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Thursday, October 24, 2013

My Son Was Bullied - Contributor Post

Alex Nguyen of Alex Nguyen Portraits speaks to an increasing problem as our children grow up. Bullying and what to do when it happens to your family.

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Last year, at the tail end of August, my husband and I casually talked to my son Samuel about school starting. We asked all the parent questions like, are you excited to see your friends? What are you looking forward to learning about the most? Anything that you want to talk to mommy and daddy about? He rattled off the expected answers such as, he was excited to see such-and-such friend; he wanted to know if he'd be able to check out such-and-such book during Library; and he wanted to see how much he'd grown against his buddies.

 

What we weren't expecting was his hesitation, and confession that he was scared, and worried about going back to school to see a specific classmate. At my son's school, he is in cooperative program where from first through sixth grade, he has the same classmates and they all move up together through elementary. So while it's lovely to know that he'll always be in the same class with his friends, this was the first time that we heard about him fearing a fellow classmate.

We talked to him about his concerns and fears, and he said that his classmate John* wasn't very nice. John was loud, disrespectful, mean to other kids, told lies, and not a rule follower. When Samuel was around John, it would make him feel anxious inside. I talked to my son about how sometimes kids don't know how to make friends, and they act mean because they don't know how to be kind. I told him about modeling kindness, including John in activities at recess, in games, and we brainstormed ideas on how he could interact with John to alleviate his concerns and fears before school started.

School started, and my husband and I checked in with Samuel to see how things were going daily. About three weeks into school, my son told me that John had hit him at recess. I asked him what were the circumstances, and basically they were playing a game. John was showing off and doing "karate moves", Samuel asked him to stop, John continued doing it and made physical contact with my son more than once. My son reported it to the playground supervisor, who followed up with John. I emailed my son's teacher at once to see her take on the situation. I got no response. I emailed again, and again, and left messages on the school voice mail. By this time, a week had passed since the initial incident, and my son came home to tell me that John had kicked him at recess again. He also mentioned that John had stolen stuff out of Samuel's desk, and taken Samuel's school stuff from his backpack. Just matter of fact, while he was telling me about his day.

This time, I emailed the teacher, I emailed the principal, and I went to the school to talk to the teacher. I asked my son if he had reported it to anyone, and he said he had told his teacher who said she didn't see it and wanted kids to "work it out" amongst themselves. For recess he had told the playground supervisor, but John had run away and hidden, so he wasn't sure what had happened. I finally cornered the teacher to set up a meeting time with me to specifically talk my concerns that maybe John was bullying Samuel.

Her responses to me: "I haven't seen anything, so it didn't happen" "It's never happened to me before in all my years of teaching" "Do you really believe the word of a seven-year-old boy?" "Well, I think the class is bullying John, not the other way around."

She wouldn't take my concerns that my son was being HIT BY A CLASSMATE seriously. She wouldn't take my concerns that maybe my son was being bullied by a classmate seriously. And she blamed my son. When we finally met up with the administration, two and a half weeks after the initial physical hitting incident, we were told that we could only discuss things moving forward, and we couldn't discuss anything that happened in the past.

To say that I was livid would be an understatement. The cherry on top of the under-responsive teacher and school administration sundae was that my son came home the day of our meeting to tell me that John had hit him again on the playground.

After calling the Vice Principal again, we had an action plan in place. But, I had to really advocate for my child, since his first line of defense, his teacher who should have been protecting him, would not believe him. She even marked him down on his report card, stating that my son had social issues and did not accept others' behaviors (because he would not get along with his bully in his classroom - even though he got along with everyone else, and was even chose as ASB representative for his grade).

The action plan we finally got in place for my son was this: my son and John had weekly separate meetings with the Vice Principal starting in October, and lasting through April. All adults in charge were made aware of the situation, and knew to at least acknowledge my son when he came up with them to tell them of John's behavior (a simple, "I hear your words" was all we were requesting from them). His teacher, parent volunteers, the P.E./Music/Librarians/Spanish teacher all knew. My son also had a daily check in with his teacher to make sure that things were okay.

I also starting volunteering in his classroom weekly to keep an eye out on things. My husband started volunteering during recess whenever possible to also check on things. It took a lot of effort, and a lot of pushing from us as parents to have the school take us seriously that this was a problem. As a parent, it is a nightmare when your child is being bullied and no one at your child's school takes your seriously.

My advice is to be persistent and document everything (emails, phone calls; make a spreadsheet if you need to of actions taken, who you contacted, if there was any follow up). Make your voice heard, even if the administration thinks you are overboard. Make sure there is an action plan in place for future incidents, and that EVERYONE knows it - playground supervisors, even substitute ones. Parent volunteers in the classroom. Teachers. Vice Principals. Everyone should know.

Changes can be as simple as making sure your child and their bully are not sitting at the same table group in a classroom. If the school doesn't take you seriously, check with your school district website. I found out that our school district actually had something called a Bullying Advocate for parents/students. This was a third person liason that would work with parents with resources, and give us ideas on how to approach the administration better. At the end of the day, you are the best advocate you have for your child, and you know what is right for them.

 




 

2 comments:

  1. Wow--shocking that the teacher and school were so radically unsupportive! And what about parents who don't have the means to take time out of their day to be present at school with their kids if something is going on? Scary thought. :(

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  2. This is why the answer is NOT just "teach your kids to stick up for themselves." If our kids are ignored, it just continues. I'm fortunate because when my daughter told her teacher about some "bullies" who tried to get her off the swings, her teacher believed her.

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