Your parents may have advised you to ignore your “worst nightmare” at school, but today is a new day. Don’t inadvertently pass on bad advice about bullying to your kids. Instead, take bullying seriously and educate your children about the ins and outs of managing bullying at school.
- take bullying seriously
- recognize the need to grant permission for self-defense
- put yourself in your child’s shoes
- explore the internet together
- draw parallels with pets
- shame your child into unwanted touch from anyone
- overlook the need to be a safe space for kids
- advise your child to ignore bad behavior
- ignore the pressures that kids face
- glamorize violence or the use of force
Bullying is a large umbrella for unwanted behavior from peers. Bullying is on a spectrum and can be as seemingly innocuous as teasing about a last name all the way to dangerous physical assault. If you have a child who is being bullied, be proactive and include your child in all of the solutions you create. Remember that your child is on the frontline–you are not.
Sometimes, teachers are not responsive to bullying. As a result, you may decide to give your child permission to fight back in self-defense. By the time most children tell their parents about bullying, they have already unsuccessfully tried to ignore the bully. That is why they are talking to you.
It is important to understand that your school may have a zero tolerance policy for fighting, and both parties may pay the consequences, regardless of who started the fight. This still means that you may need to give your children permission to protect themselves and to let them know that there will be consequences.
If your child is describing unwanted behavior from another child, imagine that behavior in your office or place of employment. While many actions would be objectionable if an adult did them to another adult, we expect kids to put up with minimizing phrases, such as, “Boys will be boys” or “She’s just jealous of you.”
Imagine an adult in your place of work or worship coercing you out of your lunch money. This is a misdemeanor in the adult world. Similarly, if your child has been tripped on the playground, imagine how you would feel if a co-worker or manager tripped you as you walked to your desk. Or if someone started vicious gossip that negatively affected your productivity. This behavior is confounding to even the most experienced people in the adult world.
Use a search engine with your kids and discover what other people have to say about the behavior that your child has experienced from others. Oftentimes, if we as human beings see that someone else has experienced the same thing, we can draw on their experience of how they handled it and see that we are not alone. We are less apt to think we are inferior or flawed when we see that others have the same troubles.
Normalize self-protection since all organisms are designed to protect themselves, regardless of gender. Point out that a pet will scratch, wiggle, growl, bark, bite and run away. These are the same actions a child can take with unsafe people, whether they are unsafe peers or adults. The human parallels to growling would be to tell someone to go away and barking would be screaming. Additionally, mother dogs and cats don’t segregate their litters by gender, so baby animals get the same lessons in setting boundaries and safety measures regardless of their sex.
We are often more forgiving of boys who decline a hug or kiss. We say, “You know, he’s at the age where he just doesn’t want hugs.” Similarly, we need to give girls jurisdiction over their own bodies. If we give her the leeway to skip a hug from Auntie Anne or Uncle Eustis, we are giving her valuable experience for later years when she wants to say no to a date, or she must deal with an employer who takes liberties with her.
Asking someone not to hug us does not have to sound rude. We can simply smile and remove their arm or hand. If the people hugging us without permission do not like it, that is their problem and not ours. How does this translate to peers and bullying? If your child has had practice with setting boundaries with family members, he or she will be more adept at setting boundaries with peers.
Imagine childhood as a steady march toward independence. Kids do not want to discuss incidents at school (in this case, bullying) that result in upsetting or freaking out their parents. Instead, you must be a safe space for a child to talk. If you know you can’t be, encourage your child to speak to someone who will not get upset. If children perceive that telling you about something will result in less independence, they will not tell you about it.
For example, if your son tells you that a girl at the pool hounds him, chases him, throws him on the ground and kisses him, don’t tell him that he should feel lucky or that most guys would love to be in demand. And don’t take away his pool privileges. Her bad behavior should not result in his having less liberty.
Just because your parents told you to ignore rude or bad behavior by other kids, doesn’t mean you have to pass down the same bad messages. Another word for ignoring is denial. And while avoidance of a fight is something to value, standing up for your right to be left alone is vital. Everyone has a reasonable expectation for the pursuit of happiness. What would be more useful to your child than being told to ignore a bully is the question, “What actions could we take to have you be safe/happy/left alone?
The pressure to be masculine or feminine starts very early. Little girls’ fashions are becoming more revealing and sexualized. Little boys are pressured into being men, while they are still little boys. Understand that it is not easy being a person at any age, and we are all concerned with fitting in. If a child is being teased about being too “gay” or a “lesbo,” these are very difficult waters to swim. Realize that if you feel unable to assist your child, get help. There are counselors, therapists and clergy who can assist.
It is important for parents to un-glamorize and talk about the reality of violence, especially with the number of fights displayed on TV shows, movies and/or cartoons. Entertainment violence is highly choreographed and unrealistic. It often serves to make men and boys seem like robots and unfeeling, while women and girls seem helpless and ineffective.
The truth is that men and boys are flesh and blood, just like their mothers and sisters. And if real people were to get into a fight depicted in a movie, they would not get up within the first few strikes. Let kids know that what they are seeing is not real. Help them understand that real-life violence hurts both people and should only be used as a last resort–if and when kids are in danger.
A child’s world is extremely important. Keeping kids ignorant about ways to negotiate mean people will not keep them safe. Rather, it will just keep them in the dark. Many of today’s parents and grandparents did not grow up with the same pressures as our children. We all must take bullying seriously and take our kids’ anti-bullying education seriously as well.