Bullying is a national epidemic; in the news and on the net. Lady Gaga has established a foundation, President Obama has weighed in, and students and celebrities are sharing their own personal stories on Facebook and Twitter. Without question, raising awareness of the problem is an important first step. To date, much conversation has focused on meting out harsh punishment which, at best, is a stop gap measure, not a long-term solution. As a parent, educator and child psychologist, I would like to see the conversation move from punishment to prevention. We need to start at the beginning, making changes in society’s youngest members; firstly, we must improve the way we communicate with our children and secondly, we need to help them build the skills associated with emotional intelligence.
We need to communicate with our children; openly, honestly and frequently. It is important to note that bullied children feel very isolated and alone. Without intervention, these victims can fall through the cracks or worse. According to dosomething.org, a victim of bullying is twice as likely to commit suicide as their peers. We must be available to listen to our children, to accept their feelings, and work with them to formulate a plan of action; appropriate and constructive solutions that give a sense of support and control.
The second key to bullying prevention is found in teaching children the skills of emotional intelligence (E.I.). E.I. is an enhanced self-awareness, the ability to manage and deal with the intensity of one’s emotions, and sensitivity to the emotions of others. It is crucial that these emotional competencies be taught at an early age, most effectively during the first three years of life; this window of time is the period of greatest growth and development of the brain in all domains- emotional, neurological, social, creative, cognitive- when the brain is most impressionable and the day to day experiences can impact and shape the emotional and social circuitry (R.P. Weissberg 2007).* During this time the executive functions of the brain can be significantly developed; these are very necessary skills such as concentration, reasoning, and impulse control.