Bullying is a part of any school environment. The best we can do as parents is teach our children how to handle themselves when inevitable bullying situations arise. I remember the first time my oldest son, then in kindergarten, made his first remarks to me about a boy in his class that had said some mean things. My initial reaction was to rescue and protect him. I wanted to eliminate any possible threat to his self-worth by reassuring him that the bully was wrong. I did this a couple times and it didn’t seem to have much of an impact. My words did little to cancel out the weight of what the boy-with-a-mean-streak was saying to my son. I knew I had to take a different approach.
The good thing is that in recent years there is open dialogue about bullying at school and often curriculum that addresses this important issue. However, bullying is more pervasive with the ever-expanding sphere of social media. Social media is an entirely new arena where our children can come under attack. Since we aren’t able to control what’s ‘out there’ in terms of on the playground and on the internet, we have to turn our focus on how to empower our children from the inside out.
It’s hard for children to understand the ebb and flow of life. When they are under attack, it can seem like there is no end in sight. We have to remind them that all things, good and bad, are temporary. Circumstances change over time and the situation they are in will eventually change, too. It can also help if we change our perspective about being bullied. It can actually make our kids stronger, more resilient and grow their reserves of compassion. Looking back over my eighth grade year of middle school, I only had one female friend who would talk to me for a period of several months. The other girls didn’t speak to me as I had been labeled an outcast for whatever passing reason that seemed so important at the time. Yes, it was a lonely and confusing time for me. I shed many tears and had many days I would have rather gone anywhere than back to my school. Eventually, I was deemed ‘ok’ to talk to again, but I was forever shifted inside. I learned what a real friend was, as demonstrated by the one brave girl who would still eat lunch with me, and I learned what it meant to feel powerless giving me a new empathy for others who were bullied, too. From that point on I never fully fit in the complicated social hierarchy of school, but I did get to know some interesting and unique ‘outsiders’ that I would have otherwise missed.
As a parent, I continue to empower my boys to fend for themselves. One of my favorite books to help with this is a picture book called “Simon’s Hook: A Story about Teases and Put-Downs” by Karen Gedig Burnett. This book will help you start a discussion with your child on ways they can take action on their own terms if they are faced with a bully. It has been a wonderful resource for our family and we still fall back on the strategies outlined in this book to this day. Even armed with these coping techniques my boys will be vulnerable to attack and hurt feelings, but hopefully, in the long run, this will only make them more remarkable than they already are.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent
Gedig-Burnett, K. (illustrated by Barrows, L.) Simon’s Hook: A Story about Teases and Put-Downs. 1999 Felton, CA. GR Publishing.