How EQ Can Protect Your Kids Against Bullying
About 10-15 percent of third-through-sixth graders are bullied once every week. Likewise, 32 percent of children have been bullied in the past month. Bullying is a global issue, and regardless which end of it your child is on, it’s inevitable that they will experience bullying at some point.
And while bullying can have extremely negative and even long-term effects, it’s possible to protect your children by helping them develop emotional intelligence.
Research has proven that emotional intelligence and bullying are negatively correlated, meaning that the more emotionally intelligent a person is the less likely they are to bully or suffer from the negative effects of bullying.
Teach Your Child How to Recognize Bullying Behaviors
Bullying shows up in different ways; some may be easy for your child to identify while others may not be so easy to recognize. They might think that some behaviors are “normal.” They might justify others.
So how do we teach our kids what bullying is and how it shows up?
A group of researchers defined bullying as “a specific type of aggressive behavior that involves intent to cause harm, occurs repeatedly, and involves a power imbalance.” In other words, bullying is aggressive, intentional, and frequent.
Bullying can be physical, verbal, social, or cyber. It can also be direct or indirect.
Direct bullying is easy to spot and often occurs face-to-face when the perpetrator is straightforward in their attack: hitting, name-calling, or taunting. Indirect bullying, on the other hand, is usually not face-to-face and can show up in the way of spreading rumors, excluding, or talking negatively behind another’s back. Your child needs to know the difference and understand that both types of behavior constitute bullying.
Set Boundaries with Your Kids—and Teach Them to Set Their Own
A child will learn that certain behaviors are or are not okay depending on the boundaries they have at home. If you do not allow yelling, fighting, or slamming doors, your child will learn that these are not acceptable responses, no matter how intense the emotion. Boundaries teach your children to manage their emotions in responsible ways instead of using their emotions as an excuse for acting out. Boundaries also teach your kids that their actions affect those around them.
For some children, their first exposure to bullying happens in their own homes.
Set boundaries around bullying behaviors in your home, and make sure you follow them too. That means no shaming, no gossip, or any other aggressive behavior that harms your children.
When your child comes to you upset or angry because they’ve been bullied (at home or at school), encourage them to set boundaries. Talk with them about the behavior and what lines they can draw for themselves. Help them come up with an action plan if and when that boundary is crossed. Children with higher levels of emotional intelligence have the self-confidence, pro-social skills, and problem-solving skills to know how and when to set appropriate boundaries and have healthier relationships.
Practice Emotional Regulation
Emotional regulation is one of the most valuable resources your child can have to protect themselves against bullying. In a study that examined the connection between bullying and EQ, researchers found that low management of emotion was connected to bullying behaviors.
When children learn how to regulate their emotions, they are less likely to choose anger or aggression as a response to stress or pain.
Encouraging emotional regulation in your children involves listening and validating emotions and, as mentioned previously, teaching them to respond to their emotions in responsible ways.
Children with higher levels of empathy are less likely to be bullied. Why?
Empathy is an indication of emotional intelligence.
When a child is able to understand the emotions of others, they are less likely to participate in bullying—either as the victim or the perpetrator. When your child is mistreated, help them walk the fine line between compassion and enabling. Help your child see that those who bully are just choosing to deal with their emotions in an irresponsible way.
While bullying may feel personal, it usually isn’t.
Research has shown that those who bully are usually facing both internal and external problems and are often unable to communicate effectively because of limited cognitive and emotional ability. More often than not, those who bully also come from a hostile living environment whether it be from lack of involvement, structure, or warmth at home.
Understanding these things can lead us and our children towards compassion for those who bully. And when we have compassion, it can motivate us to set appropriate boundaries and protect ourselves and the relationship.
Boost Their Self-Esteem
Just like empathy, a high level of self-esteem can act as a moderator against bullying. In fact, research suggests that because bullies tend to victimize those they perceive as “weak,” low self-esteem can provoke bullying from peers. Bullies often find and amplify the Achilles’ heel of your child’s self-esteem—whether it’s disability, race, or physical appearance, to name a few.
Help your child be confident, regardless of their insecurities, and teach them about their own worth and value as an individual.
Praise your child when they show up well and love them when they don’t. The messages from the media and even bullies may be loud, but with consistency, the principles you teach your children can drown them out.
Be a Safe Place
If you don’t normally listen to and validate your child, don’t be surprised if they withhold sharing their experiences with you. Bullying can feel deeply personal, and your child might not want to risk the vulnerability of seeking your support.
When your child voices concerns or tells you their feelings, do you really hear them?
Do you really listen and try to empathize with their emotions—or do you jump straight to fixing their problems? Do you discourage them from sharing their emotions in the first place?
Do everything you can to give your children a safe haven for their feelings.
If they feel comfortable sharing their experiences with you, there’s a greater opportunity to offer your guidance and support.
Bullying is something that all of us will face at times throughout our lives—as perpetrators and as victims. Learning how to form and maintain healthy relationships with ourselves and with others is a process, and the risk of abusing or being abused exists throughout that process. Investing in your child’s emotional intelligence is one of the best things you can do to protect them—and ultimately, teach them to protect themselves.
Kokkinos, Constantinos M., and Eirini Kipritsi. “The Relationship between Bullying, Victimization, Trait Emotional Intelligence, Self-Efficacy and Empathy among Preadolescents.” Social Psychology of Education, vol. 15, no. 1, 2011, pp. 41–58., doi:10.1007/s11218-011-9168-9.
Méndez, Inmaculada, et al. “Emotional Intelligence, Bullying, and Cyberbullying in Adolescents.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 16, no. 23, 2019, p. 4837., doi:10.3390/ijerph16234837.
Nel, Elizabeth C. “The Impact of Workplace Bullying on Flourishing: The Moderating Role of Emotional Intelligence.” SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, vol. 45, 2019, doi:10.4102/sajip.v45i0.1603.
Tsaousis, Ioannis. “The Relationship of Self-Esteem to Bullying Perpetration and Peer Victimization among Schoolchildren and Adolescents: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Aggression and Violent Behavior, vol. 31, 2016, pp. 186–199., doi:10.1016/j.avb.2016.09.005.