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Protecting the Child, Preserving the Family, and Honoring Life

Helping Your Child Deal with Bullying

Few things are more painful for a parent than to learn that their child is being bullied at school, especially when there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to stop it. Bullying involves aggressive, negative behavior in a patterned manner over time toward an individual of weaker power. It may take many forms:

  • Physical, such as hitting, pushing, kicking, or spitting
  • Verbal, such as negative name-calling, derogatory comments or descriptions
  • Social, such as deliberate isolation, or exclusion
  • Written, such as hand-written notes or electronic messages
  • Electronic displays, such as texting or posting pictures with negative messages on public websites

Repeated bullying can lead kids to have more depression and anxiety. They may struggle with eating and sleeping, feel lonely, and have poor grades and attendance at school. Some children may not tell a teacher or parent about being bullied. They may feel humiliated to have an adult know and feel like they can handle it on their own. They may also be afraid of retaliation from the bully for being a “tattle-tale,” or they are afraid of being rejected from friends. According to the 2012 Indicators of School Crime and Safety, only around 40% of bullying incidents were reported to an adult (1).

In addition, many children may not know how to deal with the bullying on their own.

It is important for children to know not to fight back which is what a bully wants and will only lead to more bullying.

The best way to stop bullying is to tell an adult who will interfere.

Dr. Michele Borba, Ed.D., a renowned author and speaker on education, gives 6 “bully-proofing” strategies that parents can teach to their children (2):

  • Be assertive. Have your child stand up straight and tall and firmly, but calmly tell the bully to stop the behavior.
  • Question the response: Bullies might be taken aback if a child responds to their hurtful words with a “non-defensive question” such as, “Why would you want to tell me I’m dumb and hurt my feelings?”
  • Say “I want” phrases. An example could be, “I want you to stop bothering me and leave me alone.”
  • Agree with the teaser. This isn’t what they expect and might stop the teasing. Dr. Borba gives the example of the teaser saying, “You’re dumb” and the other person responding with, “Yeah, but I’m good at it.”
  • Ignore the teaser. Act uninterested or distract yourself with something else and cause the  bully to not get the reward of the attention he or she was seeking.
  • Make fun of the teasing. A child can practice comebacks to use in response to teasing. For example, Borba says, a teaser might say “You’re stupid” and the other child can respond with “Really?”, “So” ,“And you’re point is?”, or “Thanks for telling me.” These strategies make it seem like the bully can’t get to you, even if he really can.

Some children might be more comfortable with some techniques than with others. They can practice with the techniques that are the best fit for them.

In addition, children can be taught to defend other children they witness being bullied. According to,

“Not saying anything could make it worse for everyone. The kid who is bullying will think it is ok to keep treating others that way.”

Here are some tips that you can teach to your child:

  • Children can defend other children simply by being their friend. Your child can help others by sitting by them at lunch or on the bus, inviting them to do something, being kind, and including them. This friend will know  they aren’t alone and make it harder for them to be bullied.  
  • Avoid supporting bullies by laughing or encouraging them in their mean behavior.
  • When you see bullying happening, tell an adult so that they can help.

Most importantly, teach your children not to bully others by helping them recognize feelings of others and guiding them in acceptable behavior. A study by Shetgeri, Lin, and Flores (2012), found that children whose parents said they were bothered by or angry with their child often or all the time were more likely to engage in bullying. Parents sharing their ideas and having frequent discussions about feelings with children were associated with less bullying. It also helped when parents meet most or all of a child’s friends (3).

Parents have the power and the responsibility to control and correct any bullying that their children instigate.

Similar to child victims of bullying, children who bully others are at risk for future physical and mental concerns. So, if your child is a bully, seek professional help from your pediatrician. For more information, view the ACPeds position statement Bullying at School: Never Acceptable.



2) Borba, M. (2001). Bully-proofing our kids. Retrieved from:

3) Shetgiri, R., Lin, H., Flores, G. (Jun. 4, 2012). Trends in risk and protective factors for child bullying perpetration in the United States. In Child Psychiatry and Human Development. Retrieved from:

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Playing with Your Child

Play has developmental value

Research has repeatedly shown that play has numerous developmental benefits for children. Children “practice” the concepts they learn through their play. It is delightful to see children focus on a block or science activity for hours as they learn about how things work. Other reasons for play include:

