A Bullied Child
A tear-stained face, eyes glaring, lips tight after exiting the bus at the end of the day. “What happened?”
“Nothing” is the terse, obviously false reply.
My heart as a mother clenches, my mind begins cycling through possibilities. Finally, the younger sibling chirps, “The other boys took his ball.”
“Yeah, and they were kicking me.”
After a few minutes of strategic, patient questioning the story emerges. The group of boys on the playground had ganged up on him again. In an effort to take the ball he was playing with he had ended up on the ground, clenched around the ball while the boys tried to kick it out of his grasp, inadvertently kicking him as well in the process.
My inner monologue begins, “What should I do? If it happens again I’ll call the school.”
Until then I try to smooth his anger with a hug and soft words. I talk with him about how to be friends, how to share, explaining social skills that he struggles with. I worry that his subsequent stomach aches and pleas to stay home from school are related.
Later he is sent to the principal’s office for kicking another student. The story at home is that he was fighting back, protecting himself. His younger siblings bear the brunt of his frustration. They are in tears because their beloved older brother is yelling at them, verbally abusing them, acting out from his sense of powerlessness. Now I’m worried about long term, will depression take over? I am constantly assessing him silently, does he seem angrier than usual, is his anxiety getting worse, what can I do to help? Will it get better or worse as he ages, will he make the right choices, will he learn to cope? How will this affect his younger siblings?
As a teacher, I’ve had to play referee and take action against the malicious comments made within my hearing. I have been exhausted trying to teach social skills, in addition to the content. I’ve lost class time to students too emotionally flooded to pay attention, much less learn.
It is a powerless feeling for the children, their parents, and even the school faculty. It is an emotionally charged subject. Children can fall into depression, substance abuse and other self-destructive habits if they can’t cope. A child’s pain is a parent’s pain and those in pain often lash out. The teachers and administrators at the school often bear the brunt of this frustration, and in turn they can feel attacked. The ultimate question is, “What is the most effective way to handle this situation to prevent lasting damage to our babies?”
According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, 1 in 5 children reports being bullied, but bullying rates vary considerably from one school to another. A child is twice as likely to consider suicide due to bullying, but the idea that suicide is a natural response to bullying is a false. Children that have disabilities, have been diagnosed with autism, are LGBQT, or of color experience a higher rate of bullying.
The Solutions, As A Teacher:
Address bullying the way you would any other discipline issue. Move the students away from each other. Talk to them individually after class. Contact the parents, principals, and counselors if the behavior continues. Do not accept it as part of your class culture. Statistics show that half of the bullying issues stop when peers intervene, and implementing a bullying prevention program decreases bullying by 25%. Model appropriate behavior while working in groups and reinforce those behaviors. Encourage collaboration, and using kind, encouraging words. Don’t be a bully yourself, manipulating the students as one with power over them.
According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, students reported that the best way for teachers to handle the issue was to listen to the student and follow up to ensure the behavior had stopped. The worst way to handle it was to ignore it or tell the student to handle it themselves. As a teacher you cannot legally or ethically ignore it.
The Solutions, As a Parent:
As a parent, don’t put all the blame on the school or child’s teachers. A teacher cannot monitor their students’ social sites, hear every side conversation in a crowded hallway during passing periods, or go into the bathrooms with them. These are the places where bullying most often occurs, not in the classroom within earshot of the teacher.
My child who was bullied, is now often the bully. He had to create a tough shell, and he bullies those younger than himself to balance the power he feels that he has lost. Bullying is as much, if not more, psychological than physical. This is where it needs to be addressed by parents- meeting the psychological needs and salving the psychological wounds. Give them positive attention. Talk to your children. Talk to them about hypothetical situations if they won’t talk about their personal ones. Tell them stories about growing up yourself and how you felt when certain things happened, how you handled them, how you wish you had handled them. Help them recognize and appreciate what is special about themselves. Coach them about how to handle situations and to consider perspectives other than their own. Often when they realize that a bully is acting out of a place of pain it helps them understand not to take it so personally, if they are on the receiving end, and to find better ways to deal with their pain if they are on the giving end. Coping mechanisms for how to handle stress and situations where they feel at the mercy of someone else is a skill that will be used as adults, too. Bullying is not confined to the school yard.
As parents we cannot always control the bullying, but we can address the mental coping skills and mental illness, if that’s a factor. If you don’t feel that you can adequately address your child’s needs, take them to a counselor. If necessary, remove them from the situation.
Bullying is a cycle. To break the cycle as teachers we must listen, empathize, set boundaries, and coach social skills. As parents, we should advocate for our children and teach them to understand and believe that everyone, including themselves, is special and worthy of love. These are core values that will save our children and end the bullying cycle.