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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ask a Teacher: What to Do About Bullies?

Now that school is back in full swing, you may be noticing some social problems you'd hoped you wouldn't have to deal with. Namely, bullying. Teacher Emilie Blanton from Teaching Ain't for Heroes gives advice on what parents can do about this common, but shitty, reality.

Bullying is a huge issue in schools. It's been an issue. It will continue to be an issue. Bullying will involve your child at some point in their lives. I get so many questions about bullying, I decided to tackle several of them at once. Bullying is persistent, aggressive behavior that is meant to emotionally or physically harm another individual. Bullying takes on many forms, from passive aggressive insults to outright physical assaults. All forms are serious and dangerous and need to be stopped.

How do I keep my child from being bullied?

Unless you lock them in a bubble, there's no way to shield your child from bullies. Even if you homeschool your child, there's the park, birthday parties and the eventual real adult world filled with bullies to deal with. Someone is going to attempt to bully your child at some point. Bully-proofing your child is important. Building up your child's confidence is the first step. Give them a happy, safe home to come to. Encourage them to advocate for themselves. Teach them the difference between tattling and advocating. Be there for them. If their attempts to stand up for themselves fail, be there to back them up. Realize that sometimes they have to fight their own battles and always be an open, caring person for them to talk to. You can't protect them from everything, but you can give them tools to help keep them happier.

Help! My child is being bullied!

Again, teach your child to advocate. Approach the teacher first and let them know what you know. Be as specific as possible. "Little Johnny is making my daughter uncomfortable. He pokes her and pulls her hair. It needs to stop." Don't vaguely state that Little Johnny is bullying your child, say what exactly is going on. The more specific you can be, the better. This part is important. Not all teachers will take action. Make sure you are recording when you talked to the teacher and what was said. Email is perfect for this. If the bullying is still going on, move a level up and seek out a counselor or administrator. The next step after that is the school board. Record everything and be as specific as possible.

Remain calm as you talk to each person. It is hard. Your child is being targeted and it feels horrible. Be firm. Be confident. Hold your head up and demand respect for your child's well being. Screaming and yelling won't get anything done faster, but that might be what you want to do. It's okay to have a strong reaction to your child being targeted. Staying calm will help you remember everything you want to say. If you need to, when speaking to someone in person, bring notes or index cards with important information. There's nothing wrong with having reminders to help you. I go into meetings with notes and you can, too. If you get flustered, take a moment, breathe and begin again. Your child deserves to feel safe and it's okay if you need to take a little longer than intended to ensure that safety.

I've failed. My child is a bully.

You haven't failed. Not all bullies are budding sociopaths bent on tyranny and extra milk money. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, from all types of families. Your child stumbled while learning to walk. They're going to stumble while learning to be a decent human being. Haven't we all?

If you are contacted about your child being a bully, don't go on the defensive. It's okay to be concerned. It's not okay to try to explain it away. Regardless of the reason your child may be bullying others, it does need to stop. If you explain it away to the teacher or administrator, you might start explaining it away to your child and they'll think the behavior is okay. Talk to your child. Impress upon them the importance of empathy. Remind them what it feels like when others are mean to them. Break out that old phrase "treat others as you'd want to be treated!" Just don't brush it off. Don't say "Well, kids will be kids." Yes, kids will be kids, but it is on us to make sure that they grow and develop into decent human beings capable of love and compassion.

The other parents are bullying me!

They probably are. I know people say that middle school is when bullying is the worst, but I'd posit adults are the worst bullies. There are mommy bullies, work bullies, frenemies and more. Hold your head up. Don't get sucked into the drama. It's hard to resist. I know. I've been there. Be a positive example to your child about how one deals with bullies. Be confident and avoid the people who cause the worst stress.


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