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Why is prevention important?

60-second answer

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” “A stitch in time saves nine.” These sayings are familiar to many people, but how many of us have ever thought about how we could prevent a big problem like bullying or how our individual efforts could make a difference? Have you ever wondered what changes would need to occur in our daily lives to prevent bullying or reduce the chance that it will happen? If we only think or act when bullying is already happening, we are then solely focused on intervention and we may never see the end of this behavior. Promoting and modeling positive social behaviors before negative outcomes like bullying occur is a good way to create safer, healthier schools and communities for all children.


If you had the ability to stop something bad from happening, would you?

Most of us would say yes, but our thoughts might go toward the heroic side of prevention, like saving a life. In fact, we work on prevention all the time in our daily lives: many try to eat a healthy diet to stave off disease, drive carefully to avoid being in an accident, and a thousand other things. Fire prevention policies help us keep our homes safe, while traffic signs, seatbelts, helmets, and other equipment help prevent accidents and create safe passage for drivers and all others using the roads.

Preventions like those are widely adopted throughout the world. When it comes to bullying, however, prevention can be a more abstract and difficult notion for people to understand or even feel the need to address, especially if people feel that it’s something that does not affect them. For some, bullying is such a common experience that people sometimes think it is an established part of childhood and will happen no matter what we do. The sense that nothing can be done or that we cannot control what others do can cause disbelief in the benefit of prevention. Childhood bullying continues to be a problem, currently affecting over 20% of students. People discuss what to do when bullying happens, but not as many talk about what to do to prevent the problem from happening. It is worth our energy as a society to try and lay the foundations for healthier schools, neighborhoods, and communities where our children can thrive without fear of being bullied.

One of the most important things to know about bullying is that it is a learned behavior. Social behaviors, both positive and negative, are learned through watching other people’s social behaviors. This means that no one is born to be someone who bullies; bullying behaviors are acquired by viewing others doing them or experiencing them oneself. The questions that arise are: if bullying is learned, can it be unlearned? Can other learning be prioritized in a child’s life? Can we teach or promote other behaviors that will lessen the prevalence of bullying or stop it entirely in our communities?

Those who work with and care for children know that we can influence and change their behavior. One of the most effective methods to do that is by demonstrating positive and healthy behaviors and habits. By promoting and modeling positive behaviors—actions that reinforce healthy relationships—we can improve a child’s behavior as well as redirect their attention to what they can do (as opposed to telling them only what not to do).

Research into positive behaviors and bullying prevention has discovered that the positive behaviors of kindness, acceptance of difference, and inclusion can be powerful bullying prevention tools. These behaviors can help children form healthier relationships as well when actively promoted and modeled by adults. The key to teaching children positive behaviors is that they see adults do them, not just talk about them. Observing peers acting kind, including others, and accepting that others are different is important, too, but adults must be intentionally involved in exhibiting these behaviors daily. In addition, keeping the lines of communication open between adults and children is key to preventing kids from both bullying others and being targeted by bullying.

Children watch us closely and evaluate how we settle disputes and how we express our fear, anger, and other emotions. They notice when we repair relationships and they notice when we walk away from situations that cannot be resolved. They see our relationships and pattern their interactions with other people based on what we do. If we are to lay the foundation for a community where bullying ends or happens rarely, we must be intentional about incorporating the actions of kindness, acceptance of difference, and inclusion in our daily lives. These are the social-emotional “safety equipment” tools of being in community with our fellow human beings and will help create an environment where bullying will not flourish.

Below are some actions you can do that will provide children with concrete demonstrations of positive behaviors. These actions are not just good ideas for adults to do, but when done with children they also reinforce the social-emotional skills they need to foster healthy relationships. The opportunities to see acts of kindness, acceptance of difference, and inclusion will also allow for conversations between adults and children that could lead to a better understanding of what children can do to help their peers.

Here are some actions adults can do to promote and model kindness:

  • Offer to help someone with getting groceries or a meal
  • Call relatives with your child to ask them how they are doing
  • Give a genuine compliment to someone who has helped you

Here are some actions you can do to promote and model acceptance of difference:

  • Be patient with people who do things differently than you do
  • Be respectful about ethnic, cultural, faith, and ability differences that others have
  • Be willing to listen to someone else’s opinion or ideas and learn to share yours appropriately

Here are some actions you can do to promote and model inclusion:

  • Invite someone new to join your neighborhood or community group
  • Have a neighborhood game night, online or socially distanced, where all are invited to join in the fun
  • Create welcome packages for new families in your neighborhood

The painfully common and often overwhelming experience of bullying in our society can make acts of kindness, acceptance of difference, and inclusion seem less powerful or influential than acts of bullying. On the contrary: when we promote and model actions like those above, we are demonstrating our conviction to stop negative behavior before it happens. Kindness isn’t just a “nice” or a good thing to do. It requires strength, purpose, and intention, and provides potent bullying prevention benefits. Far from being a passive or less powerful response, positive behaviors help form the foundation for productive, healthy, and collaborative relationships and create an environment where bullying is not tolerated because people are looking out for one another. When we focus on prevention, the need for intervention decreases. Our safety net of kindness, acceptance, and inclusion is the ounce of prevention that really is worth a pound of cure.

Posted September, 2020