A hot button topic for the last few years in schools and on the playgrounds has been bullying. We have all seen the “Walks Against Bullying” and the public service spots on the television telling our children how to avoid and deal with bullying. But what we need to understand is why some children bully others and how we, as parents, can stop our child from being the bully or from becoming the object of a bully’s attention.

One of the simplest means to avoid the bullying propensity, and a large part of the Montessori philosophy, is to instill in our children the value of grace, courtesy, and self-esteem. These values teach children how to interact with others in a respectful manner. A simple handshake can go a long way in making a positive connection between people. Thus, when children are taught by example how to politely greet others, interrupt respectfully, open and close a door quietly, sit and stand up properly, and tuck in a chair, they will be inspired to spontaneously extend hospitality and respect to others. It is our job as parents to model this type of respectful behavior for the child.

As we teach our children the value of grace and courtesy, we are teaching them the value of other people’s feelings and opinions. This ability to be sensitive to their peers, teachers, and other adults prepares children for healthy relationships throughout their lifetime, in both social and business gatherings. When we instill the importance of a particular behavior, in this case grace and courtesy, in a child at a very early age (even as young as one), the child will begin to understand social dynamics and what behaviors elicit particular responses. This is a positive pattern of behavior that will become second nature and will stay with them throughout their lifetime.

In many cases behavior that manifests itself in what would be considered bullying conduct starts at a young age. If a child is confident from an early age and has good self-esteem it is unlikely that he will feel the need to bully others in order to make himself feel significant. It is possible that in the end the bully is just as fragile as those they choose to intimidate and as a result lashes out to protect himself. Thus, if we instill in our children the value of respect, both to oneself and others, that child may look at the world as their oyster and not a place to fear.

Children learn by example. If we are all on our A game when it comes to our relationships with other people our children will follow suit. When we start at home by modeling appropriate and respectful behavior — bullying could become a thing of the past.

Kathleen Hannah is the director at Pennington Montessori School in Pennington and the mother of three. The Pennington Montessori program is a unique cycle of learning designed to take advantage of the child’s sensitive periods between 15 months and six years when they can absorb information easily from a prepared enriched environment. For more information contact 609-737-1331 or visit www.penningtonmontessori.org.

Pennington Montessori School, 4 Tree Farm Road, Pennington. 609-737-1331. www.penningtonmontessori.org.

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