We often focus on one another’s differences, on the traits and behaviors we do not understand about someone else. This fuels bullying behaviors, often allowing a person to justify or rationalize judging or teasing another person. But how often do we stop to consider the similarities we all share as human beings? After all, we are certainly more alike than we are different, and this is the message we need to pass along to our children.

We all desire love, acceptance, understanding and security, and we all deserve to have these things in our lives. Bullying strips these core needs away from a child. So how do we help kids learn to understand their peers, to accept them for who they are at any given moment? How do we help children develop empathy?

Be creative. Give your children the opportunity to learn about the differences in people, while always reiterating messages about what we have in common. Bring your child to a soup kitchen to volunteer as a server if he is teasing a child at school who is economically disadvantaged, and while you are both serving food together, comment about how much he likes mashed potatoes and so do the people he is serving. If your daughter is gossiping about another girl being overweight, help her volunteer on an eating disorders unit at the hospital, and remind her how she felt when she had braces and wished she could change how she looked. If your son is mocking a child who is academically challenged, have him tutor a younger child, and remind him how good he felt when a teacher praised his correct answer in class. Encourage your children to consider context and background, and not just take the world at face value. Help them to understand that many people are overcoming obstacles, and need support to succeed. While we can never truly walk in another’s shoes, we can teach our children that the power to help another person is just as strong as the power to hurt them – not to mention that helping is usually easier and has greater rewards for both the helper and the recipient.

Link of the Week: Compassion is More Important than Competition

View my blog on the “Six Things Every Parent Needs to Know about Bullying