My son is starting Primary School this week (Yay! Time is flying!) and we’re not working on numbers or letters before the big day; we’re working on his self-esteem that I find a crucial value for children.
Why? Because developing self-esteem is one of the most important factors when it comes to bullying prevention.
Bullying statistics are alarming; according to a recent infographics by Michigan Personal Injury Law Firm 77% of Students in the U.S. are bullied mentally, verbally and physically and every 7 minutes a child is bullied at the playground.
The Health-Behavior in School Aged Children (HBSC) study that involved 200 000 children from 40 countries across the world reveals alarming facts as well. In some countries, such as Lithuania, Latvia or Greece, over 40% of students report being bullied.
And NO, this is not a problem that only affects older children and teenagers. According to a U.S. bullying prevention website http://www.stopbullying.gov , peer agression is more common among 3-5 year olds than any other age group. Yet, parents rarely report these incidents because they don’t think that young kids could really hurt each other. “Leave the kids alone! Boys will be boys! They just tease each other because it’s funny””! – are the words we often hear by parents and educators.
Really? My son Andrés was first seriously hurt by a classmate when he was 4; a classmate knocked him down and bang his head against the floor. Why? He was upset because Andrés didn’t want to lend him his train.
Andrés was upset for the next two weeks; he had never experienced violence and he didn’t expect that from a friend. My children are not allowed to watch violent cartoons and I check on all the books, movies and video games before I let the kids use them. Yet the scar on his forehead reminded him that violence DOES exist in the world.
And although many parents don’t agree with that, social exclusion and rude words are a form of bullying, too. Teasing and excluding others from a social group because of their appearance, clothing or – what is the most alarming – ethnic origin – starts in preschool. Young kids hear rude and discriminating words from their parents, older siblings, other children at the playground and use them withouteven understanding their meaning. In Spain I often heard young kids saying that “it’s all the immigrants’ fault” or referring to their peers as “moro” or “negro” (offensive words for Arabic or Black children) instead of their names.
My son is starting Primary School this week and together with his best friend from preschool they will be the only kids at school of different ethnic origin. Yet, not at class – in the whole school. And I’m aware that while most kids don’t care that he has a foreign name and his Dad speaks Spanish, there will also be some kids who may make fun of him or exclude him.
This is the reason why – although we had always worked on our children’s self-esteem -this week we’ve focused on this topic more than on anything else. While multicultural upbringing has contributed to my son’s self-esteem in a lot of ways, I’m aware that developing self-esteem has to be done consistently.
I believe that self-esteem is crucial to make a child less vulnerable to bullying and abusive peer relationships. A child who is confident and assertive will not cry because of rude remarks, but ask for teacher’s or parent’s help. A child who knows that he/she is smart, kind and important will not be convinced by a bully the opposite just because of a few nasty words.
Once Andres’s friend decided they could join a group of older kids at the playground. An 8 year old girl who seemed the group leader said that they can’t play with them because “they don’t like them and they’re both stupid youngsters”.
Andres’s friend was devastated since she found the group cool and the more they ignored her, the more she wanted to join in. On the other hand Andres turned away as soon as he heard the word “stupid” and he kept on playing with his brother as if nothing had happened. He was surprised that his friend wanted to join the group that treated them wrong as “kids who call other names are not kind, mummy. I prefer to play with kids who are nice to me”.
Since most of my readers are parents to multicultural kids or expat kids, I know that many of you share my concerns. I often read in Facebook expat groups threads by parents who worry how their newly-arrived expat kids will cope in a new school if they don’t speak the community language, how their multiracial kids can deal with race-based bullying or how to help children who miss their friends when moving to another country. This is why I have developed a series of activities that can boost a child’s self-esteem and teach them how to react if someone hurts them verbally or physically.
1) Teach your child to be aware of their strengths. Praise Box.
I am convinced that positive communication in a household is the first step to make a child self-confident and aware of their capabilities. You can have a “Praise Box” at home, where all family members can leave little notes praising others for nice things they did. If your children can’t read yet, they can ask adults for help. Make your notes as detailed as possible: “thank you Michał for helping me to find my Hot Wheels car under the bed because I really wanted to take it to the playground” means more for Michał than just “thank you, you are nice”. Pay attention to the kids’ positive behaviour and praise them often. If children feel loved, valued and aware of their strong skills, they will feel more confident to take on new challenges at school.
