Switching to “back to school” mode, as we all know is daunting at best. Attempting to get your child off of their summer schedule along with shopping for school supplies, clothing, lunchboxes, backpacks, etc. are challenging and time consuming endeavors. Not to mention the encouragement, expectations and upcoming reinforcement discussions regarding homework scheduling, bedtime rules, computer time and phone privileges which can truly push you to your limit.
An important but often overlooked part of “back to school” discussions should incorporate speaking with your child about bullying. Discussing with your child how they treat and how they are treated by peers both off and on the school grounds, at sporting events and yes, even when they are on the computer is essential. This is one of the most important discussions you could have with your child, not only at the beginning of each school year, but throughout the year. Bullying is a topic that is often overlooked, but an event that inevitably happens grade after grade, year after year. According to the National Education Association, nearly 160,000 children miss school each day because they fear bullying.
Your child should have his senses tuned into bullying. Most schools now have bullying awareness programs. However, you are the key in preparing your child to navigate the world safely. YOU are your child’s best protection when it comes to the internet.
Keeping an open line of communication with your child makes it easy to start discussions about internet safety. This is extremely important, especially in the event that your child becomes a target. Many times, kids are embarrassed about being bullied and may not tell their parents or another adult right away. They often fear retaliation, not being believed or consequences. If your child comes to you and asks for help, take it seriously. If kids aren’t taken seriously the first time they ask for help, they usually don’t ask again. Spend time with you child teaching him how to use technology responsibly. With cyber bullying on the rise, your child is constantly exposed to bullying be it as a victim or a bystander.
Discussions with your child should include asking him if he has ever seen a child being mistreated by another child. This includes seeing a specific child isolated from the rest of the children, being pointed out as “different”, or being made fun of for his clothing, appearance, possessions or even some type of disability. Ask your child what his reaction would be or has been when witnessing a peer being bullied. Point out that even if he is not doing the bullying, he becomes a part of the bullying by laughing or going along with the crowd that observes quietly but does nothing to stop the episode.
Many times kids are unclear about what to do when they witness bullying. They may be fearful of becoming the next victim. Suggest to your child that there are ways he can help without putting himself in danger. He can discreetly seek out a trusted adult during the episode that will help diffuse the situation. Something as seemingly minor as speaking kindly to the victim afterwards lets the targeted child know he is not alone. This simple act will be greatly appreciated by the victim. Developing empathy is paramount in reducing bullying. Encourage your child to cultivate friendships in different social groups in and out of school. Don’t ever encourage your child to fight. This could result in him getting hurt, legal problems or beginning a path that leads to even more difficulties.
A confident child is not likely to be bullied. Children who bully generally pick on someone who gives the impression of being defenseless. Teach your child to be assertive but not aggressive. Self assurance, whether genuine or not, can be conveyed by walking upright, looking people in the eye, and speaking clearly. If your child is targeted, one of the most important reinforcements you can give is to repeatedly tell him that it is not his fault and reassure him that you will do your best to protect him and end the bullying. Let your child know that school employees are there to help. Not feeling alone ingrains strength. Communicate to him that groups, cliques and social dynamics always change. The “popular” kids do not necessarily remain at the top of the heap forever. This fact will offer your child hope and encouragement.
Ignoring the situation can be your child’s first defense, but he must be prepared if this does not work. Avoiding hot spots and situations, such as not sitting near the child who is doing the bullying, or perhaps taking a different walking route to school, might diffuse the situation. Your child should never try to retaliate, as this usually escalates the situation.
As a parent of a bullied child you must get all of the facts. Question your child about how, when and where the bullying started and document it. Leave “why” out of the conversation. This is something your child does not know, and it is more productive to keep the focus on a solution rather than the cause. Children who bully don’t need a cause, they just need a victim. Inquire as to what other children were present, what they did to encourage or discourage the bullying, if any adults were present and what they did.
Once you get as much information as possible work with the school. Don’t jump to conclusions that the faculty at your child’s school is not willing help. Give them a chance .Take the information you have and bring it to your child’s school principal or assistant principal. The more information you have the better. Although school officials are not allowed to discuss what disciplinary actions will be taken against another child (or children) most states require schools to have an anti bullying policy and protocol. It is your child’s right to be safe on school grounds at all times. Work with the school official to formulate a plan that will ensure your child feels protected and secure. Set a time to review the plan and see if it is working.
Bullying was not an issue addressed when most of us were children. Today it is being focused on throughout the country. Forty three states have passed anti bullying legislation, many of which include cyber bullying.
Raising awareness, education, concerned educators, positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior and family and community involvement are the steps necessary to eradicate this problem. Bullying is a crime. Do not allow your child to be the victim.