October is National Bullying Prevention Month. As many as 28% of all kids from 6th through 12th grade report having been bullied.
This particular subject hits very close to home. My daughter coped with being bullied by classmates before she was 10 years old. I know I’m not the only mom helping her child deal with bullying at school, so I want to share practical advice that has worked for my family in the hopes that other parents will know where to start in addressing and preventing bullying.
My older daughter was in third grade when she first dealt with bullying.
Despite the fact that her father and I always encourage open, honest communication about what goes on at school, it took her a long time — and a couple of days playing hooky — to come clean about it. She finally told us what was happening when things got physical; one of the girls had shoved her in the lunch line.
We live in a small town and I’ve had the good fortune of becoming friends with a number of my kids’ teachers. Once my daughter was able to share what was going on, I immediately sent a message to her homeroom teacher, which resulted in a long late-night phone call to map out a plan. Over the next few days, there were multiple calls, text messages, and emails to and from me, her teacher, and her guidance counselor.
I have to give a lot of the credit for the resolution of our particular incident to my daughter herself. She went to her guidance counselor and requested a meeting with the classmates who were bothering her. She got to ask the girls why they were targeting her. Then she responded to them in an environment that was safe and non-judgmental for everyone that was involved.
We followed up shortly afterward with a meeting between her teacher, guidance counselor, and my husband and I. It was a great opportunity for us to make sure that we were doing everything we could to support our daughter at home. The guidance counselor told us, to our pleasant surprise, how impressed she was with our daughter’s maturity and ability to express herself. It was one of those rare opportunities that we were able to see that we were doing something right as parents.
We were lucky. Thankfully, the bullying stopped after that meeting, and there were no further incidents that school year. The next year, two of the girls had moved away, and the third was in a different learning community. My daughter felt safe with her friends and her classmates. Two years out from the incident and there was some concern at the beginning of this school year because the two girls who had moved away came back. Thankfully, the administrators placed them in different learning communities and so far there have been no conflicts.
It’s so hard to walk the line between protecting your kids and completely sheltering them. It’s even harder when we think about all of the hidden ways that bullying can happen, at school, at home, and online. What can parents do to make sure that their children stay safe?
I’m definitely no expert, but I know what worked for our family. Here are some of the things you can do to address bullying.
Ask your kids about their day. And LISTEN to the answers.
Kids won’t always tell you when something bad happens at school, on the playground, or online. Sometimes they forget; other times they feel too embarrassed or upset. Give them an opportunity to talk about what their day was like, and listen to what they’re saying without judgment. There will be time to react to the fact that your baby is hurting; this is not that time.
Stay involved in your kids’ school and activities.
I know it’s not always easy, with work and other responsibilities, but this is important. Making sure you know who teaches and coaches your kids can go a long way. When you need to mobilize your resources, you’ll know where to turn. Get to know the parents and families of your kids’ friends. You might not be able to go to every game, event, or activity. Being present at as many as you can and making yourself known to the other adults in your kids’ lives will help your kids understand that you are all in this together.
Be present in your kids’ social media lives.
Online bullying is a huge problem. It’s so hard to supervise all of the things that happen on the Internet. My daughters are still too young for Facebook or the like, but my older daughter has an iPod that she uses to communicate with her friends. If your kids are old enough for social media, talk to them ahead of time and set ground rules for social media usage and behavior. Know their usernames and passwords, and review their accounts on occasion. Follow their accounts and even their friends’ accounts. It will embarrass them, I’m sure, but there are ways to be cool about it. Comment on what they post and make sure your kids and their friends know you’re a presence online. For parents of younger kids, don’t be afraid of parental controls.
Help your kids understand things from another’s perspective.
Bullying behavior SHOULD NOT be accepted or excused. However, there is often an underlying reason that kids who bully respond to their peers in this way. Many of them deal with being bullied themselves. My daughter asking to meet with the classmates who treated her badly was a step that she took to understand why it was happening. In the long run, she learned to relate better to her peers, even the ones she’s not friends with.