Believe you have an excellent relationship with your youngster? Positive your elementary or middle school child is communicating when things are really bothering him or her? Convinced you can tell if they are being bullied? Think again!
An AOL search of “bullying in elementary and middle schools” brought up over 8,000,000 articles in 1/2 a second. Certainly you can’t read all the articles… and if you did what would be revealed is an incredibly wide swath of opinions, programs and all sorts of solutions.
Here’s a bit of reality. You may be an incredible parent who encourages open communication, have a fantastic relationship with your child, engage in all sorts of sharing and there are still things your child just won’t talk about.
Perhaps bullying isn’t in the forefront of your mind. Your child attends an elementary or middle school with an aggressive anti-bullying program. You think it’s covered. Well think again.
Dealing with bullying, bullies, your child’s emotions, the school, other parents and all the “effective programs” out there isn’t necessarily accomplishing what you need it to.
As a teacher I had a “O” bullying tolerance in my elementary classroom long before the digital age presented new and unique forms of bullying opportunities or school anti-bullying programs were in vogue.
I recall one day following one of my students home. She was non-English speaking, being bullied, but couldn’t tell me who was the perpetrator.
When she arrived at her apartment complex I located the bully, went to her house, knocked on the door and spoke with her father. Happily this was one parent who was appalled. He disciplined her more severely than I would have liked… but the result was very interesting.
His daughter was a student at my school. For a month after the incident she’d look at me with dagger-like eyes. Then, almost as if it were magic I suddenly became one of her best buddies. The reason was simple, she realized that I stood up for my students and although it had cost her dearly she knew I’d look out for her just as well.
I mention this not for self-aggrandizement, but to make a point.
Teachers and parents need to look much more carefully for the signs of bullying. They’re often not apparent. This article isn’t written to tell you what you should do, how to communicate with your child, identifying signs of bullying or any other specific advice. There’s lots of information available on this topic.
I’m simply alerting you to the fact that complacency is the worst enemy of eradicating bullying and that blindly following school programs or other anti-bullying initiatives is not enough.
Bullying takes lots of forms and originates from lots of causes. Sometimes unknowingly it’s the parent. Young boys with Dads that want their sons to grow up and be tough often unconsciously encourage forms of bullying.
Husband and wife relationships (which in themselves often have a lot of bullying) spur this behavior. If you are a spouse who accepts being bullied, you can pretty much expect that your child will do the same. Being bullied is disempowering. Empowerment is one of the most important self image traits you can foster in your child.
Tone of voice is a big one. Have you ever been in a supermarket and listened to a Mom or Dad talk to their child. I sometimes shudder at the tone of voice of parents communicating with their youngsters.
How do you expect these children to talk with their friends or other kids their age? As a parent you might abhor the thought of your child being a bully while at the same time modeling the very behavior you deplore.
Bullying goes on with both boys and girls. It often (not always) takes different forms amongst the sexes. One thing I can tell you for sure, bullying has a long shelf life and often stays with one throughout adulthood.
I speak from experience. Now, six feet tall and 185 pounds, as a 6th grader I was the smallest child in the class. In 8th grade I grew about five inches. Guess what, I was bullied even more. As an adult I still carry the remnants of the suffering I endured. And this despite the fact that I now realize the bullying I went through was minor in comparison to most.
That being said, it informed the adult I am today and certainly the teacher I was years ago. You can’t find an educator who did more to prevent bullying than I did. Yet here’s the kicker… I’m friendly with two of my sixth grade students and one recently informed me that the other used to bully her. It blew my mind. The “bully” and I are very close and she is perhaps one of the kindest women and best mothers I know.
I’m recounting this story for a reason. As a teacher I was totally intolerant of bullying, teasing or any mean behavior I saw… and believe me, my eyes were always open. Yet I still missed bullying behavior.
There is a moral here. You can make a difference when you really focus your efforts not just on the act of bullying, but on behaviors that contribute to development of a bullying prone personality.
Here’s a positive little tale. On the final day of class I removed a fourth grader from playing kick ball because he hassled another child for missing a catch. I had always done this… but on the last day of school it was a bit radical.
Years later I had dinner with one of my former students who updated me about what everyone was doing. Much to my amazement… and I’m certainly not attributing it to kicking him out of the game, I was told he had become a Special Education teacher. Was I surprised! It goes to show that teachers and parents should never make generalizations or prognostications about how students will turn out. I’ll write about the horrors of standardized tests in another article!
The primary purpose of this piece is to bring to light my belief that the amount and kinds of bullying programs are a bit overwhelming, bullying can have even more severe consequences than you might think and sometimes we must engage in introspection to see what part we might be playing.
I have worked with young children on and off for many years. I am firmly convinced that more kids suffer from bullying than anyone realizes. I’m sounding a warning bell that as a parent don’t be complacent.
You may think your child is one who could not be bullied and be very surprised at the reality. It’s vital to look for ways to detect bullying other than those you read about in articles and columns like this one. Complacency or acquiescence just doesn’t make the grade.
We’re talking not just about the present impact of bullying on your child, but rather the long term affects that often linger with them all their lives.
I use a tool with kids that I call Rate the Day. It serves many purposes, but one is that it can help detect bullying activity. It doesn’t hold all the answers by a long shot. It’s just a single weapon in the arsenal for committed parents. If you’d like a copy (it’s one sheet) feel free to e-mail me and I’ll send it as a PDF file with instructions. Just put “Rate The Day” in the subject line.
However, the real key to prevent your child from being bullied is to take a multifaceted approach that involves looking at your behavior, your child’s moods, interactions with friends, type of play, what’s going on in school and a host of other factors.
It’s worth the effort!