  • Children learn math skills, literacy, and build their vocabulary through play.
  • Play can be vehicle through which they explore an idea that is mysterious, frightening, or troubling to them in a safe, imaginary setting. Doing so reduces stress and prepares children to cope with things emotionally.
  • Active play, especially when outdoors, builds strength and physical coordination and helps prevent obesity. (1)

Unstructured play provides many benefits for children including, but not limited to, the opportunity to

  • Create and explore their world
  • Develop new competencies that lead to improved confidence
  • Determine rules and develop social skills
  • Practice decision making

In addition, play helps children become better learners. Studies show that children’s self-regulation skills, concentration, creativity and problem solving, and ability to think about their own thoughts and the perspectives of others are developed and strengthened through play. Self-regulation skills are important for a child’s future academic and social success. (2)

Children’s free play is threatened in modern society. Video games, overfilled schedules, focus on academic achievement, and involvement in adult-directed sports leagues and classes sometimes take the place of creative play in children’s lives. (3)

A few main factors influencing the lack of time available for kids to have free play are listed below.

  • More families have a single head of household or two working parents, so fewer adults are available to supervise children’s play.
  • Parents often feel pressured to ensure their children’s academic success and to often have children involved in structured activities because this structure equates with “good parenting.”
  • Schools have responded to academic pressures by decreasing recess time and many afterschool programs also focus on academics, allowing less time for play.
  • Passive entertainment in front of screens has taken the place of active, outside play. Children are spending more time in front of screens, especially when parents believe screen time is educational.

All these pressures leave children less time available for unstructured play, both indoors and outdoors.

Despite these pressures, parents should be involved in helping children play for health’s sake–the health of the child, the health of the parents, and ultimately the health of the family as a whole. Play allows parents to engage with their children in a unique way, giving parents the opportunity to view the world from the child’s vantage point while demonstrating interest in the child’s perspective.

Studies show that for adults, play can help boost energy and vitality, improve resistance to disease, and trigger the release of endorphins which can promote well-being, temporarily relieve pain, and ward off stress and depression.

Some children might need help in learning how to engage in imaginative play. Studies show that young children are likely to play longer when an adult plays with themHere are some ideas of how you can play with your child and boost their development through play.

  • Give young children ample time for free play. Work and practice are important, but children should not be overscheduled to where they are not able to develop and grow through unstructured play. Try letting your child have at least 30 minutes (or start with 15 minutes) every day where the child is allowed to choose his or her own non-screen activity.
  • Help children by guided play, in addition to free play. Guided play is a term used by early childhood educators. It involves adults asking meaningful questions to help children learn through their play, build vocabulary and thinking skills. Adults follow the children’s lead and provide a scaffold, and offer just the right amount of help needed.
  • Provide open-ended toys. Researchers say that children benefit most from toys that make less choices for them. In other words, simple toys that children can use for symbolic play and pretend to be all kinds of things, like blocks and scarves, are better for children than things with one obvious purpose, such as a specific princess wand with sound. Open-ended toys allow children to develop the use of symbolic thought.
  • Encourage some, but not all, time be spent with other children by providing play dates and groups. Children develop social skills and self-regulation through learning to play well with other children.
  • Play with your children. Parents can support their children’s play by asking questions, being interested and engaged, and participating, especially for very young children. It is best to avoid leading the play or adding too many suggestions. As children work on math, reasoning, motor and other skills in play, avoid doing more for them than necessary.
  • Let play be child-directed. Encourage children to learn to form cooperative play scenarios they form together. Don’t set rules or determine how or what the child can do (within safety constraints, of course).

Playing with kids builds a bond that will last forever because when children are used to laughing and spending quality time with parents, they are more likely to share their thoughts and feelings on serious matters when they are older.

For more information on the importance of play for children and families, and for practical ideas on incorporating more playtime in your family’s life, please view the following ACPeds resources:


1) Bongiorno, L. 10 things every parent should know about play. Retrieved from:

2) Whitebread, D., Coltman, P., Jameson, H., & Lander, R. (2009). Play, cognition and self-regulation: What exactly are children learning when they learn through play? Educational & Child Psychology, 26(2), 40-52.

3) Spiegel, A. (Feb. 28, 2008) Creative play makes for kids in control. Retrieved from:

4) Gronlund, G. (2013). How to support children’s approaches to learning? Play with them. Retrieved from:

5) Lin, Y., Yawkey, T. (2013). Does play matter to parents? Taiwanese parents’ perceptions of play. Education, 134(2), 244.