If you parent an expat child or a multicultural child and you’re concerned about ethnicity-based or race-based bullying, back-to-school is a good moment for activities that celebrate cultural heritage and remind children how unique and special they are. I have a Mexican friend in UK who threw a back-to-school party for her kids with a piñata, traditional songs and games. Children got presents and a lot of support from the local Latin community. It is also a good idea to talk with the teacher on how your heritage culture could be incorporated into the classroom; how about diverse books, toys or music? Maybe you could come to the classroom one day and teach the kids some fun facts about your home country?
2) Use self-esteem themed crafts and play games
Young children can’t think in abstract terms, so visual charts, cratfs and colorful board games are a great help to teach new concepts.
I’ve found the following cool resources:
- Self-esteem dice game: a solution-based self-esteem activity that focuses on positives and ways for students to open up and discuss things to boost their self-esteem.
- All-About-Me crafts that focus on children’s skills and values. You can make a fun robot that reminds a child what they can do well and how they help others:
- You can also make an All-About-Me craft suitable for younger children that focuses on their favourite things. You can still add a caption on a child’s positive traits or helping others below the form.
The materials from TeachersPayTeachers site I’ve mentioned here are free to download, but you must register on the site first (for free as well).
It’s a good idea to hang such crafts on the wall and remind a child that whenever they feel upset they can look at them and remember how much valued and loved they are.
Puneeta from KetchupMoms.com, a great multicultural parenting blog, wrote an article about how the latest Disney movie Inside Out can help parents to talk with children about emotions and challenges that come up at school: “another year of learning and friendships, and yes, of cliques and bullying”.
Inside Out is a great movie that can be used to discuss these issues with younger and older children.
3) Read books about bullying and play pretend games
Sometimes we don’t realize that some things may happen to our kids until they happen…and you feel completely hopeless. If you read books about bullying and discuss possible scenarios, your children will know how to act when someone hurts them at the playground.
We love “Good and Bad Secrets” by Elżbieta Zubrzycka and Andrzej Fonfara, a book that depicts different situations: violence at the playground, teasing and dangerous games (like playing with fire)The book includes stories and follow-up activities, where the kids can talk of their own examples of “bad secrets” and their reactions.
The book is available to purchase here: http://lubimyczytac.pl/ksiazka/47026/dobre-i-zle-sekrety
Unfortunately, it is only available in Polish at the moment; if nobody else translates the book soon, I will! 🙂
Personally I didn’t come across books on bullying in English, but these, recommended by Parenting service seem a good choice:
You can also play pretend games using Lego figures, stuffed animals or dolls and act out situations that may happen in the school playground. Sometimes a child may feel unusure how to react in a new situation, but a familiar doll house scenario can help. If Barbie hits Cindy, Cindy should take action and report to the “teacher”, not hit back or feel guilty and cry alone.
4) Write a back-to-school letter to your child.
Write a loving letter to your child with back-to-school advice. Be positive, concentrate on new things your child is going to learn and friends they’re going to make. Convince your child that failure is an inseparable part of school success and that bad days does not define the whole school experience or the child.
I love this C&A video where mums write back to school letters to their children:
Back-to-school is a busy time that involves a lot of preparations, last-minute shopping and struggling with getting used to school routine again. However, I believe that dedicating some quality time to work on self-esteem and bullying prevention is totally worth it.
If you love and value yourself, you’re far less likely to engage in abusive peer relationships on the playground and in abusive romantic or professional relationships later in your life.
You won’t blame yourself when others treat you wrong, but you will stand up against bullies… and seek advice from your parents or teachers.
You will know that if someone abuses you verbally or physically, there’s NOTHING wrong with you. It’s ALL wrong with that person.
Despite peer pression you will be strong enough to say NO if the things others do don’t seem right for you.
Finally, you will turn away from people who let you down because of their own frustrations. You will search for people who make you feel loved and valued the way you are. You will have the courage to be yourself, to be different, not to foolishly follow others.
Parents, talk to your children! Teach them to love and value themselves and build a relationship of trust! At school it’s not all about grades and academic skills, it’s also about children’s emotional development. Do not ignore problems with classmates or teachers. Geography notes will soon be forgotten, while tears of a bullied child will affect them for a life time….