I wrote a post about bullying, and a new way to deal with it. You can read it here. Since then, I’ve been asked numerous times on how we’ve dealt with bullying, from both ends of the spectrum. As the parent of a kid being pushed around and as a parent that finds out that their precious baby is a real jerk when away from your side. So, here it is. Do I think that these are the only ways to deal with things, not at all. But these methods have worked for us and maybe they’ll work for you.
The Bullied Child … There is nothing worse than learning that your child is being teased or tormented. It’s heartbreaking and leaves you both feeling powerless. As a parent, my first reaction is to always say “suck it up and ignore them”. I still think that those words need to be said, as kids do need to learn how to let other people’s words roll off their backs and not affect them. But, there’s more that needs to be said than that. Get as much information out of your child as possible. Find out the circumstances that led up to the bullying. Was there a fight somewhere, did you child “start” the battle of words, etc, etc. If you learn that this particular instance of bullying was a reaction to something your child did, it’s a perfect opportunity to discuss that appropriate way to treat others. Let them know that what the other kid did or said to them was wrong, but point out that what your child did or said had hurt them too, so they reacted. There is a lesson in everything.
If you learn that the bullying that is happening, is real and unwarranted, you need to react immediately. First, encourage your child. Reiterate how great they are and how wrong the bully is. Remind them that words are just words, and that they don’t determine their worth. Hug them. Love them. Build them Up. Next, be sure that they know how to react when bullied. Ask them if they told an adult. If not, why? If so, what did they say and do? Did they walk away? If not, why? Did they say something in return, or did they just turn their back? Again, get as much information as you can, so you can properly empower them for the next time. There WILL be a next time … EMPOWER your children so they are equipped for battle. The things you teach them are their first line of defence. Teach them well.
Finally, call the school or camp or parents or wherever the bullying occurred. Let your children see you do it. They NEED to see you standing up for them, that’s very important. Call the school as many times as you need to. Don’t let the school just brush it off or say, ‘we’ll look into it’. Call everyday until it’s properly resolved. If it happens again, take notes and call again. Set up a meeting with the school principal and/or counsellor. If you need to call the bully’s parents, do it. If it doesn’t get resolved at that level, call the school board. Whatever you do, don’t assume that the “adults” in your childs’ world are doing the right thing and fixing it. Sometimes, their hands are tied by rules and protocols and they can only take one small step at a time. (We learned that when we were dealing with our “bully” from the other side of things). You may have to go to higher authorities sooner than later, but that’s okay, your kid is worth it. Ask your kids what you can do to make them feel safe…and really listen to what they have to say. Maybe you need to volunteer to be a lunch hour supervisor at school. Maybe they need to not ride the bus for a little while, or need to switch seats on the bus. Something that simple act may actually rectify the situation. If you need to remove your child from the school to keep them safe, then do it. I sincerely hope that you’re not put in the situation where you have to make that choice, but it may come to that. Unfortunately, there are going to be people who think you’re over reacting and that your child is just a wussy baby. Ignore them and do what you know is right – your child’s spirit and well-being needs to come ahead of what’s “fair”.
Most importantly … stay connected with your kids. Be present in their lives. Give them an outlet to discuss their feelings. If they need to go to counselling, take them. Do not let them stew on things and internalize their feelings. They HAVE to get the hurt out. And in case you didn’t already know, there is FREE counselling available at your local health units. Use them.
The Child Bully.
Being the parent of a bully is a really hard thing to deal with. It will be one of the toughest things you will ever need to work through. It can be embarassing and shameful for you as a parent to deal with, but let that go and deal with it. You need to be steadfast and strong in your response, and you need to be consistent. Your responses can have no grey area … right is right and wrong is wrong.
Do not assume that your child would never pick on someone else or that they would never become a bully. I’ve been surprised on many occasion by what kids are willing to do to be cool or to feel better about themselves. Never underestimate the power of wanting to be “popular” or the desire to “fit in”. That being said, when you get wind of your child bullying or get the dreaded phone call from school, LISTEN. Please feel free to not just accept everything at face value, but do your research and learn the truth. You may not get the whole story in the initial conversation, but I guarantee there will be enough information presented for you to further look into. Do NOT brush it off, your child may in fact be a bully or heading down that path.
First off, ensure that your child isn’t actually responding to bullying themselves. If they are, address it and put a stop to it. Teach them that their response was inappropriate and that there are better ways to deal with it. If you realize that they are in fact bullying someone without provocation, make your displeasure about that KNOWN. I’m not talking about you spanking them and totally freaking out, but call them on it. Turn the words back around on them, and ask them how they feel if someone said that to them. Point out that until they are perfect, they best not be judging anyone else. Talk about how they feel if someone said those words to their little brother or sister, or you as the Mother? Sometimes personalizing it drives the point home quicker. Try and figure out why they are doing the bullying. Are they doing poorly in school? Is there problems at home? Is their self-esteem low? Odds are really good that they’ve got things they need to talk through with someone. Counsellors, mentor, pastor, whoever .. just get them help.
Once you’ve dealt with the initial situation, call the school, and let them know that you will support them when it comes to punishment for the bullying. Let your child know that you’re siding with the school and/or teachers and that you will stand by their decisions when it comes to correction or suspension. They cannot see a division. Be prepared for the bullying to occur time and time again, it is NOT an easy habit for a kid to break. Stay in constant contact with the school. Tell the teachers that you want to be called EVERY time they do something mean or inappropriate. Confront your child each and every time you learn of something new. Nothing is okay. No teasing, no name calling, no laughing at others, nothing. LOTS of people don’t consider playful “teasing” to be bullying, but it is. If your child is a bully, you have to be extra careful to not fall into the trap of a “little bit is okay”.
If you are not satisfied with the school’s response, push for stronger consequences. I learned that schools have a certain protocol that they have to follow when dealing with kids, especially in the elementary setting. Quite often, kids start by writing apology letters and then move on to suspensions. They almost always start with in-school ones and it takes a long time to move up to stronger consequences. In our case, that took way too long. And frankly, teachers are already spread so thin, that they can’t always provide the supervision needed. And more often than not, the kids hide their bullying really well and the teachers aren’t always aware of how extreme it’s gotten. We were not okay with our child being able to bully for months before something could be done, so we responded ourselves. I’ve gone to school in my pyjamas to supervise at lunch time. My husbands gone to the school and followed our kid around the playground at lunchtime. We’ve turned in-school suspensions into out of school suspensions of cleaning at home or volunteering elsewhere. When our kids get suspended from the bus, we’ve made them walk while we follow behind them in the car. No matter how we responded, the kids knew that we were not okay with how they were behaving and that we were willing to do something about it. Some of our responses may seem extreme to you, but we almost never had to do them more than one time. Something outside of grounding or loss of privileges seems to hit home a little bit harder.
Regardless of how you choose to deal with your bully, just please deal with it. Give it the serious response that it deserves. You need to do everything in your power to put an end to it, and help your child and the child being bullied to heal.
In the meantime, talk to your children. Ask them questions about what’s going on at school. Get to know their friends and their parents. Encourage your kids. Empower them and build them up. Teach them there is nothing embarassing about standing up for themselves or telling an adult when things are going wrong. Be aware of changes going on in your kids lives, both negative and positive and acknowledge them. The more involved you are, the more likely you are to catch a problem before it becomes one. ALL kids deserve to feel safe, confident and loved. I just pray that I’m there to catch them when they need me.