adults should teach children how to encourage people and build them up, not tear them down with criticism.

Taunting and Teasing
Adults often like to engage in harmless taunting and teasing. It happens when you jokingly say to a friend, “oh you’re so stupid,” or when you’re watching a sports game and hurl an insult at the other team. In the moment, it’s all in good fun, but not when children are listening in. Children may turn around and use those same insults when talking to others, but they don’t have the filter to tell them when these words are harmless teasing versus actual put downs. As adults, it’s best to realize that no teasing is truly harmless and to carefully choose our words when joking with friends or supporting our favorite sports teams.

Interrupting and Ignoring Others
Chances are you’ve been in a meeting where someone has constantly interrupted others or dominated the entire conversation. While this may simply be a sign of a lack of manners, it can also be a subtle way of bullying. People who continually interrupt or try to one up other people often send the message that the other person’s thoughts, actions, and experiences aren’t good enough. If your children pick up on that message, they may start sending to the same message to their peers.

Being Narcissistic
By the same token, always talking about how much smarter, prettier, happier, wealthier, nicer, more helpful, etc. that we are than people can send the wrong message to children and indirectly cause them to become bullies. There’s a place for self-confidence and appreciation for what you have, but not to the point that it tears others down or puts you on a pedestal above them.

Gossiping
“Did you hear the latest about so and so?”
As adults, it seems that gossiping is often part of our second nature. We always want to know the latest news and speculate about what is going on in other people’s lives. Children are often listening to our phone conversations and chat sessions with friends and family members. As a result, they learn how to model their own conversations in the same way, which often leads to them spreading rumors and gossip about their peers.

Threatening and Intimidating People
Assertiveness is a good skill, particularly for people who work in business, but assertive and powerful people can sometimes let their power and desire to get what they want go too far. Are people afraid of you? Do they do things because they’re worried that you’ll harm them or blow up in their face? If children see that these kinds of behaviors regularly get you what you want, they’ll learn to do the same. There’s nothing wrong with being assertive and striking a bit of healthy fear in people, but when you threaten and intimidate others, you take these behaviors too far. Remember to deal with others with kindness and respect.

Acting Impulsively
We’ve all had those moments where we’ve said or done something we wish we hadn’t. Typically those moments come because we don’t take the time to stop and think before we act. While impulsive outbursts may not seem like they encourage bullying, they often involve treating others poorly. Teaching children to act impulsively can cause them to lash out at others rather than stopping to consider the effect of their words and actions.

Standing on the Sidelines
One of the biggest points emphasized in anti-bullying curriculum is that kids should speak up when they see bullying. However, as adults, we don’t often speak up when we see bullying taking place. How often have you told someone who yelled at a cashier that his/her actions were uncalled for? What about when people get in an argument at a store or an airport? It takes a lot of courage to stand up and say, “Hey, that’s really unnecessary” or confront the bully in another way. If it takes courage for adults to stand up to bullies, imagine how much courage it takes for kids to do the same.


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What Defines Your Character?

You may have heard the phrase, “Character is how you act when no one is looking.”

While there’s a lot of truth to that phrase, it is also true that true character can be shown in your every day actions, particularly those that test your patience.

For example, how do you act when you’ve been standing in line at the DMV and get to the desk only to find out that they forgot to tell you that you needed one more document to process your registration? What about when you’ve been on hold for customer service for ages and the representative is unable to solve your problem?

Those moments show your character too. Do we all lose our cool every now and then? Yes. However, as we learn to develop good character, we become more able to handle those moments with compassion.  As Dale Carnegie is quoted as saying, “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain, but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

Instead of focusing on acting like you should when no one is looking, look at how you conduct yourself at all times.

After all, “Conduct is the best proof of character.”

5 Life Lessons from a Pumpkin

Pumpkins are a staple of fall. We go to the pumpkin patch and scour of the field full of pumpkins, searching for the perfect one. We use them to make pies, cakes, breads, pasta, and virtually any food imaginable. We carve them, put a candle inside, and set them on our doorsteps.  We spend a season obsessed with pumpkins, and then they’re gone on to something.

My youngest took the requisite preschool field trip to a pumpkin patch this week and came home with the cutest little pumpkin.
“There were bigger pumpkins,” his teacher said, “But he just really wanted that one.”

He showed me his little pumpkin, pointing out how the size was just perfect for his little fingers, and how he liked the stripes of green near the stem. To him, it was the perfect pumpkin.’

His observations on pumpkins caused me to think about character and the lessons we can learn from these orange staples of fall.

Your size and shape don’t matter.

When adults go to the pumpkin patch, they’re often looking for the large, perfectly round pumpkins – the ones that will be easiest to carve or fit best in the perfect fall display. When kids go to the pumpkin patch, they tend toward the more unique pumpkins.

“This one won’t stand on its own, but I love it!”

“Ooh… this one is all green. Let’s get it!”

To them, the unusual sizes, shapes, and colors are the ones that stand out the most.

In life, we often get hung up on what we should look like, but there’s always going to be someone out there who doesn’t care about the size and shape, someone who wants to be friends with the one who stands out from the crowd. If you’re the perfect size and shape, more power to you, but if you’re not, there are people looking for you too.

Sometimes we need to remove the muck from inside.

