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Stop Bullying: Promote Child Confidence

April 29, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

A young girl smiles proudly as she shows her A+ test score.

While working with families as an early childhood intervention specialist, I’ve seen children become bullies. But there are ways for parents to help their child learn to avoid acting out in negative and destructive ways. Bullies are almost always looking for control and attention. By equipping your child with the confidence and assurance he or she needs, you can prevent your child from becoming a bully.

There are many ways to boost your child’s self-esteem. Start by praising your child’s efforts, accomplishments, and desired behavior. Acknowledge the wonderful things your child does every day. It’s easy to get caught up with all of life’s challenges, but take the time to highlight the positive instead of the negative. A simple "you are so smart" can go a long way. When praised frequently, your child will believe in him or herself and feel confident to begin facing challenges. As you focus on your child’s good behavior, his or her need for negative attention will decrease.

Empower your child by giving him or her control over things that are appropriate. For example, let your child pick out clothing to wear, choose an afternoon snack, or select paint colors for an arts and crafts project.

As your child matures, giving him or her more control over other things can continue to foster confidence and independence. Confidence helps a child feel successful and eliminates the need to degrade or bully someone else.

Practice these tips to help prevent your child from bullying:

  • Role-play different social scenarios with your child and work out possible solutions together.
  • Talk to your child about his or her self-worth and unique strengths.
  • Help your child understand that he or she is in control of the outcome of any situation he or she faces.
  • Provide the necessary attention every time your child does something that you want him or her to repeat.
  • Encourage positive social-emotional development by being a role model of respect and consideration towards others.

Start using these tips today to help stop bullying. You can take small steps to build your child’s confidence so that he or she does not feel the need to make others feel bad and bully them.


My child is mean and disrespectful to me. How can I change his behavior?

April 25, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

A boy angrily faces the camera.

Question: When my son gets angry about something, he takes it out on me by calling me vulgar names and insulting my life choices. He does this in public and at home. How can I help him change his behavior and see how inappropriately he is behaving?

Answer: This is a very difficult situation for any parent to deal with. It can be emotionally difficult and potentially embarrassing when it happens in public. Start with these suggestions to change your son’s behavior.

  • Establish boundaries. As soon as you notice this negative behavior repeating, set limits with your child. Calmly tell him that you will not respond to that behavior and you will wait until he calms down. The sooner you establish these boundaries, the sooner your son has the opportunity to change his behavior.
  • Stay consistent. Enforce your rules regularly, especially when it comes to punishments. Your child is more likely to repeat negative behaviors if he can get away with them on occasion. Don’t give in just because he’s causing a scene—hold your ground.
  • Explain your stance. Once your son calms down, you can talk to him about why his behavior was inappropriate. Try putting it in perspective by asking him how he would feel if someone called him those names. Ask him why he was so angry. These conversations may provide insight into why he is behaving that way.

These suggestions are good places to start with your son. However, the behavior you describe could be a symptom of a bigger issue. Speak to his physician about the behavior. He or she may refer you to a child therapist who can assist your efforts with your son and determine if another diagnosis is necessary.

For more information on establishing boundaries and consistent discipline, see pages 56 and 75 in Through Elementary and Middle School, one of the books in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher 3-book set.


Responding to Aggressive Play

March 4, 2014

By Stephen J. West

A father talks to his son on the playground.

When I’m planning my two-year-old son’s day, I like to schedule activities where he can play with other children. Whether it’s the playground, the mall, or an arranged play date with another child, playing with other children is not only fun for my son, it also helps him learn how to interact and socialize with other children.

Playing with other children presents plenty of opportunities for my son’s emotional development, too. But the laughter and smiles aren’t the only benefits; when he and the other children stop playing nice also presents an experience to learn from—for him and me alike.

Whether it’s a frustration over sharing a toy or not wanting to play a game, confrontations between children are normal. According to Susan Stiffelman, “When a child is frustrated, there are only two possible outcomes: 1) he accepts that he cannot have or do what he would like, or 2) he becomes aggressive toward others or himself.”

Stiffleman believes that “If a frustrated child is able to safely offload his upset—perhaps even by having a cry—he will find his way toward accepting that he can't have the cookie, the toy, or the undivided attention he seeks. Otherwise, his frustration will turn into aggressive behavior.”

When aggressive behavior does take place between your child and another, it’s important to have strategies in your back pocket for helping your child and the other children involved.

Stay calm and explain the misbehavior. Kids need to be taught what isn’t acceptable, and they will usually listen if you calmly instruct them not to touch, hit, or bite. A parent who causes a scene over a child’s actions can inspire further outbursts that will end the play date quickly—and isn’t really modeling the most respectable social behavior themselves.

Give the children involved an exit plan. Whether that means introducing another game or moving your child to another room to play by themselves, distraction—and sometimes distance—can diffuse tension.

Occasionally, your child’s aggressive play might result in another child getting a bump or bruise. In that case, Amy McCready believes that you make sure the other child is okay, but not force your child to give a meaningless apology. “They’ll learn more long-term,” she says, “if you hold them accountable when they’re calm by helping them make amends to the other child.”

The same advice holds true when you need to confront another parent about the actions of their child. If you can, speak to the parent away from the children, even if it’s after the confrontation has been resolved. And when you do talk with them, be conscious of the tone of your voice and your choice of words. If I want my son to learn how to respect others, the way I act when I confront other adults might be the most important lesson I can give him.

In addition to being a father of an energetic two year old, Stephen J. West is a professor, writer, art enthusiast, and collector of bonsai trees. You can follow him on Twitter, where his opinions are his own. 


