My family has a dinnertime tradition of asking each other to talk about a “rose” and a “thorn” from our day. Sometimes our kids talk about how hard a test was (thorn) or how boring their accounting class was (thorn). Sometimes they talk about making good food in home economics (rose) or how much they enjoyed track practice (rose). It is not a lot of information, but it does help me talk to my kids about their day.
One of my kids has a recurring thorn. She frequently mentions problems that she has with another student. The problems usually happen on the playground, and they are usually minor. Her older siblings always respond by telling their sister that her “friend” is mean, and that she needs to play with someone else. I also encouraged her to play with different kids or to communicate her feelings (ie. “when you do ___, it hurts my feelings”). It hasn’t been a daily problem, or a very serious problem, so I haven’t worried too much about it.
Last week her thorn was much worse. My daughter was embarrassed as she told us the details of how two kids had physically hurt her. Her two “friends” had made sure that they were out of sight from the recess duty before they bullied her. My daughter was eventually able to run away, but she didn’t tell anyone until dinnertime.
This time I didn’t ask my daughter to find different friends, or to communicate more effectively. This time I wrote an email to her teacher and the school principal. I told them all of the details of the event at recess. I told them how my daughter felt and that I hoped that they could help remediate the situation.
Later that night I sat with my daughter and asked her about every bullying incident that had occurred this school year. I wrote each incident down, so I could give it to the principal. I was shocked to learn all of the names that she had been called (I didn’t even know she had been called names), and the little things that were stolen from her desk when she was away, in addition to the physical bullying. Once I saw it all on paper, I realized how much she had been bullied, and my heart hurt. I had thought the other kids were just kids being kids or that my daughter was overreacting. No, she was being bullied.
I got an email from the principal before school the next day. She began by assuring me that bullying behavior was not acceptable. She meet with me, and my daughter, to ask her about all of the times she had been bullied (she was grateful for the notes I had taken the night before). The principal apologized for my daughter’s mistreatment and promised to appropriately deal with the bullies and to prevent it from recurring. She even promised to make sure my daughter would not be in the same classroom as her bullies next year.
I want to tell you what I have learned from this experience:
- Ask your kids about their day — every day. Make sure you ask them about what they liked about their day, as well as didn’t like. Tell them about your day, too.
- Ask them about their friends. Sometimes “friends” can be the worst bullies.
- If your child seems uneasy with something that happened (on the playground, in the classroom, after school, etc), ask them how they felt about that situation, and why.
- Understand that your child might downplay a bullying incident because they were told (or they think) it is their fault.
- Make sure your kids understand that it’s never OK for others to physically hurt them or call them names.
- If your child is bullied, be empathetic and understanding (not questioning and blaming). Compliment them for showing bravery and courage (it is scary to talk about others hurting you).
- Inform the teacher and the principal of any bullying (email, call or make an appointment).
- Follow up with your child regularly, to make sure the bullying does not recur.
Bullying is serious. It can cause immeasurable damage. I am glad that my daughter had the courage to tell me about being bullied. I am glad that the school took my daughter’s safety seriously. Not everyone is as lucky. Just this morning, the Idaho Statesman reported a little girl (nearly the same age as my daughter) who tried to take her own life because of constant bullying.
Has your child been bullied? What do you think are the best ways to deal with bullying?