Active and Aware: Teaching children early

Conversations now can prevent heartache later. 

Julia Summersgill, director with Pine Hills Children’s Advocacy Center in Ruston, said children should start at a young age to respect others to help minimize bullying or worse in the future. 

“When children start school and interacting on a daily basis with other children, it is a good idea for parents to start discussions on how to treat their peers,” Summersgill said. “Teaching children from a young age to respect others and their differences and likenesses is crucial to combat cruel or bullying behavior in the future.” 

Summersgill said it was important not to minimize, rationalize or explain away any bullying behavior. 

“Parents need to be good listeners when their children are discussing any bad behavior among their peers at school, and let their children know that bad behavior is not ok,” she said.  

The first step in educating children to fight against abuse or bullying is by teaching awareness. 

“It is important for children to understand and be aware of what bullying or abusive acts looks like<” Summersgill said. “Refusing to be a bystander, and instead being a friend by supporting the victim and telling an adult. Children need to be taught that they can make a difference and be a positive change in a peer’s life.” 

Summersgill said encouraging children to speak out if they know a friend or peer is being abused is vital. 

“Adults also need to understand that if a child comes to them with allegations of being abused, or of a friend being abused it is crucial for the adult to be a support to that child and seek help from law enforcement or child protection,” she said. “It takes a lot of courage for children to speak out about abuse and their voices need to be heard. These lessons should be taught at home, as well as at school.” 

Adults as well should speak out if they suspect bullying or abuse, she added. 

“Abuse is life changing for victims, and an abuser often times robs their victims of their ability to speak out for themselves,” she said. “Adults who suspect or observe any type of abuse can save the life of child by simply speaking out. All children have the right to live in an environment free from abuse.  

“Children and adolescents spend a large portion of their time in school, which gives educators more access to students than most other professionals. Teachers and school staff often play a crucial role in identifying behaviors in children that might be being abused or bullied, and these adults are mandated to report any suspected abuse.” 

If anyone suspects abuse of a child, Summersgill said reporting suspected abuse is the most important step someone can take to protect children.  

Reports can be made to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Statewide Hotline: 1-855-452-5437 (1-855-4-LAKIDS). Reporters can remain anonymous.  

When making a report of suspected abuse please be prepared to provide the following information if you have it:  

–Child’s name, age and address 
–Brief description of the child 
–Current injuries, medical problems or behavioral problems 
–Parents’ names and names of siblings in the home