to bullying — and not bully peers
Q: With all the bullying in the news these days, I'm wondering (as the mom of a 15-month-old) if you have any advice for raising children who don't bully and don't allow others to bully them.
A: It's a great and relevant question, so I'll try to assemble a couple of coherent thoughts.
1. Your child will be on the giving and receiving end of meanness. There's no avoiding it altogether. Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children, which I recommend often, is very clear and reassuring on this. Kids have to learn how to get along just as they have to learn to walk, and the process isn't pretty sometimes.
2. To raise kids who don't bully, you need to supervise carefully and correct as needed, as when they say mean things to people's faces or behind their backs: "Hey — how would you feel if someone said that to/about you?" To raise kids who don't allow others to bully them, you need to teach your kids to assert themselves instead of relying on you to do it for them all the time. It's a constant balancing and rebalancing act as they grow, but it hinges on learning to step in only when their own defenses aren't strong enough to protect them (with abusive relatives, for example). You don't know whether you've gotten it right until it's almost too late to do anything about it. And different kids/temperaments/personalities need different balances.
3. Another kind of balance matters, too — between them feeling important to you and them not being misled into thinking they're the center of the earth. Your home needs to be a safe place for them to express their feelings and try new things and to be significant, but you still need to be the boss. The wide world, in which they are but a speck, also needs to feature in their education. They need to get out, see others unlike them, give of themselves to others, get introduced to big ideas.