The Boston Globe

Kind children happier, more accepted by peers, study finds By Lara Salami

I am so glad that everyone — I mean EVERYONE talks about bullying. On a professional social networking site over several weeks there was a very personal and passionate discussion about bullies at work.

Let me tell you about Dan.  He was teased without mercy in junior high school. He also teased and boasted right back. He worked hard in school and worried about succeeding to please his father. His father dismissed the value of the peer group and so did the son, which made him a defenseless victim. Dan did not waste his time hanging out with friends. He obeyed his parents and tried to meet their demands to rise above the immature and childish pursuits of his peers on the edge of their teens. He did not horse around or play sports or go to the movies. He studied and played video games alone. He was successful in school academically but he had nothing else. He did now know how to ignore a bid for negative attention. He did not know how to step away when someone came after him with taunts. In these situations, he would assert his power in academics. Mind you, he was not a teacher’s pet. He was too wrapped up in his efforts to excel in school in order to increase his dominance over others. Dan missed the memo that few kids will admit that academic achievement is admirable; and, as he was taunted so he boasted back. Teens and pre-teens who are suffering from isolation, depression, and anxiety are at risk for bullying. This is a terrible perfect storm.  Depressed youth lack strong protective peer support because of their negative and helpless attitudes – just like Dan.

Studies of bullies and victims have been trying to answer end bullying in our schools for a long time: over 20 years! Turns out that it is hard to stop all bullying. Some programs have been able to decrease the number of clear physically aggressive bullying incidents. The programs that had the most success in reducing bullying and harm from bullying have had good programs for parents. They helped concerned parents of victims and bullies to  support their kids by listening to what went wrong and to provide support and to set effective limits when the kids behaved aggressively or reacted with aggression when challenged. The research on this topic is consistent with Dan’s experience. The lack of friend support is  a risk for bullying and for a stronger impact. Children have friends are harder to isolate and bully and less likely to be turned on by a group.

There is an important secret to having friends. It is the golden rule: do unto others as you will have done unto you. This research was described in the Boston Globe this weekend. Click here if you’d like to read about it. The work showed that when children did something kind for someone else they felt happier and were more likely to be chosen to participate by their peers. Most children are nice to children who are nice to them. Being responsive and kind and generous — it turns out — doesn’t make a child an easy target. It makes him liked and happy and accepted.

So, what did I do with Dan as a therapist? I taught him how to see things from another perspective. I thought him how to give himself and others a break. I helped him see that other people are valuable in lot of ways that aren’t measured by grades. I encouraged him to practice kindness and not competition in everything. It helped.

Protecting children for life from exposure to violence means teaching them to be kind. The best way to teach them to be kind is to find a way to be kind to them. High warmth and understanding of your child and his or her needs, vulnerabilities and strengths is one of the most important lessons.

ACT-Raising Safe Kids – teach for life!





Kind children happier, more accepted by peers, study finds



DECEMBER 31, 2012