“Do you have any suggestions for me to share with a parent on how to help her child deal with a bully in school?” asked Mary, a grandmother and teacher.
Bullying seems to be getting a lot of media time recently. Many schools and other organizations are creating programs to try to combat these mean-spirited behaviors.
Let’s define what is bullying behavior. Bullying can be physical, verbal or excluding behaviors that include but are not limited to hitting, kicking, pushing, choking, punching, threatening, teasing, starting rumors, hate speech and telling other children not to play with others, or not to be their friend. Bullying is behavior whose intent is to inflict harm.
How to deal with bullying depends on a lot of factors: a child’s age, type of school the child attends, gender of the bully and the bullied, and parent/parent relationships and school/parent relationships. After a bullying incident, a child needs to feel safe and empowered as quickly as possible.
The older the child, and more so if the child is a boy, the more the child will not want parents to interfere with the bully in fears, often justified, that threatening behaviors will increase.
Boys are usually physical in their bullying.
Girls are likely to be verbal in their bullying.
At our first of the year meeting I told parents, “People say that teachers have eyes in the back of their heads. We don’t. We can’t see everything that is happening and we depend on our students’ parents to let us know when something is going on that needs to be addressed. Parents are the eyes in the back of our heads.”
Dealing effectively with bullying and other threatening behavior at school has to be a school-wide effort, with training programs for staff and students, and effective communication among children, parents and staff.
To counteract behaviors whose intent is to inflict harm, either physically or verbally, parents should do three things almost simultaneously:
- Communicate to your child that being bullied is wrong and the bully needs to be stopped. Ask your child: If we saw someone hurting a person on the street what would we do? Try to elicit responses such as help the other person and call the police for help. Explain that the job of adults is to help children feel safe. Ask how you can help your child feel safe. Ask how your child’s teacher and principal can help your child feel safe. Explain to your child the following process you are going to use to protect him or her, which will also help all the children at school.
- Contact your child’s teacher and explain the situation. Give the teacher the bullies’ names, along with when and where the incidents have occurred. Ask if the school has an anti-bully policy and program. Mention that you will be contacting the school principal about the incidents as a matter of due process, and will follow up with a note about your conversation. Remember the words of Sgt. Joe Friday, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
- Visit with the school principal. Again, explain the situation, giving pertinent information about the bullying incidents. Ask about the anti-bullying policy and training programs. If there are none, request that a school-wide policy be instituted. Ask the principal how they would like for your child to handle the bullying incidents, and how the school will handle incidents. The principal should have a plan to contact and counsel the bully and his or her parents, and a method to keep your child safe at school. Again, follow up your conversation with a letter.
Too many times adults do not protect children from bullying behaviors.
By having clear expectations for behavior with well-defined and enforced consequences for hurtful actions, we can help. Children need to know if they go to an adult for assistance that they will be protected from retaliation. The child with aggressive behavior needs to know the effects of continued bullying. As adults, we must enforce those consequences.
The Boy Scout Oath says a lot about how to assist our children in protecting themselves from bullying behavior, and guiding ruffians:
Scout Oath (or Promise)
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
By modeling being physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight, we can help our all our children, no matter their behaviors, to do their best and become compassionate, understanding and kind individuals.
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