Reader’s Question: In a family where I babysit, the older kids keep bullying their little 5-year-old sister. They tease her until she cries by taking away her toys, and they play rough games where she ends up feeling hurt or scared. Except for this, they are great kids! I am worried that the fact that they are being bullied at school might be part of the problem. What can I do to keep this from happening?
Reply from Kidpower: You are right to be concerned. A number of studies show that bullying and other adverse childhood experiences can lead to long-term health problems if someone has not gotten help.
When you are the babysitter, your job is to be in charge – and you can make a big difference in these children’s lives by helping to change this dynamic.
1. Involve the parents. This might feel like a hard conversation to start, so practice what you want to say out loud. For example, “I think you have the sweetest kids. And I feel concerned when I see the older kids teasing in hurtful ways and playing aggressive games with the youngest child. I found this great resource of a nonprofit organization called Kidpower that has been teaching safety skills for over 27 years and I thought you might be interested.”
Remember that parents are human and they sometimes don’t understand that constant teasing is harmful between siblings – or they don’t know what to do about it. As you wisely pointed out, the bullying at school could easily turn into hurtful teasing and physical aggression towards a person who is more vulnerable at home. Our article, Bullying in Schools: Seven Solutions for Parents From Kidpower, has ideas for parents about how to advocate for a child who is being bullied at school.
Ask the parents to set – with you – some ground rules about behavior for when you are babysitting to make sure that their kids know that their parents are involved and that you are all working as a team to help everyone act safely and kindly toward each other.
2. Be clear on the rules. Make and bring with you a Safety Sign about the behavior you expect when you are babysitting. The Kidpower ground rule is: “Each of us has the right to be treated with Safety and Respect – and the responsibility to act safely and respectfully towards others.”
This means kind behavior that includes everyone instead of hurtful teasing like getting a younger child to cry for toys or be tied up on the ground as part of a game.
3. Set the stage with fun mindfulness and kindness activities. When schools have mindfulness training and do yoga with kids, the students are better able to learn and have fewer behavior problems. Families can do this too, even with very young children as soon as they are able to understand stories or play games.
Ask your library for children’s books, games, and other resources to teach kids about mindfulness, meditation, yoga, gratitude, kindness, and emotional intelligence.
When you arrive, start with some of these fun mindfulness activities and stories with the children before they start playing. These can include focusing on their breath, expressing gratitude, getting in touch with their bodies, stories about kindness toward others (especially those who are more vulnerable), and practicing letting go of unpleasant things and resentments so that they can enjoy their time together.
You can also find hundreds of free activities by looking on the web for: mindfulness games for kids for kids, meditation activities for kids, teaching kindness to children, and gratitude games for kids. Sometimes the sites you’ll find are trying to sell you something, but often they are just sharing information. Here is an excellent article that provides some useful resources:
11 Simple But Effective Ways to Teach Mindfulness to Kids by Sandra Cobain, Psychologist of BestForTheKids.com
4. Play and Listen. Most kids are hungry for positive attention. Instead of texting, talking with friends, doing your homework, or trying to do something else, spend your time with the kids playing and listening. When they are having fun and getting positive attention, kids are less likely to do things that are hurtful or harmful. You could even make a game out of practicing some skills to stop bullying like those described in our article, Face Bullying With Confidence: Eight Kidpower Skills We Can Use Right Away.
5. Step in firmly and respectfully as soon possible to stop hurtful, unsafe behavior and games. Do this with the same firmness that you would to stop a child from throwing a rock through a window. You can be powerful while still being respectful in setting boundaries with kids. It is NORMAL for kids – and adults – to need reminders. Instead of getting frustrated or wishing they would stop, use a calm statement to intervene and redirect the behavior. For example,”That was unsafe. Let’s play a different game.” Or, “That didn’t sound kind. Let’s practice how to use your power to talk about your feelings in ways that are kind.”
Our Kidpower Safety Tips for Babysitters, Nannies, and Caregivers provides many more recommendations for how to set boundaries and take charge of the emotional and physical safety of the children in your care.
We also have many more resources on Kidpower’s Bullying Solutions Resource page with resources for how to advocate for a child and for self-protection skills to teach a child.
Thank you for the question and your commitment to helping kids be safe and act safely toward each other!
Readers: What activities and strategies have YOU used to help siblings stop bullying? Members can join the conversation with access to the comments section of this post.