Inside: There are many different kinds of bullying, and it all needs to end. You can help stop bullying in schools and on playgrounds with this one simple solution you can teach your kids today.
My fourth grade daughter has been bringing home more than just homework and art projects from school. She’s coming home with stories about being teased and about being bullied.
Now I’ve been a mom for a -gulp- decade now and I remember the early days of being up all night trying desperately to breastfeed or calm infants with high fevers. I survived sleep training, potty training, and the never ending toddler tantrums. I naively thought that I was in the toughest parenting moments I would ever face. I thought it couldn’t possibly get any harder than this.
And then the universe laughed at me. Because my infants and toddlers grew up into actual people who have to interact with other actual people. Mean people.
And we’ve now come face to face with real life bullies.
Kids who I unapologetically call a**holes. They get the adult sized language because they’re specifically ganging up on my kid. Simply because she’s an easy target. She’s new to the school. And she has a disability.
This isn’t just cruel teasing.
“Your shoes are babyish. Your glasses are ugly. You’re ugly.” We’ve taught her to let those comments roll off. People say nasty things and you get to decide how you’re going to react to it. You can choose sadness or anger or indifference. If you love your glasses and your Hello Kitty shoes, who really cares what they think?
But bullying is different. It’s consistent. It’s repetitive. It’s pre-meditated and malicious. It’s often being ganged up on and outnumbered and it has to stop. Now.
Here’s what we know about bullies. They suck. They pick out kids who are different. They go for the easy target because it’s, well, easy. Several national studies have shown that our kids with special needs are two to three times as likely to be bullied than kids without disabilities. And that’s unacceptable.
Bullies get a kick out of others’ discomfort. They cause years of emotional damage. And they can cause real physical damage—either by their own hands or when the child being bullied feels so unsafe they harm themselves.
And it has been proven that most bullies have usually been bullied themselves at home by a parent or by an older sibling. So I almost feel sorry for bullies. Almost.
But none of it matters when it’s your kid being bullied.
Because hearing my daughter’s stories, picturing her at school having these things done to her makes me feel absolutely sick to my stomach. My whole body aches at the mere thought of her pain. And I want to hit something. Or someone.
Because under all of my anger is actually fear.
Fear that this is causing her even more damage than we realize. What, if anything, is she not telling me? What am I missing? How is she really? Is she coping in a healthy way?
News reports of the eight-year old Ohio boy being bullied and then committing suicide keep me up at night. Who’s next? What kiddo in my neighborhood needs real help and we’re all missing the signs? Is it my daughter?
So we ask our daughter questions about her day: Who did you sit with at lunch? Who did you play with? Did anyone say or do anything today that hurt you?
And we tell our daughter repetitively: We’re here for you. You can tell us anything. We will always help you. You are loved.
Of course we’ve talked to her teacher. We’ve had conferences. We’ve documented everything. We encourage our daughter to stick with friends or friendly people at recess and lunch. We’ve enlisted the help of her classmates by way of reaching out to other parents. We’ve rolled it up to the administration. We’ve asked PE coaches and lunch ladies to be on the look out. Her Girl Scout sisters know to come to her aid if they see things the teachers don’t. And we’ve enrolled our daughter in karate to increase her confidence.
And incidentally, although it clearly doesn’t matter, we’re at one of the “good” schools: an upper middle class, suburban, award winning school with Character Counts posters hanging in every hallway. We moved to this town specifically for their amazing schools.
But this sh*t still happens here. Because it happens everywhere.
The one thing that gives me hope is something a new friend shared with me. In talking with her son who was witnessing my daughter being bullied, she now teaches him that he cannot be a bystander.
She told him that not bullying someone isn’t enough.
He has to actively stop it. If he sees something, he has to say something. To an adult later, sure. But more importantly, right at that moment, to the bully. He has to be the one to step in.
It was a lightbulb moment.
We have to explicitly and actively teach our kids to not be bystanders. To not be passive observers during someone else’s Worst Moment. To do more than just not participate in the bullying.
We have to give our kids the words they’ll need so they can be an ally when—not if—the time comes. And we need to practice with them:
You can’t say that to them.
I won’t let you hurt them.
You can’t treat my friend like that.
And just like that, the bully no longer has all the power. Because now the person being targeted knows they’re not alone. They’re literally and figuratively not in this by themselves. They’ve got a friend and they’ve got backup. Someone who will stand with them and for them. And it only takes One person to take a stand.
And that can make all the difference in the world to someone being bullied.
I know it has for my daughter.
And hopefully, until we can finally put an end to bullying everywhere, that’ll be enough.
Has your child ever been bullied?
What have you done to help them?
Are you actively teaching your child at home what to do if they see another child get bullied?