What’s one of the first things you do when you cut open a pumpkin? You take out all of gooey seeds and pulp from the inside. We all have gooey seeds and pulp inside of us too. We have negative thoughts, bad habits, and other things we need to remove before we can be molded, shaped, or carved into the people we want to be.

People may only like you for a season

Pumpkins are a staple of fall. September through November, people go pumpkin crazy, but by December they’ve moved on to Christmas trees and poinsettias. For the rest of the year, people barely think about pumpkins until they see fall displays starting to pop up in stores, but when September rolls around, pumpkins are back in the spotlight.

Life is kind of like that too. You’re not going to be in the spotlight all of the time. There will be seasons where people will listen to what you have to say and you’ll feel like you’re someone who really matters. There will be other seasons where you feel like you can’t do anything to get their attention and like what you say doesn’t have value. Take it all in stride. During the off seasons, work on developing a message of value so you really stand out when they’re ready to listen.

You can be anything you want to be

Pumpkin carving has become an incredible art. While lots of people stick with the basic pumpkin face, others are turning pumpkins into virtually everything imaginable. Like a pumpkin, what you can become isn’t limited to a few basic shapes. You can be anything you want to be – sometimes you just have to think outside of the box to figure out how to make it happen.

You may look great on the outside, but it is what is on the inside that makes you shine

No matter what you want to be, remember that what is inside is what counts. Carved pumpkins can look really cool, but they look even cooler at night when a candle is inside magnifying their design. Being a person of character – being kind, compassionate, honest, a good citizen, resilient, etc. – that is what is going to make you shine.

Teaching Kids to Think Beyond Themselves

The other day, I took my children to Chick-fil-A. While my youngest child was in the play area, my oldest child ate his strawberries. Naturally, when the three-year-old came out of the play area, a meltdown ensued. When questioned why he ate the strawberries, the six-year-old responded, “I ate all mine and I wanted more.”  He didn’t stop to consider who the strawberries belonged to or how his younger brother would feel when he discovered that his strawberries were missing. Instead, he was only thinking of himself.

At first glance, the lesson he needed to learn was, “Don’t take things that don’t belong to you,” but his response showed me that there was a deeper lesson to learn – considering the feelings of others.

It’s a tough world. Even from a young age, kids are encouraged to stand up for themselves, to be the best, and to work hard to get what they want. Within that conversation, we also need to take time to teach kids to not think only of themselves, but to think of others. This goes beyond the random acts of kindness and donations of charity that regularly make the news. It involves thinking about how our every day words and actions affect those around us.

So where do we begin? Here are a few articles that I think do a good job of helping parents and teachers encourage children to think beyond themselves and start thinking about others:

All of our resources at Building Kids Character have components of empathy, caring, and compassion built in to them, but parents and teachers should take time to regularly emphasize these traits in children and take advantage of teachable moments, such as my own strawberry-stealing moment at Chick-fil-A.

Lessons to Learn from Maya Angelou

“I speak to the black experience, but I am always talking about the human condition —
about what we can endure, dream, fail at, and still survive.”

— Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou stands out a strong, resilient woman. Her works reveal her struggles, her resilience, and her ability to find hope in some of the most desolate of circumstances. We highlight Maya Angelou in our Profiles of Resilience series because her works are full of wisdom and her life serves as a great example to help kids and teens learn how to become more resilient.

Lessons from “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros

As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end, I’d like to take a moment and reflect on one of my favorite stories by a Hispanic author. “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros is one of those stories that every person should read at some point in his or her life. It’s a simple story that so accurately captures a complex series of emotions – turning older, discovering that life in not always unfair, holding in your emotions.

As you read through this story, you learn a few key lessons:

  1. As you grow older, you gain wisdom, yet you’ll never be quite old enough to have all the wisdom you need.
  2. Sometimes others will not listen to you, no matter how much you try to explain.
  3. Often, all it takes to ruin your day is having to put on an ugly red sweater that doesn’t even belong to you.
  4. However, it’s often not the sweater that is really the problem.

All it takes to ruin Rachel’s birthday is an ugly red sweater, an ugly red sweater, but is the sweater really the problem?

Rachel is eleven, but she doesn’t feel eleven. She still wants to cry like she’s three and sit on her mother’s lap when she’s scared like she’s five. Having a birthday isn’t a magical transformation into an older, wiser being.

Rachel is eleven, but she’s still not confident enough to stand up for herself when her teacher puts that sweater on her desk and, later, makes her put the sweater on. And she’s not able to stand up for herself when Phyllis Lopez finally claims the sweater and her smug teacher refuses to apologize.

This is a good character lesson for kids. We’re quick to praise the outspoken, confident children for standing up for themselves, but we fail to recognize that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some kids will have it down when they’re five, some when they’re eleven, and some won’t get pick it up until they’re one-hundred and two.

We need to take time to teach kids that every event doesn’t have a happy ending, every situation doesn’t go exactly as we hope it will, and that sometimes life is hard. We’re going to have some red sweater days, but the good news comes in knowing that not all days will be red sweater days.

Consequences of Bullying

Often kids underestimate the consequences of bullying.

“Oh, it’ll just make her feel bad for a minute.”
“He’ll know we’re just joking.”
“Oh look at the little baby cry for a minute.”

In reality, the consequences of bullying can be deep and long-lasting. Teachers and others who talk to kids about bullying shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences of bullying. The extremes aren’t pretty, but kids need to know the extent of what could happen before they decide to engage in some harmlessbullying.

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