Is your child being bullied by a classmate? Is the bullying getting worse? Are you not sure what to do? We commonly stereotype the bullies as an Eddie Haskell-type punk. But the 21st century bullies come in all shapes, sizes and ages.
My daughter was a mere 3-year old when she started preschool. Her classmate, Michael, nearly suffocated her in a chokehold, pushed her off a playscape and hit her repeatedly.
After many conferences with the school director, and no change in Michael’s behavior, we left the school.
We ventured to a private Christian school. Immediately my daughter was bullied by her classmate Amanda. Amanda called her names, scratched, bit and kicked. Again, I brought this to the school’s attention. They began documenting Amanda’s behavior. As a result, she was eventually expelled from the school.
My son was relentlessly bullied in third grade. The bully excluded him from playing kickball at recess, called him a Nazi for being half-German and punched him in the face after my son tagged him out while playing tag.
After seeking professional advice and looking at the common denominator of dozens of adults who were bullied as a child, here is what I have learned about handling bullies:
5 Keys to Handling a Bully at School
- Speak up. In all three situations where my daughter was being bullied, the teacher was not aware of what was going on until I brought it to her attention. In 2 of the 3 cases, the student was reprimanded by the school for his/her behavior and the bullying stopped.
- When I was in 4th grade, my friends and I picked on a girl named Mary Anne. We said some very unkind things about her to some boys at a dance recital. The next evening, Mary Anne’s mother knocked on our door and shared with my mother what I said about Mary Anne and how hurtful it was. I was completely busted – and horribly embarrassed. As a result, I never bullied a classmate ever again. I have heard from many adults who were bullies that as soon as the victim’s parents confronted their parents, the bullying stopped.
- In my son’s case, I wrote to the parents, teacher, Principal and Superintendent and nothing changed. I asked him one day to point out to me who his bully was. I went straight to the child and pointed to his face “Do not ever touch my son ever again or I will call the police. Do you understand me?” And he never bullied my son ever again. I don’t suggest this being your first option, but in my case I had exhausted all other options and the school chose not to do anything. Consequently, I took it upon myself to say something to the bully.
- Document everything. Take photos if your child has marks on their body from the bully. Communicate everything via email so you have a paper trail. Take screen shots of cyber-bullying. Having verbal conversations unfortunately goes undocumented. As a result, a school official can easily say “You never told me” when in fact you did a dozen times.
- Teach and ask the kids who are frequently around your child the importance of them speaking up and defending kids when they are bullied. When my son was bullied in 3rd grade, I ate lunch with him in the school cafeteria and asked the other kids who the mean kids are. After they told me, I simply said “Next time you see Jake being mean to someone, can you all speak up and tell him to stop?” The kids felt empowered – especially once they realized the bully was outnumbered if they all stuck together.
Several years ago, Dateline NBC aired Perils of Parenting where several groups of teenagers were observed on hidden camera how they handled critical decisions – including bullying. In each scenario, there were three actors (the bully, his/her accomplice and the victim) and there were three other children who did not know each situation was staged.
In all scenarios, there was at least one child who stood up to the bully and tried to protect the victim. By one teenager actively standing up to the bully, it gave the other kids confidence to stand up as well. The one child who stood up to the bully in each situation had parents who taught them from a young age to always stand up and “do the right thing” when someone is being mistreated.
Parenting expert Michele Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions says, “85% of kids are witnesses or bystanders to bullying. They are the missing link. They have a tremendous power in these situations.If kids can learn how to step in safely when a peer is being bullied, the entire campus culture will change.”
Empower and teach your kids the importance of standing up for classmates who are being bullied. And set a good example for your children. Michele Borba says, “We are appalled when a child doesn’t step in, but the average adult also doesn’t step in either.”
Immediately following the Dateline episode, I re-watched it with my daughter. I acknowledged that “Lucy”, “Jackie” and “Sarah” were very kind and smart to stand up to the bully and protect their friend. Two days later on the drive home from school, my daughter said, “Mommy, today Bradley was being mean to one of my friends, and I stood up to him. I told him to stop being mean.”
In Summary, if a 5-year old can comprehend the importance of standing up for a classmate and feel empowered to stand up for themselves, then any kid can – as long as they have the support and guidance they must learn from you first.
Has your child ever been bullied? How was it handled by your school or daycare center? What did you find was the key to making the bullying stop?
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