Cornered against the brick wall, I didn’t expect what was coming. His fist hovered above me and then came in for the punch. I felt the wind rush from my lungs as I doubled over in pain. He was almost twice my age and down right mean. I hadn’t meant to hit his brother with the plastic golf club. We were all just playing in the yard, having fun. His brother wasn’t even hurt, but it didn’t matter. He wanted a victim. He wanted a punching bag. He didn’t care that he was twice the size of my tiny seven-year old frame. He had been waiting for the opportunity to bully, and unknowingly I had given him the perfect chance.
Almost 25 years later, I still remember this incident vividly. My sister ran to my rescue but didn’t get there in time to prevent the stomach punch. Physical assault was a foreign concept to me. I was usually well liked in school and had a lot of friends. I wasn’t sure how to react to this scary and intimidating incident. As my older sister walked me home I begged her not to tell our mother. For some reason, I was embarrassed. I also didn’t want to make things worse. I didn’t want the boy to get in trouble because I was worried that he would hunt me down and do more than just knock the wind out of me. She firmly told me that we had to tell mom to make sure that it didn’t happen again.
Unfortunately, bullying continues to be a prevalent issue in our children’s schools and in our own neighborhoods. It is such a significant problem, that over 160,000 US students stay home each school day due to a fear of being bullied according to The American Academy of Pediatrics. As our kids get ready to step back on the school buses this fall, it’s important that we take the time to educate ourselves and our children on bullying, how to prevent it, and how to deal with it when it happens. Signs and symptoms of bullying may not always be obvious. Some things to look for include poor attention while at school, refusal to go to school, frequent physical complaints such as stomachaches and headaches, a decline in grades, and poor self-esteem.
Here are four helpful suggestions from the National Stop Bullying campaign on ways to address bullying this school year:
1. Help your Kids Understand Bullying
Helping your kids understand what bullying is and that it is never okay is a great starting place. Teach your kids ways to stand up for themselves, and encourage them to stand up for others.
Ways a child can stand up for himself:
1. Look at the bully and clearly but calmly tell him to STOP
2. Laugh it off and make it into a joke-this may catch the bully off guard
3. If you don’t feel safe with these options, walk away and find an adult and tell them the situation
4. Don’t fight. Instead, walk away and find an adult.
2. Open up Communication with your Kids
Take the time to talk with your kids about their day at school. Spending just 15 minutes in direct, uninterrupted conversation with your child each day will help them know that you are someone to trust with a problem. Asking about bullying directly can be very effective. Specifically ask them if they are having any problems with other children. Take the time to listen to what they are saying. If they say that they don’t like another child, this may be a red flag that the child is actually bullying them. Getting to know their friends may also be a helpful way to hear about their school experiences.
A few ways to start a conversation with your child:
1. Tell me one good thing that happened at school today. Did anything bad happen?
2. What is it like to ride on the school bus? Do you have anyone that you usually sit with?
3. Tell me about lunchtime and recess? Who do you play with or eat with? What do you like to talk about during lunch?
4. Do you think anyone at your school is a bully? Does he/she bully any of your friends?
3. Encourage Your Kids to Do the Things that They Enjoy
By encouraging your kids to do the things that they love, they will build confidence and develop friendships with children with similar interests. Both confidence and friendships are protective against bullying.
4. Model Kind and Respectful Behavior for your Children
Parents can help prevent bullying by modeling kind and appropriate behaviors. Children look to their parents and will model the behavior that they see. By calmly dealing with conflict in a non-hostile and non-physical manner, parents can be anti-bullying role models.
Bullying is a complex issue, but taking steps to identify it, to educate our kids on ways to address it, and to partner with programs to prevent it, can ensure that our kids are able to focus on the important things this school year…being kids, having fun, and getting a great education. For more insight on bullying, check out these webpages.
From The Mom in Me, MD