Amour-Propre: Teaching Children to Protect Themselves

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

The children’s book The Ladybug and The Bully Frog teaches its readers how to protect themselves from bullies. The book also emphasizes that putting others down and unreasonably picking a fight is terrible. When it comes to literature, doing so is pretty straightforward. But how are children taught in real life?

If you could change something in the past, what would it be?

I would want to toughen up just a little bit as a child. Not to the point that I would pick on other kids. Instead, I would prefer to be tough enough to stand up for myself.

Unfortunately, bullying has become a concept so familiar to children. Instead of exposing them to all things happy and comfortable, their innocence is riddled with anger and greed. A growing number of children are experiencing bullying, whether it be due to upbringing or simply a bad environment.

Back when I was way younger, I was admittedly the submissive type. I was timid. If something terrible had happened to me, or if someone was unreasonably riling me up, I would shut up and back away. I was a timid child. And in hindsight, I wish I was tougher.

There were some experiences I wish to change looking back. I would have avoided these incidents if I had known how to stand up for myself. As an adult recalling these situations, I now understand what I could’ve done better. But as a child then, I probably ignored the discomfort I felt.

Perhaps, I avoided the drama. I didn’t want things to blow out of proportion and involve the teachers or parents. Or maybe I didn’t mind. While preventing the drama was probably for the better (back then). The constant practice of stepping back and allowing all those situations to escalate was likely only calling for more trouble against me.

If I were to change something in the past, I would have wanted to be tougher. I would have wished to stand up for myself but remain compassionate and kind to other children. If I were to liken myself to a character, I wanted to have been like The Ladybug called Dot in the children’s book, The Ladybug and The Bully Frog.

She’s the perfect embodiment and balance of a brave character who knows how to stand up for herself and others. But at the same time, she stays friendly and kind to her friends. If I had children, I would want them to be like this.

Being this healthy blend of courageous and kind is entirely attainable for children. With the proper guidance, they can avoid getting victimized by bullying without becoming bullies themselves.

Once children can verbalize their feelings, they should be taught how to take a stand and protect themselves from hurtful situations. Once situations arise, they must learn how to express themselves and where they’re safe to share their discomfort. More often than not, their safe place is their parents.

However, instead of helping them process what happened and assisting them with a solution, parents often tell their children to “understand” the other child. Understand – a supposedly positive concept that causes harm and disadvantage to children. This typically disregards or invalidates their children’s opinions and feelings.

Obviously, this is inappropriate and the opposite of what’s supposed to be done. Rather than turning their complaints and experiences away, parents should help their children turn the situation around. And I’m not encouraging the “eye for an eye” ideology. Instead, they can take on other reactions to make the other child understand their actions are wrong.

Standing up and learning to voice their emotions is empowering, even for children. This shows that they don’t need to ask for help from authorities if they can handle the situation themselves. By criticizing what they believe is wrong, children are helping put their bullies in the right place. Standing up against bullying doesn’t entail the usage of violence.

Speaking up and letting bullies know what they’re doing is excellent. But it isn’t enough.

Besides letting them know their mistakes, it’s also important to teach them how to be compassionate. The victims shouldn’t be the only ones constantly adjusting and learning to improve. The bullies should also be encouraged to change.

Typically, bullies suffer from emotional problems, which push them to be problematic to others. But this isn’t to say victims always need to understand their behavior. In fact, it’s by knowing this fact that more children help correct the behavior by standing up.

Again, compassion within children. If your child knows the bully is also suffering, they will consciously choose to protect themselves and assert that the behavior should stop. Else, the bully will continuously hurt himself.

Children who learn to be more assertive and practice the skill are less likely to become victims. However, it’s also important to remember that being assertive doesn’t mean you can be mean. Compassion should still be a top value to maintain in learning assertiveness.


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