In the halls of your children’s schools, on the playground, in the cafeteria and classroom, bullies lurk like sharks. As parents, we want what is best for our children. If you are like me, you will do anything and everything within your power to make sure they get it. School is a sort of paradox in that regard. On the one hand, getting a good education is a fundamental need. There is no way around the fact that your children need to go to school, and that it is what is best for them. Once they are within the walls of their place of learning, however, there is little you can do to make sure they are being taken care of. While there is unfortunately no way to make the outside world treat your child with the same love and respect that you do, there are ways to involve yourself when a situation does arise. If you are the parent of a child suffering the torments of a bully, these are some steps that you can take to ensure the situation is handled appropriately.
The first thing you can do is make sure you are noticing the signs. While your child may come directly to you when they are having problems in their personal lives, often, the information is something that you will have to uncover on your own. If your child is being bullied at school, it may manifest itself in some of the following ways.
- A change in eating habits. Your child’s eating habits could change for a number of reasons as a result of bullying. You might notice that they are eating more at home, either as a comfort mechanism, or as a means of making up for meals lost at school. While the bully taking a classmates milk money is something of a cliché, it is not without representation in the real world. But beyond that, the cafeteria is an open space with limited supervision, in which an aggressor has more of an opportunity to harass their victim. A response to that hostile environment could be to avoid the lunch period altogether. I recall back in the day a number of kids spending lunch in the bathroom, or outside the school in order to avoid the high school food chain of the cafeteria.
It is also possible that your child will lose interest in their food. This could be a product of anxiety, depression, or self-esteem problems. Whatever the case, if you notice a significant change in your child’s eating habits, it may be time to have a conversation with them. While the issue might not be bullying, there is still a good chance that it is an indication of change in their lives that you will want to be aware of.
- Missing or damaged property. Bullies exorcise power over their victims through a number of ways. Aggression could manifest itself verbally, physically, or by way of theft or vandalization of personal property. If you notice that your child has ‘lost’ some of their personal affects, it is possible that this could be the work of a bully. Remember, a key rule is that if you suspect even for a second that something is wrong in their personal life, it won’t hurt to try and get to the bottom of it. We will talk about how to do that tactfully a little bit later.
- Frequent Absences. Has your child been coming to you with fake illnesses? Realistically, they probably have been. I played that trick a number of times, and it was never with the intention of avoiding a bully. Just be mindful of the mood your child seems to be in, and whether or not an increase of absences seems to be consistent with their personality. If it isn’t, there could be a deeper issue at the heart of their truancy.
There are of course other signs to consider. Scrapes, cuts, and bruises are all fairly obvious symptoms of bullying. Insomnia, depression, and self harm are also signs that you will hopefully be able to pick up on. Remember, if you suspect that something is wrong, there is probably a reason for it. While you might feel slightly uncomfortable intruding on your child’s affairs, the truth of the matter is, that as their parent, it is your job to try and help them through even the problems that they don’t want to tell you about.
And why don’t they want to tell you?
That’s a good question, and one that you are probably asking yourself. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that even children who are close with their parents might not want to tell them about this particular problem in their lives. In fact, your close bond with your child might even be hindering their willingness to come forward with this issue. Why? As heartbreaking as it is to think, they are most likely embarrassed by their victimhood.
Growing up, I never really thought of myself as the victim of bullying. I had a relatively benign childhood, absent of most of the stereotypical tribulations that are known to add grief to the formative years. So no, I would not go so far as to say that I was bullied, but perhaps for a brief stretch of time, I was the victim of some light bullying.
The summer before the start of my high school career, I decided that I should take up a sport, I guess as a way of getting to know my classmates better. I don’t really know—as an adult the decision seems strange and out of character, but nevertheless that was what I did. While many of my peers went with the more celebrated sports of basketball, football, or baseball, I decided to take up something that would require neither pads, nor running. I really do despise athletics, so golf was the sport for me.
My time spent with the golf team, which would surprisingly stretch into four years, and have some very rewarding moments, is a story in its own right, but the takeaway from these very early days when I first picked up a club was that I wasn’t very good. Eventually, I earned what we will politely refer to here as, ‘the nickname’.
The language of this nickname was a little…colorful. We won’t litter this page with it, but understand that this was not an affectionate nickname, nor did it refer strictly to my lack of talent as a golfer. They would chant it as I walked by, on the bus, in the hallways at school, to the point that it was picked up by others not on the golf team. The coach even used it once, perhaps under the assumption that it was all fun and games.
This went on for the few months that a sport season lasts. Then, as fall began to transition to winter, the school had a sports banquet honoring the athletic achievements of the teams active from the months of August to November. I was actually being honored on an individual level as well, for having improved my game more than anyone else. I had worked hard for that, and was somewhat proud of it, as were my parents, but one thing that was abundantly clear was that we could not under any circumstances go to that banquet.
In my mind’s eye, I saw myself sitting at a table with my parents. In reality, I would probably be off at another part of the gymnasium with the rest of the team, but in fantasy, I was with my family so that the ensuing blow could become all the more impactful in light of the hour of proud smiles I had received from my mom and dad that proceeded it.