Boost Your Child’s Self-Esteem

February 19, 2014

By Amelia Orozco

A mother and daughter chat happily on a park bench

Today’s equivalent of being ignored is not receiving as many “likes” or “re-tweets” as you may like. Unfortunately for our children, this is paramount in their world. They may feel pressured to conform to being like others, not just in their physical appearance, but also in their online persona.

Recently, I noticed my stepson, who is 12 years old and lives with his mother, using many derogatory terms in his Facebook posts. Graciously, I asked him to stop, to which he complied. This made me think about him and many other children like him, who may behave this way because of their low self-esteem. They are looking for ways to define who they are, to prove how tough they are, or just trying to fit in with the “cool” kids—all attempts to reinforce their self-esteem.

There are certain things that are important to your son or daughter that may seem trivial to you such as a funny video or even what seems to be a childish spat with their friends. One good way to reinforce his or her self-esteem is to listen. I mean, really listen to your child when he or she talks to you. Look directly at your child’s face when he or she is speaking and, if possible, sit down so that you are at the same eye level. This lets your child know he or she is really being heard and that his or her opinion does matter.

When your child feels strong enough to express his or her opinions to you, without the fear of being ridiculed, he or she will willingly share more with you. This is your opportunity to highlight some of his or her special skills or outstanding abilities. You can point out how he or she has such a unique way of looking at things, and how that is something really special. Draw out more conversations from your son or daughter, and you will see there are things he or she may be really good at that you may not have been aware of.

There is almost always a way to turn a seemingly negative situation into a positive learning experience where your son or daughter’s abilities can shine through, raising his or her self-esteem. For example, if your son is complaining because a teammate does not pass the ball during soccer practice, discuss how his frustration can turn into a teaching opportunity. Your son or daughter may be a good coach for a little league team because of their ability to see the big picture when it comes to the game.

Finally, teach your son or daughter to embrace differences, not only of their own, but also of those around them. If your daughter speaks more than one language, encourage her to become fluent. Let her know that because of these differences, she is unique and has much to contribute to society, whether it is face-to-face or online.

Not only will your son or daughter’s self-esteem rise to new levels as he or she learns more about him or herself, but the world will seem much less intimidating as your child is reminded of the important roles he or she plays in it.

Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.


Couple Chat: Acceptance and Tolerance

February 18, 2014

By Ana and Mario Vela

Ana and Mario Vela with their four dogs.

Photograph by Jennifer Shaffer Photography

In the Couple Chat series, we pose one or two topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s response and the couple discusses their thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion together in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked expectant parents Ana and Mario Vela about acceptance and tolerance. Here’s what they said.

In your opinion, what is the difference between acceptance and tolerance?
Ana: I believe acceptance is more positive than tolerance. When I think of tolerance, I think about understanding that some people will have a negative outlook on life and others, and that we cannot change their way of thinking. To me acceptance is essential in this life because there are several factors we cannot change about ourselves (our skin color, our gender), and there are beliefs that we are raised to follow (religious, cultural), that are not meant to be harmful to anyone else. We have to accept people in those areas, and tolerate people who wish to cause harm to others.

Mario: Acceptance is the belief and approval of other opinions, practices, and people. Tolerance is a fair perspective and an attitude to endure towards other opinions, practices, and people.

Acceptance is stronger than tolerance and takes a deeper level of understanding. Tolerance is more a behavior to coexist with others, rather than believing in the lifestyle or characteristics of others.

How would you teach acceptance and tolerance to a child?
Ana: I am Latino, and while growing up as a child in a very diverse neighborhood, my parents were constantly dictating what kind of people I should not associate with. This was based on their observances from not experiencing diversity prior to their first years in the United States. I didn’t understand why my parents were so negative, and in class my teacher would encourage acceptance.

I ended up becoming friends with kids from all ethnic backgrounds, and I eventually introduced them to my parents so they could see that these kids were no different than we were. Ultimately, I ended up teaching my parents about acceptance and have changed their way of thinking.

I believe I would not have to teach acceptance to my child, as it is something children are born with and if I model it myself then it will continue. I don’t believe I will need to teach my child about tolerance until he or she experiences hate for the first time (I had to learn when I experienced racism as a young child), in which I do not look forward to informing him or her that some people do not understand the concept of acceptance and that my child will continue to meet others as he or she grows up.

Mario: I would teach my child through modeling behavior-- demonstrating acceptance of others and tolerance of others. However, it’s important that the child understands he or she does not have to be tolerant or accepting of all others. Protesting is fair.

Also, I can provide examples through media and experiences. I can expose my child to other SES, religions, forms of education, and countries. By exposing him or her to others’ lives, my child can be more aware of differences and more accepting and tolerant of other ways of living.

Ana: After sharing our answers, Mario disagreed with me in that tolerance is not always negative, but rather it can be a neutral situation. And further, he believes tolerance is a first step to acceptance. We came up with a couple of examples, and I can see his point of view.

I grew up in Virginia in a very diverse neighborhood, then moved to Laredo, TX and Mexico where there was no diversity—it was predominantly Mexican American. The lack of diversity was a culture shock to me, and going from middle class to poverty was also difficult, but those are the experiences that have shaped who I am.

Mario did not grow up experiencing diversity, so he strongly believes that exposing our child to these experiences through travel and media will help shape their way of thinking, which I agree with.

I like how Mario had very practical ways of teaching acceptance and tolerance to our child, and I never even thought about empowering our child to find ways to change society if he or she does not want to tolerate certain situations. This was a great exercise as we had not thought about this topic before, and it made us realize that we have so much to teach our child.

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