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October 6, 2020

Discussing Bullying and Cultural Awareness with Kids

By Sakina Butt, Psy.D., ABPP-CN

October marks Bullying Prevention Month and this year, more than ever, it is important families address this issue. It’s particularly important that while discussing bullying, families have age-appropriate, open discussions about racial issues and how it impacts the lives of others, especially black families. Some families may be less comfortable with such discussions, even amidst news coverage related to systemic racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. Here are some ways to encourage and foster healthy discussions.

Where do we start?

  • Families can educate themselves first through books, videos, podcasts and websites and by not being afraid to have uncomfortable conversations.
  • Talk about your family. Speak with your children about who you are, where you come from and the wonderful variety of people in our world.
  • Highlight how people coming together to give voice to others’ struggles is a great way to show compassion and kindness.

Break it down by developmental level

Preschool

  • Consider talking about the variety of animals, then discuss how people also have variety in where they live, what they look like and how they talk to each other.
  • Talk about appearance, such as hair and skin color, and how sometimes people are mean because of these differences and that makes others feel sad and mad.
  • Use examples from your child’s favorite television show, movie or book to illustrate this concept (example: in the movie, Zootopia when the Scout group is mean to the Fox).

School-Age

  • Start conversations about how people come from different backgrounds and how sometimes people are treated unfairly. Ask your child if they have ever seen another child who was teased or bullied because of the color of their skin or the way they dressed.
  • Use what your child has learned about in school (example: Martin Luther King or Gandhi), to help guide a discussion.

Adolescents

  • Discuss the persistence of racial inequity and how this has led to growing frustration and anger, resulting in movements like Black Lives Matter and protests around the globe.
  • Give examples of how they can prevent bullying or stand up against racism. Encourage them to speak up if someone tells a joke or stand up to classmates if they observe unfair or mean treatment based on the person’s skin color or physical differences.

Explain the benefits of diversity

Children tend to understand abstract concepts like diversity and inclusion better when it is relatable. Talking to children about enjoying different foods, clothing, games and activities is a good way to show them how diversity adds to the excitement and fun in their everyday lives.

Take action!

  • Start talking about concepts related to culture, diversity and inclusion early.
  • Attempt to be inclusive in all aspects of our life (friends, artwork, reading material and toys/games), which helps to model and encourage openness in children and prevent racism.
  • Teach kids how to stand up to teasing and bullying with conversations and role-playing.

For additional resources in pediatric healthcare, visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org.

*All photos provided by Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital


About the Author: Dr. Butt is a neuropsychologist at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. She joined the hospital staff in 2019. Some of Dr. Butt’s areas of clinical expertise include neuropsychological evaluations and consultations for children in the neonatal intensive care unit and pediatric intensive care unit.

Dr. Butt earned her medical degree from Florida School of Professional Psychology, Argosy University in Tampa, Florida. After graduating from Argosy, she completed a pediatric internship and fellowship at the University of Miami/Miller School of Medicine. Dr. Butt is board certified in pediatric neuropsychology and clinical neuropsychology.


 

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