Eventually, the principal, who also served as the school’s athletic director, would call my name for most improved, and I would walk up to the front. Despite myself, I would wear a half smile, because even knowing what was to come, I was glad that my hard work paid off. My parents—they’re still beaming. They have no reason to know that they shouldn’t be. I approach the principal. He smiles, hands me the silly little certificate that will be bent before I can even get it home, and that is when the cheers start. Not joyous cheers. No, in fact jeers might be the better word. From one corner of the room, where the golf team sat, I would hear that vulgar nickname chanted by the half a dozen or so people who had started it. Then everyone would join in, and then they would laugh at me. I wouldn’t see the faces of the taunting masses, only my parents, whose smiles slowly transformed into frowns of sadness and confusion.
I faked sick that night, and we did not go to the banquet.
Your children may be hiding the fact that they are getting bullied from you because they think of it as protecting your feelings. Of course, as parents we know this to be the very opposite of the truth, but to them, it may feel as though they are sparing you the torments they experience daily. Also consider the fact that whatever their experience with bullies may be, they are facing it every day at school. When they come home to you, chances are they want to forget the troubles they are having from their classmates. While this response is understandable, it is also not sustainable. Children are in school for the first eighteen to twenty four years of their life. They cannot only be at peace on nights and weekends.
If you have observed the signs, and concluded that your child might be getting bullied, there are more steps you can take to resolve the issue.
Step 1: Collect the Facts: If you suspect that your child is getting bullied, start compiling the reasons behind your suspicion, either in your mind, or even better yet, on a list. Include everything that feels relevant, including things from the list mentioned earlier, like bruises, scrapes, suspicious absences, etc. This list will be useful both for your own purposes, and later on as further action is required.
Step 2: Talk to your Child: For most issues, I would actually make this step 1. I am a big believer in straight forward honest conversation. The only reason that I list this as step 2 is that so as you talk your child, you can calmly and with detail go over all the reasons you think there is something going on in their lives. You can start the conversation gently, by saying something along the lines of, “Is there anything you need to talk about?” If that doesn’t work you can hit them with something like, “I’ve noticed you’ve been acting a little different lately.” If that still doesn’t get results, it might then be time to start referencing the list you made earlier. “I’ve noticed you coming home with bruises on your arm.” “I’ve noticed you don’t seem to want to go to school anymore.” Etc.
Step 3: Schedule an Appointment with the School: Assuming that step 2 reveals that your child has been getting bullied, you will want to talk with their school to work on getting the matter resolved as quickly as possible. Whether or not you tell your child about this is going to have to be up to you. As I mentioned earlier, I do believe in honest and open interactions, but nevertheless, it may very well make your son and daughter feel even more anxious knowing that you are getting involved in this personal matter.
You should go into this step knowing that there is a good chance your child will be against it. You should also be sensitive to the fact that they have good reason to be. In school, going to a teacher or principle for help is social suicide. If not handled tactfully, and with discretion, the move could even lead to more bullying and ridicule, so approach this step calmly, sensitively, and with a clear plan of action.
Before your meeting with the principle, familiarize yourself with the district’s policy on bullying. When you actually sit down for your meeting, present them (calmly) with the situation as you understand it, referencing the list you made in step one. Couple this explanation with references to the districts bullying policy. This will demonstrate your insistence that the matter get resolved as it should. References to policy will make it very difficult for your principle to drag their feet on taking action, which unfortunately happens more than you would care to know.
Make sure to leave the meeting on good terms with the principle. This is going to be an emotional encounter for you, but nevertheless, you are going to need this person’s help going forward, so it is important not to let your frustration with the situation come off as anger towards the administration.
Step 4: Follow Up: Regardless of the apparent results of the appointment, you will want to follow up within the next few days. There is the possibility that you will see immediate results of the administration’s actions, in which case you will want to show your gratitude. If the bullying seems to continue, you will want to remind them of what you discussed.
Either way, your follow up should be cordial and polite. Thank the principle for taking time out of their day to meet with you, then go over what you discussed in the meeting, making references back to the school’s code on bullying. This will further demonstrate your commitment to holding the school accountable for taking action.
Unfortunately, this might be a long road for you and your family. Truly, there is no way to make the outside world treat your child with the care that you do. All you can do is stay involved, and never give up on the possibility of things getting better for your son or daughter. For this situation to have the happy ending that your family deserves, you will need to stay strong throughout the ordeal. Remember that for as hurt and frustrated as your probably are, things are even worse for your child. The only way to get through this is with patience, honesty, and a lot of love.
Remember that as painful as it is to find out that the person you care most about in the entire world is suffering, things will get better for them. Suffering is an unfortunate side-effect of growing up, but eventually it will end. Stay calm, and stay strong so that you can be the powerful support system that your child needs. Unfortunately, you cannot fight this battle for them, but you can be there when they come home from school each day to remind them that they are smart, and special, and good. Of all the steps you will take in response to this upsetting circumstance, I believe that is the most important one, and it never ends.
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