Thursday, October 16th, 2014
We all know that bullying can start at frighteningly young ages—the behaviors can show up as early as preschool. But even little kids can be taught lessons that help prevent the problem from getting worse, says Ingrid Donato, the co-lead in bullying prevention at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): “The preschool age is so incredibly pivotal.”
It’s crucial to spot what Donato calls “pre-bullying behavior”—actions like grabbing toys away, pushing kids, or isolating them from group play. While this isn’t technically bullying (which is defined by StopBullying.gov as an imbalance of power, whether physical, emotional, or social, exerted repeatedly) these behaviors need to be stopped early on.
For example, if you have an overly aggressive child, it’s important to intervene when hisactions are harmful, and explain why the behavior is unacceptable. Then come up with solutions—like steering him toward high-octane activities to burn off extra energy. If your child is on the receiving end of bullying behaviors, Donato suggests arranging for her to spend time with a more confident child, who can act as a role model.
But strategies aren’t always enough. To help parents deal with these situations, and just in time for Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, SAMHSA has released KnowBullying, an app for iPhone and Android that provides parents, educators, and caregivers with information on how to effectively communicate about bullying with kids. “We were finding out from the research that kids were reluctant to talk to adults about bullying,” Donato explains. “One of the reasons was they weren’t confident that the adults would know what to do. And when we talked to parents, we learned they were very nervous about talking with their kids because they didn’t know what to say.”
The app has conversation starters to discuss bullying with kids, broken down by age. Suggestions for ages 3 to 6 include: “Share one thing that happened today,” “What makes you angry? What do you do when you’re angry?” or “What rules do you follow at school? Why?” These questions don’t deal directly with bullying, but they do help children talk about situations that could progress to bullying.
“We found one of the most powerful ways to reduce the effects of bullying as kids get older—as well as many other negative things that could happen—was to have supportive, regular, engaging conversations with an adult,” Donato says. That may seems like a small step, but it’s an important one that KnowBullying hopes to inspire parents everywhere to take.
Image courtesy of SAMHSA.
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Tuesday, March 11th, 2014
I live in a slightly out-of-the-culture neighborhood of Brooklyn, where mothers of baby girls shun pink and boys wear their hair fairly long, and sometimes I feel surrounded by princess-haters, who think that the Disney Princesses are trying to put all of our kids into a narrow box. I have lost count of the number of friends who have said they will never sanction Disney princesses in their home. They usually lose that battle anyway.
I can’t speak authoritatively about girls trying on extreme gender roles, because I am no child-development expert. But my beat here at Parents and American Baby includes toys, and I know when a little girl reaches 2 or 3 she usually wants a princess doll, or a costume dress, or a plastic pony with a long pink tail. I don’t know why, but I can tell you the want is real and seems primal.
My daughter, Grace, went on a loopy-doopy princess bender from ages 2 through 4. She dressed as Cinderella as she learned to climb the monkey bars and wore her Belle dress through the supermarket. It hurt no one, and I would argue particularly did not hurt her. She outgrew wearing costumes before elementary school, as I knew she would, but retained some lessons from “the ladies.” She knew that Ariel should have talked to her Dada before making that crazy deal to get human legs, and that Jasmine needed some street smarts. She understood Cinderella’s weary patience and Belle’s determination to block out haters. The new movie Frozen (which we’ve seen twice!) particularly has great themes, as Sheryl Sandberg points out.
Last fall we visited Belle in Fantasyland and Grace, now 11, studied her from a distance, judging her acting ability. (“She gets the voice right…”) I can’t get my tween to put on a dress, let alone a frilly one. She eyes Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, which honestly makes me more nervous than her watching of Snow White ever did.
The eloquent “Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney” piece that ran in the New York Times resonates with me in that it points out how Disney stories are tales as old as time. The characters are acting out ancient dilemmas: How do you learn to trust your instinct? When should you do what you want to do, and when should you do what is expected of you? How do you find your place in the world? Not to overstate things too much, but trying to block kids from learning the princesses stories is to shut off a huge wealth of literature, history, and culture. And I can’t help but notice that no one fusses at my son about Tarzan’s body or the fact that Mowgli is so dang skinny.
I am not saying you need to welcome the ladies into your home so much as I’m saying: Calm down about them. They’re characters, and if you pay more attention to their character development instead of their shape, they have a lot to teach.
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