Is your child being picked on 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. Eventually she was expelled from the school. Now in kindergarten, my daughter is bullied by a kid named Bradley. 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:
- 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. 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.
- Talk to your kids long before bullying starts on how to handle different situations
On September 13, 2010 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.”
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.