Bullying seems to be a constant topic among middle and high school students. Sadly, elementary school bullying is also a problem. Despite it being a “mature” topic, I feel it is important to have an open dialogue about bullying with young children. Listed below are some discussion topics to enhance your child’s ability to deal with this issue.
Children need to be clear about what a bully is versus being impolite. As a teacher, if I had a dollar for every student that said “Johnny is bullying me!” or “Jennifer is being a bully!” I would be drinking a lot more Starbucks coffees these days. Elementary school bullying is the same as bullying at higher ages, the only difference is that the children are younger. Children are taught about bullying in school, but they may not understand the significance of a peer taking their eraser compared to being called mean names day in and day out. The difference between a misunderstanding and bullying is the power and intimidation that is involved. If a child is made to feel singled out, fearful, or is physically hurt, then they are being bullied. A way to explain the difference between bullying and misunderstandings is that if an issue arises between students and is a one-time ordeal, then it is probably a misunderstanding that should be handled amongst themselves or with the assistance of their teacher. On the contrary, a daily or reoccurring issue between the same students, in which one student is scared, is a bullying issue.
Children may understand what bullying is, but they need to know that you will understand. The first step, having a “bully” conversation with your child, will open the line of communication so if there is a problem, they will know that they can talk to you. Get to know your child’s classmate’s names. Ask your child who they hang out with, any class news, and if anyone was unfair to them. You know your child, so look for signs of discomfort, nervousness, or avoidance when talking about school. Make sure they know that you’re interested in the good and bad news in their lives. By demonstrating care and concern about their day, your child will likely tell you if a problem arises in their school lives. A great book to read together, even as young as preschool age, is the book One by Kathryn Otoshi. It tells a tale of bullying by using colors and numbers. As simple as it sounds, I have seen this book dissected with deep insight by kids in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Children, and parents, need to know how to deal with a bullying issue. Below is a list of steps for children and parents to take to help stop bullying.
Steps for a child to take:
- Tell an adult right away if someone makes you afraid or hurt. If they don’t tell the adult that is present, the chances are the next adult will have a hard time taking action since they weren’t present or a witness to the issue.
- DO NOT go near the “bully”. Bullies will seek out victims, so tell your child to avoid them to avoid further conflict.
- Write down/draw what happened. Having a written statement will help teachers or parents deal with the situation by using facts. If students are not able to write, students can draw a picture and an adult can write their description.
Steps for a parent to take:
- Be visual to teachers and administrators. If there is clear evidence that your child is being bullied, go to the school for meetings instead of phone calls.
- Save any documents and take notes at meetings. If there are emails exchanged, print them. If there are voicemails left, keep a log and write down their contents. Keep a file as proof of what is happening and what is (or isn’t) being done to solve the problem.
- Be wary of dealing with the other parents directly. You want a witness with any interactions or agreements concerning bullying issues with your child.
Addressing this issue may be slightly different if you are parenting a highly sensitive child. Here are some ways to address problems with this type of child.