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Back to School for Elementary Age Children (5 years to 9 years old)

As you begin another (or the first) school year with your child, emotions may run high. Children are excited and worried about navigating the school and meeting their teachers and new friends. I feel that a terrific way to start the year is to read together Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud.

I was watching commercials aimed at kids as they anticipate school’s start. They were all about what backpack, clothing, and devices kids would need to be “cool”. These messages may conflict with your family values, but they get through to children, nonetheless.

I love the “bucket-filler” book, because I believe it is very important for children to value positive character traits like kindness, honesty, empathy for others in addition to persistence, courage and wanting to be the best they can be. I believe it is “cool to be kind” and that parents have to work hard to incorporate that value into their family life. Primary school-age children are learning not only how school works, but also how to get along with others. Anti-bullying messages abound in schools and children need the skills not only to effectively respond to teasing, but also to learn to become a positive school citizen.

I feel it is important for children to understand that when they do the right thing, not only is the other person’s “bucket” filled, but so is theirs. Children need consistent, positive expectations and reassurance that they will be supported when they “do the right thing”. In short, kids are always on the lookout for adults who are fair, honest, trustworthy and kind and who can be counted on to respond effectively to their problems.

You can help build positive character traits and bully-proof your child by reinforcing these antidotes at home.

  • Kindness is the ultimate “antidote” to bullying. Help kids remember that kindness is contagious, is a trait of a leader and of a “bucket-filler”.

  • Kids who bully tend to think of their target as someone who deserves the contempt of others. The antidote is to help your child to understand that “Everyone is as important as everyone else.”

  • Kids who bully try to feel powerful by having power over someone else. They raise their own status by putting down someone else. It becomes “cool” to hurt and put down another person. The antidote is to teach children that “Anything that hurts another person is wrong.” Period.

  • Teach kids to regard what a bully says as an opinion and not a fact. Why should they believe someone who is trying to hurt them?

  • Witnesses to bullying don’t get involved because they fear the bully will turn on them. Help kids to understand that they are also victims if they passively watch a person get bullied. The antidote is that “Each person can make a difference.” Kids feel empowered when they can be a part of the solution by using their problem solving skills to stand up for each other.

Parents may not know the difference between true “bullying” and typical peer-to-peer conflict. Here is a reliable definition from Olweus that I believe can help parents discern the difference.

An Olweus Definition of Bullying:

  • Negative actions—actions intended to hurt another person; physically and/or emotionally

  • Unequal power—one person is more powerful than the other (for example, older, bigger, louder, three against one)

  • Unequal feelings—instead of both smiling and happy or at least neutral (“friendly teasing”), one person is upset, crying, frightened, humiliated, confused or angry and the other is laughing, happy or self-satisfied

  • Repeated—it happens more than once

Four ideas for dealing with teasing and bullying: Spell “BUCKET”

  • Be confident (Brave) (Unconquerable)

  • Be a friend (Considerate) (Kind)

  • Make a joke (Energetic)

  • Tell an adult at home and at school (Truthful)

One last word. A parent/guardian is a child’s first, best teacher. It is helpful to always remember that your home is your child’s “safe haven”. Children need to know that you see them as they are, that communication is always open and that love and support are unconditional. All of this will help your child make a positive adjustment to a new school year!

Source: Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud and Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do by Dan Olweus

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