The time to go back to school is full of excitement and for some, anxiety. Across the country this year more than two million students who are the victims of bullying will return to school. They will likely have to face the bully, many of them without adequate communication and coping skills.
Parents who have had a child experience bullying at school in the past know of the confusion, hurt, fear, and misunderstandings that their child feels in each instance of school bullying. And if your child hasn’t experienced bullying yet, you may want to consider your child lucky: one in four students reported being bullied in 2015, according to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics. Of those bullied, more than half reported that it occurred in the classroom or in the hallway.
Bullying happens in every school and the United States Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services provides ample resources for parents, children, and schools on their websites. By approaching bullying before the school year starts, parents can send their kids into the classroom to learn with more confidence and a little less worry.
Before the school year begins
Before the school year kicks off, talk to your child about bullying. Help your child learn to identify what bullying looks like at school. Find out what the school’s anti-bullying policy is and review it with your child. Most of the policies are available online. If it’s not, don’t wait until your child is bullied to call and ask about it. Reviewing the policy early in the school year will help your child be better prepared for when it arises.
The Three B’s of bullying
When you talk to your child about bullying, it might be helpful to remember the three B’s. If your child feels threatened or bullied, remind them to breathe, back-up, and find a by-stander. It’s a simple and helpful way to remind your child to remain calm, disengage from any harassing behavior, and find a peer beside them who can help your child find the courage and voice to speak up about the issue to a teacher.
Once the school year begins
Once the school year begins, the Department of Education says to check in with your child every day and spend about 15 minutes talking with your child about what they experienced that day at school.
If (and when) bullying occurs
If (and when) your child comes home and tells you something bad happened at school, stay calm. It’s best not to react with a statement like, ‘What did you do wrong?’ Because your child does not want you to feel disappointed in them, reassure your child that it is not their fault that they were the victim of bullying. Give your child an opportunity to sit down with you one-on-one and ask them to tell you what happened.
Bullying takes many forms, from verbal language insults to physical violence. Bullying can also be in the psychology of behavior, for example when a bully excludes a child from an activity intentionally but invites all of that child’s peers to participate in the activity.
Write down the names of the children involved, where the bullying occurred, the date, and any details your child feels are significant to the incident. The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends keeping a written record of all bullying instances your child reports to you.
Help your child understand the bully
If your child is the victim of bullying, or if your child is the bully, gently remind them that their behavior is wrong and explain why.
People hurt other people because they feel bad on the inside. People don’t always know that they feel bad on the inside. People don’t always know when they hurt other people. And feeling bad on the inside could mean that something bad is happening at home and they are bringing the bad feelings to school with them.
Remind your child that the person hurting them loses all power when your child walks away from the situation. The more your child remains engaged with the bully, the more power the bully has to lead your child into trouble. Remind your child that they are a strong leader. They do not have follow the bully.
What to say to the teacher
Talk to the teacher, but remember to be friendly as you approach the situation. Teachers also don’t want to see bullying in their classrooms. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends asking the teacher questions like, have you noticed any unusual behavior in my child? Is my child being excluded from activities and play groups?
Ask your child’s teacher how they mediate bullying in the classroom and how they promote peace in the classroom. If they don’t mediate and they don’t promote peace, ask to set-up a meeting to discuss why.
Some Montessori schools have a peace table in the classroom. This is a dainty child-sized table with two chairs used exclusively for conflict resolution. It gives the children a space to talk about what happened, and reflect on their actions, allowing the children resolve the conflict peacefully rather than ignoring it until it brews up again. This method for promoting mediation and peace might be something you can suggest to your child’s teacher if bullying is a continuous problem in the classroom.
Empower the children
Don’t call a child a bully. Instead, say something like, ‘We want you to be healthy and strong. It can mean that someone is unhealthy when they hurt themselves or others. How can we help you succeed?’
Kids go to school to learn. They are not fixed into permanent states of being. Their behavior is capable of changing, adapting, and growing. Sometimes children do not learn basic skills at home and they show up to school feeling inadequate to their peers.They might need help, but they never learned the communication skills to be able to ask for help. Thus, the bullying behavior is the result or dis-empowerment.
Your child can disengage from someone who is being hurtful simply by saying, ‘I am sorry you feel that way,’ and walking away. A peaceful discussion can happen, but the child being hurt needs to find an advocate nearby who can help facilitate and support healthy discussion of the situation.
Focus on strengths
Be careful not to imprint the bully identity onto children who engage in bullying behavior. Those children need to be brought into the light. The bully does not understand what it means to be a bully, or they wouldn’t be doing it. Empower a child to fully understand that their behavior hurts themselves as well as others. Help a child who feels dis-empowered to see themselves in a fresh perspective by asking, ‘Who do you want to be when you grow up?’ Continue to reinforce healthy behavior by focusing on the child’s strengths and not their weaknesses.
Give your child an outlet
Remember to give your child a creative and active outlet to diffuse feelings associated with bullying so that those feelings don’t become internalized. Whether it be drawing pictures, painting, or coloring, visual art is a powerful therapy that children can do on their own time. Sports, 4-H, and other group activities can give your child a place to turn to and focus their energy. Many times these activities can help a child to transform hurt feelings into beautiful accomplishments.
It might be necessary to invite your child to visit a psychologist. Your child might be wary of meeting someone new at first, but communicating with a child psychologist that the family trusts can help them to have an additional outlet with understanding bullying behavior, and make the family feel more supported.
Parents and teachers cannot solve the problem of bullying in the school systems because each child has a different reason, and a different set of circumstances, for bullying another child. Remain optimistic and show your child how to move forward with a positive perspective on bullying by working together to resolve problems related to bullying.
Continue to resolve conflicts and move forward in creating a healthy, balanced, and peaceful environment for children to learn in at the school. Make it a priority to address bullying when it first arises. If left unchecked, bullying can lead to suicide, depression, and various other disorders. It’s best to step in now and prepare children for the start of the school year.
Reach Ashley at the Record-Herald or on Twitter @ashbunton