The Upstander: How They Stand Up to Bullying

The following post was written by guest author, Dr. Shelagh Dunn.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I’m pretty sure I chose the research topic of my doctoral dissertation for personal reasons. I studied upstanders to bullying by interviewing middle school students who stood up to bullying in their schools. I thought I might someday be helping teachers and schools to lessen bullying. But it turns out that the students I was studying were my teachers. I learned so much about how to be an effective citizen and a decent human being from these student upstanders. You see, I used to see violence in the news and feel horror and pain but not know what to do about it. These students knew these feelings too but they also possessed a wisdom and resolve that I’m still only learning about. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned with you. We need their knowledge now more than ever.

Why am I talking about bullying right now? Well, it’s common to think of bullying in schools as “kids being kids” or to say “kids can be so cruel” and dismiss the cruelty of bullying as something that children grow out of. I don’t see it this way at all. What I’ve come to learn is that bullying is a microcosm of our society. Children are using their eyes and ears to absorb the world around them and they act it out with one another at school. It is not surprising to hear that right now there are increasing reports of bullying in schools targeting race, faith, and gender, when these very things are being targeted by politicians in the media.

But here’s the thing, stopping bullying is hard, in part because being an upstander is hard. As adults, we do not have this figured out. Most of us don’t know what to do when we witness violence, discrimination or hate, and even if we know what to do, we sometimes don’t do it. In the 1950’s a psychologist named Asch found that when a person is shown lines of obviously different lengths and asked to tell which line is the shortest, they can easily do so… unless they are in a room of people purposefully giving the wrong answer. In these cases, most people will give in and give the same answer as the group even when they know it is wrong. It’s just too hard to be the only one in a group saying something different. There is also another phenomenon acting against us called the “bystander effect” which shows that people will not come to the aid of someone in need as often if there are others around, because we believe that someone else will help. All of this means that there are incredible social forces acting on us to prevent us from intervening when we witness something like bullying, discrimination, or hate-fuelled behavior. We don’t want to be different, we think someone else will do it. Add in the threat of social and physical harm that can come with taking this stuff on and it becomes a very special and unique quality to be an upstander.

So how are some people able to be upstanders? Here’s what the students I interviewed had to say. They all told me that they had been bullied themselves at least once before and had a strong sense of empathy for others being bullied. They all told me that they knew bullying was wrong and they had to do something about it. They all told me that they didn’t care so much about what other students thought of them, they were not afraid to be different. Most of them used specific tactics to intervene using the means that they had available. Most of them took on what I realized was the identity of an upstander – it wasn’t just something they did, it was something they were. It became a part of their moral character to do the right thing even when it’s hard.

We can learn to adopt these qualities and teach them to our kids. Empathy. Resolve. Being unafraid to be different. There are strategies and places to start. As we practice using our empathy, using our voice, and listening to our own sense of right and wrong, even when everyone else around us is silent, here are a very specific set of instructions from these students to their peers and teachers, reprinted here for you to think about.

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If you think these instructions might help a school deal with bullying, please try them out. But here is my real challenge to you. If bullying is the microcosm, then we adults live in the macrocosm. Look at the list of actions above. Pick one. Do it today. Sleep. Repeat. Your children are watching.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Shelagh Dunn is a Registered Psychologist in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She has a private practice in counselling psychology, with an interest in positive psychology and the health benefits of creating social change.

Healthy, Kid-Approved Meals and Snacks

screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-8-46-28-amWe do a fairly good job of eating healthy at our house, particularly for dinner, but we have recently been in a rut with healthy options that my 6-year-old will actually eat for breakfast, lunch, and after school snacks. He’s also at the age where he likes to get involved in food choices and (occasionally) food preparation.

So, to mix things up a bit I crowd-sourced for new ideas this week (and boy did folks come through with some great ideas)! My plan for 2017 is to have this chart up on the fridge and involve my son in meal planning. Each Saturday before grocery shopping he can pick two items from each category and I’ll make sure we have the ingredients on hand for the following week. During my usual Sunday meal prep, I’m going to try to involve him in getting his own BF/lunch/snacks ready for the week.