6) Nell, M. & Drew, W. Five essentials to meaningful play. Retrieved from:




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Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development

From an early age, many children are interested in talking about right and wrong. They learn that good is rewarded in society and that “bad guys” are punished. However, explaining to inquisitive children why something is right and okay and why some things are simply morally wrong can be difficult. It may take adjusting the explanation to their “level” of reasoning. They may see rules as the unchangeable authority because disobeying them will lead to punishment. Other children may have a keen sense of what is “nice” or “not nice” and how to treat other people with kindness.

The American psychologist, and former professor at Harvard, Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) sought to discover how it is that children develop and mature in moral reasoning skills. When it comes to understanding children’s moral behavior, it may be beneficial to consider how children view right and wrong according to Kohlberg’s theory. His research on the motivations behind moral decisions is widely published and discussed among psychologists and developmentalists today. 

Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development:

Kohlberg was interested in the reasons why people made decisions that involved morality. Kohlberg believed that individuals progress through stages of moral reasoning in one specific order, without skipping any in between. His theory is based on research with hundreds of individuals of various ages, whom he presented with difficult moral dilemmas for them to respond to. He didn’t care about the actual moral dilemmas that people faced as much as discovering how they came to their conclusions. Through his research, he developed a theory of moral development that included six stages of moral reasoning, which are divided into three levels. Kohlberg thought that most people did not reach the final level of moral reasoning. The following summary of the six stages is derived from a publication by the University of Central Florida:

Level One: Preconventional (also known as pre-moral) — Many, if not most, prisoners are still in this stage. However, ideally children move from this stage between the ages of 10 and 13 years old.

  1. “Punishment and Obedience.” Right and wrong is determined by whether or not there is a punishment. Orders are obeyed when a punishment is feared and power and authority are deferred to.   
  2. “Instrumental Exchange.” Those at this stage believe in “do unto others as they do unto you.” One seeks to fill their own needs and desires and only gives to others if it ultimately benefits himself.

Level Two: Conventional — This stage is where most people peak as the typical age range in which this type of morality is displayed is between adolescence and middle age

  1. “Interpersonal, or Tribal, Conformity.” Right and wrong is determined by what is accepted and popular in the group and that group’s value expectations. It is focused on maintaining happy relationships with others. Betraying the group’s norms and expectations is seen as a sin.
  2. “Law and Order (Societal Conformity).” Individuals are motivated by the desire to maintain order and safety in society by following rules. A person respects laws and authority figures and sees value in institutional order and keeping consistency for their own sake.  A subset of this stage is the Cynical stage. People in this stage, tend to see morality in terms of, “Why should I believe in anything?” because they have yet to realize there are universal ethical principles. This is more commonly found in young adults, especially those in college after coming to realize that conventional morality is inadequate. 

Level Three: Post-conventional — Very few people reach this stage of moral development. Typically it is not reached until after middle age. 

  1. “Prior Rights and Social Contract.” Laws should reflect the protection of moral principles and a human being’s unalienable rights. Justice is not black and white, but the circumstances of each situation are considered individually. People have rights and their freedom should not be restricted unless it infringes upon the freedom of others.
  2. “Universal Ethical Principles.” The belief is held that every person has inherent worth and dignity that is equal with all other people. Truth is an abstract, universal, moral principle that is not determined because of someone’s position of authority or written law. People should “do unto others as they would have someone do unto themselves,” and seek for that which will serve and bring good to the most people. Those who are willing to give their own lives for their beliefs of truth and the freedom of others are considered to be at stage 6.

When it comes to raising children, parents should fully understand that physical maturity does not equal moral maturity. While there are some, though very few, people who reach the ultimate stage of understanding universal ethical principles, there are many children and adults who only reach the earlier pre-conventional or conventional stages.

What does this mean for parents?

Just as every individual person is different, every child is different. Becoming a teen does not automatically translate into becoming more moral.  To foster moral development in children parents should work to

  • develop a close relationship with their children from an early age,
  • monitor what’s happening in their children’s lives,
  • reduce their exposure to negative media influences, and
  • help them make appropriate moral judgments about what they experience outside the home.

Morality is a process of development that must be fostered and facilitated by parents, in addition to teachers and other community members such as neighbors, friends’ parents, fellow church/mosque/synagogue/temple members–essentially everyone.

As adults, we are all tasked with helping the children in our community reach optimal development. We are also tasked with becoming the best people we can be for everyone’s sake–children and adults.

For more information on raising children of good character, please view a blog previously published to the ACPeds website: Raising Children of Character in a Toxic Culture


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