Back when she was in 1st grade, Sam came down to breakfast that morning a little bit later than usual – I had been chasing her while preparing a pancake which she usually loved as a special treat. ”Come on Sam, the bus will be here in 10 minutes and you haven’t had breakfast”. She finally walked up, looking less than excited about going to school and said “Mom, can you take me to school this morning?”.
This was unusual on many levels and I was actually so pressed for time I did not really listen to the way she was sharing her request with me, so I said: “No Sam, I don’t have time to take you this morning and you always take the bus, now hurry up, sweets!”
As she walked out the door, her face went pale at the sound of the bus pulling in just in front of our driveway. She appeared unsettled and anxious – two emotions I had never associated with my 6 year-old….. but I shook my head and decided to send her teacher an email to check in with her. As it turned out, a 6th grader had been harassing her on the bus, going through her backpack and making fun of her 1st grade homework. This had been going on for 2 days and I did not notice it. So after the rage subsided I felt mostly guilt at having missed the OBVIOUS cues of her situation.
Most of us as parents share the desire to protect our kids and yet in the end, a true measure of parental success has more to do with how we enable them to make good decisions.
So here are five tips learned along the way with grateful appreciation for the advice of Dr. Joel Haber who’s a nationally recognized author and speaker on the subject of anti-bullying.
Tip 1: Listen and Observe. Sounds super simple right? But with the hustle-bustle of everyday life it is not hard to miss some of your child’s cues. If she’s anxious, upset for no reason, withdrawn, irritable – don’t wait – step in any way you know how and insure she feels SAFE to tell you what’s going on. So ideally leave the: “I’m going to march into school and tell that kid to stop!” is not going to work in getting your child to open up.
TIP 2: More Groups of Friends. If your daughter has one group of friends then it’s only a matter of time before she’ll be in the outs with them for one reason or another. Make sure she has many different groups to go to when things get tense with one. Her soccer, dance, camp and drama club buddies will all provide her with social self esteem she needs to navigate a rough patch.
TIP 3: Talk to Other Parents. Granted, many of these people are not your friends, but they are the parents of your child’s friends and as such, they will have a strong influence in the decisions and influence they all have on each other. I call this the Code of the Circle. Holding a parent forum at your home will allow for a discussion on the issue among adults that can be productive and provide everyone with the opportunity to share experiences and tools useful to all.
Tip 4: Lean on Your School. Some Principals are better than others but they ALL have a responsibility to act to protect your child from bullies. So if you know your child is being bullied, do not stop pressuring the school to help, to equip your child with tools to protect herself, to empower peer mediation and to raise awareness of zero tolerance policies. Only then will your child feel safe to stand up in school. If you have exhausted that avenue, then consider your options and discuss your case with the authorities.
Tip 5: Discuss the Power of the Bystander. Most bullies are seeking attention. When a bystander says: “That’s not cool, why don’t you just knock it off and leave him alone?” in a safe environment, the abuse will stop since it’s neither interesting nor garnering spectators. Empower your child to step in when he doesn’t feel threatened himself. Clearly you don’t want your bystander child stepping in when there’s physical abuse or violence, but 9 times out of 10, the bystander can wield enormous influence stopping this behavior and supporting victims.
And as a parent, don’t forget to lead by example. We can no longer tolerate abuse in the name of “it’s none of my business” and walk away. Bullying prevention is everyone’s business.
What do you think? I love people that agree with me, but we learn mostly from those of you who may not or who may have a different experience. Please share with us here?