Additional helpful resources:

Super Snacks for Super Kids by Sarah Fox MD and Julie Stephenson

Emi Ponce de Souza

This is a living document so if you have more ideas or helpful resources, please share in the comments. The first PDF includes our ideas, the second is left blank for your family’s imagination. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Kid-Approved Breakfast, Lunch, and Snacks PDF: kidapprovedbls

Kid-Approved Breakfast, Lunch, and Snacks (blank) PDF: blankbls

Vulnerable

It’s when I’m putting my son to bed at night that I feel it most acutely. Smelling his hair. Watching him breathe. It overwhelms me. There’s a name for what I’m feeling. Vulnerable.

Absolute and total vulnerability. Vulnerability that comes from a love so profound it cannot be described. I think, no one told me about this part of parenting. But then I think that even if they had I wouldn’t have understood. Heart on my sleeve isn’t the half of it. Continue reading

In Defense of Two-Year-Olds: Why The Twos Are Not So Terrible

People often ask how old my son is when we are out and about. When he proudly says, “Two!”, the most common response is a smile to him. . .  and a knowing glance to me. This is often accompanied by, “Oooh, the terrible twos!”

I’m here today to stand in the defense of two-year-olds. Sure, they have their share of tantrums and the transition from infant to preschooler is sometimes a bumpy ride. But, it is also amazing. Two-year-olds are pretty darn cool. Here’s why. Continue reading

Am I Really Busy. . . or Does It Just Feel That Way?

Any way you cut it, life as a parent is busy. Or, at least it feels that way. Some days I’m filled with a feeling that most parents have had to varying degrees at different times. There are not enough hours in the day. Weeks and months fly by. To-do lists grow longer. I’m one skipped nap away from chaos. I feel busy.

But a recent New York Times article reminded me that most of us who feel busy actually choose to be so. Continue reading

Let’s Potty!

So, the time is approaching.  The time I’ve been dreading a bit.  The one developmental milestone, that, for some reason, I was kind of hoping my son would reach later rather than earlier.  It is almost time for toilet training.  How do I know?  Well, the little guy routinely sits on his little potty for a few minutes before bathtime.  We read some books, chat, and that is that.  But, lately, these nightly sits on the potty have occasionally become, shall we say, productive.

Why am I afraid of potty training?  Well,  this is one area of parenting for which I think practical life experience is probably a lot more useful than reading about it.  Perhaps the pediatrician in me is worried the mom won’t be able to do it “right”.  I also have visions of mapping out the shortest distance to the nearest bathroom during every errand, trip, and walk.  Diapers are just so easy right now.  Messy, occasionally, but easy.  But, as we say, toileting is one of the areas where the kids have much of the control, so if he’s getting ready, I better get on board.

The “app gap”: How parents obtain health information

The number of educational topics a pediatrician is trained to cover in a standard well child visit is a bit overwhelming.  Each topic could (and does) fill books.  A 2006 study published in Pediatrics found that there are 162 different verbal health advice directives that pediatricians are told to cover with each patient over time.  These important topics range from injury prevention to nutrition to sexual health to literacy promotion.  But, as the authors of the study point out, not only is there little time to cover these topics, there is scant evidence to suggest whether or not talking about these topics with families is actually effective.  It is often difficult to know exactly what to prioritize for discussion in a short clinic visit.  In order to ameliorate our own anxiety that we didn’t have time for everything, many pediatricians provide educational handouts.  But, does anyone read them?  What’s more, are they written in the language the parent speaks, at a level they can understand?

Continue reading

Bilingual Bebé

“How many words do you think he can say?”, I asked, as I do for all 2 year olds, at a recent well child visit.  The mom’s eyes gleamed proudly, “at least 50 I think” and then her face dropped, “but they’re mostly in Spanish.”

In my diverse practice well over half of the families speak a language other than English at home.  And, the above is a common scenario- apparent disappointment or shame that their young child prefers that language to English, or speaks a mixture of both.  I have made it my mission to dispute the notion that speaking two or more languages at an early age is somehow a disadvantage, and I am really happy to see so many recent studies that back me up. Continue reading