Bullying. The not so last frontier of childhood. Despite the passing of decades, it is one piece of childhood that refuses to go away. In fact, it is so stubborn, and in need of attention, that it sometimes rolls over into adulthood. The naïve grown-up in me wants to believe children will wake up one morning and say, “Bullying is ridiculous. And I’m not going to do it anymore.” The realistic, worst-case scenario side of me though knows otherwise. It does not matter how many campaigns, rallies or protests are lead, there will always be that one kid making school days, and even days on the internet thanks to cyber-bullying, miserable.
Growing up, my roadmap for dealing with bullies included telling the person to leave me alone, informing the teacher if it persisted and fighting if the person didn’t get the hint. It’s the same approach I want my children to take. However, it’s not the one I urge them to use. I hate the idea of my children fighting, just as much as I hate the idea of them being bullied. My overarching concern lies in how quickly a fight can lead to something more serious. So what can parents do to help their children?
Listen to your kids
I try to make an effort to talk to my children everyday about school. How did the day go? What did you do? How were things in class? I make it my business to ask my children about their interactions with classmates as well as the teacher because let’s be honest, sometimes the bully is not a kid. In those conversations, I’m listening for patterns. I’m checking if the same kid(s) pops up multiple times.
Build a support system
Not every parent can visit a classroom regularly. Since paying bills is a necessity, sitting in class and scoping out the terrain, while giving “that” kid the evil eye, is not always realistic. In such cases, helping children find people they can turn to for help is an option. The teacher, class aide, counselor, principal. Any and every adult that can reach the bully before my primal parenting instincts take over.
Encourage your child to speak up
I don’t care if my children carry the label “tattle-tellers.” And that phrase “snitches get stitches,” whatever. I’ll tell you what snitches get: HELP. Whenever there is a problem too big for my children to handle, I want them to tell an adult. Yes, they have spoken to me, but I am not in the classroom. So, it’s important to let your children know that when they have a problem it’s okay to turn to an adult. Children are not equipped mentally, just like adults, to carry their concerns with them all day. Nor should they have to. No one can help if secrets are kept.
Have a parent-teacher conference
My children are still in elementary and the approach the school has sometimes taken is to sit down with both children and talk out the issue. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Coming from a counseling background, I understand the reasoning. Especially considering bullies sometimes have their own issues. If it is possible to create a dialogue between the children that places concerns and approaches to dealing with the bullying at the forefront, its worth a try.
Identify coping mechanisms
Bullying creates a lot of stress, anxiety, and anger. The last thing I want is for my children to take their feelings out on an innocent person or turn their hurt in. Some things children could do is draw, write, take part in extracurricular activities and perhaps the crème de la crème, join a support group or consider therapy. Bullying sometimes creates this environment where children feel alone. They need to know that they are not battling this issue by themselves. Lastly. . .
Tell your kids you love them
They may hear you say it when they jump out the car or on their way to bed, but when they are dealing with a bully it’s even more important to give them an extra dose of love. Let them know you are there for them and that home is separate from school. Home is a place of positivity and safety.