5 Ways to Raise a Child Who Doesn’t Bully

In her new book Sticks and Stones, Slate Senior Editor Emily Bazelon thoroughly researches the dark world of bullying to help parents understand when to intervene, when to let kids work things out and what strategies work to help curb the problem. Here are her tips for helping kids develop empathy and better understand bullying. —BBL Editor  

1. It starts in a simple way at the dinner table: Encourage your son or daughter to think about what it’s like to be someone else more vulnerable than he or she is—and to value that person’s feelings.

2. Read the book Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, with your child (or listen to the wonderful audio version). This book is about a child with a severe facial abnormality who goes to regular school for the first time in fifth grade. It is told from multiple points of view and it encourages kids to grapple with difference and their own reaction to it. For ages 9 to 90. (For younger children, try Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson.)

3. Watch a movie like My Bodyguard with your child—it’s an underappreciated ‘80s treasure, I promise—and talk about why some kids are victimized, and why other kids are deemed bullies, and how hard it can be to escape that label.

4. Think about this question posed by Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd: Do you, as a parent, send a message to your child that you value his individual achievement and happiness more than his moral development and sense of the collective good? Here is my version of that question: Am I just as pleased, and offering of praise, when my sons come home and tell me they did something kind, or stood up for someone weaker, as I am when they bring home an excellent report card?

5. Forgive the self-promotion, but if you have a teenager, read my book Sticks and Stones with your son or daughter and talk about what went wrong for the real-life characters in it, Monique, Jacob and Phoebe. How could other kids have helped them?

Bonus! Talk to your child about the small moments of empathy that can help targets of bullying—asking someone who needs help if she’s OK, or sending a sympathetic text message. Teenagers who have been bullied have told researchers that these kinds of gestures are the best kind of help peers can give them.

Emily Bazelon on Twitter: @emilybazelon

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