Danny Keefe is a first grader. On the first day of school, he was beyond excited. He couldn’t wait to have friends and learn new things. However, after the first week of school this quickly changed. Danny was picked on for having a speech impediment and for wearing a suit and tie to school each day. A 5th grade boy, Alex, noticed Danny. Alex could feel the pain on Danny’s face and in turn, Alex could feel it inside of himself. Something needed to change, someone needed to do something and Alex did. He and his football team decided to wear a tie and suit to school to help Danny feel loved and appreciated. These actions made a statement: it is not okay to treat people in this way.
This story pulls at my heartstrings. What made this boy take action? What made him stand-up and do the right thing? When someone stands up for someone being bullied, they are what we call an Upstander. An Upstander stands-up for others because they know deep down it’s the right and caring thing to do.
Because school is starting soon, it is important to have some crucial, meaningful conversations with your child. Bullying is a problem for everyone. Most people have experienced some form of bullying in their lives. I know for me personally as a kid, there were times that I stood-up and spoke the truth and other times when I shrunk inside myself, wanting to pull my hoodie over my head and disappear. When I think about it, I really wanted to help myself or the other kid being bullied. But the reality was, I had never been taught how to respond to bullies. No one spoke with me about the courage it takes and that it is truly like a muscle. The more you practice being brave, the bigger your “brave muscle” gets. To help our kids and students become Upstanders and strengthen their “brave muscle” we have a job to do. We need to have meaningful conversations with them. Hopefully the tips below will serve as a guide to help you have these conversations.
Setting up the conversation:
- Take your child out for ice cream, a slurpee or go fishing! Make this a time to connect and be with your child.
- Keep it short. Be sure not to turn this into a lecture. This happens to me quite easily, so I find it is a good reminder.
- Throughout the conversation, ask them what questions they have and allow some silence for them to process.
5 tips for HOW to talk to your kid about being an Upstander:
(You don’t have to do all of them, only the ones that really resonate with you)
- Explain how we take care of each other. Let them know that this is a part of your family – who they are and who you are as a family. Bullying will happen and when it does you are the kind of kid that takes care of yourself and others. Tell your child they can say things like “that’s mean” or “that is not cool” in a bullying situation.
- Let them know what you expect from them: This may sound really simple, but letting your child know over and over again what your expectations are for them and your family helps them turn the words into actions and the actions into a reality. I often tell my kids, “We are the kind of family that takes care of one another,” or “We are a kind and caring family.”
- Teach Positive Self-Talk: Maya Angelou once said “Words are things, I’m convinced. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, in your clothes, and finally, into you. We must be careful about the words we use. Someday we will be able to measure the power of words.” I believe the words we use with ourselves are particularly important. Helping your child pick out some phrases that will help them in challenging times is another tool to add to the toolbelt when they are in a bullying situation. Some phrases I like are, “ I can do hard things,” “I can do this,” “I’m brave,” “I can do the right thing” or “I’ll be okay.” Pick one that resonates with you and your child and then you can make art out of it- paint it, write it in crayon or even use a Sharpie to write it on a mirror (it comes off)! This way your child is seeing it everyday and able to practice saying it when things aren’t so heated, so when they are, they can tap into their positive self-talk.
- Teach HEART. HEART helps children and students to know it is never too late to show a friend you care. Maybe in the moment of a bullying situation your child is able to say and do the right thing, to be an Upstander. However, because we are all human, there are times we realize we could have done something differently. In these cases, HEART helps your child know it is never too late to show you care. I got this idea from Michele Borba’s book Unselfie . I highly, highly recommend this book!
- H=Help. Run for first aid. Call others to help. Pick up what’s broken.
- E=Empathize. “He did that to me and I was scared.” “I know how you feel.”
- A=Assist. “Do you need help? I’ll find a teacher.” “I’ll walk you to the office.”
- R=Reassure. “It happens to other kids.” “I’m still your friend.” “Teachers will help.”
- T=Tell how you feel. “You didn’t deserve that.” “I’m so sorry.” “I know it’s not true.”
- Read and learn about people who are Upstanders: Reading books about Upstanders and real life situations can help your child better understand what it might really look like to be an Upstander. It will also help to discuss how characters feel and how you and your child might feel in the same situation. Here are a few books: Hooway for Wodney Wat By Helen Lester, Nobody Knew What to Do by Becky Ray McCain, The Juice Box Bully by Maria Dismondy and Bob Sornson.
Having a meaningful conversation with your child about being an Upstander will expand and grow their empathy and kindness. This is a conversation that you can have again and again. Please let us know if you tried these tips out and how they worked for you!