Yesterday, I posted a blog entry about bullying and received a few responses, but many more people privately emailed me with messages that said, “Please don’t post this, but we are having a huge problem with bullying…” or “Please don’t post this. My daughter is a terrible bully and I don’t know what to do about it…” or “I wish I could tell my kid to just punch her bully in the face… Please don’t post this”.
So there is obviously a lot more to say about bullying, and I kind of wanted to continue the dialogue by proposing a few quick scenarios about physical bullying and how parents handle it. Stay with me:
Your child comes home from school and reports someone kicked her during recess.
What is your response?
Your child comes home from school and reports that she kicked someone during recess.
What is your response?
Is your response gender-based, which is to say, would you say something different to a son than you would to a daughter?
If kids are getting bullied at school, where are the teachers? I hear so many times that kids are getting beaten at school, and I cant help but blame the school. It is the teachers’ responsibility in my opinion to monitor their students. And kids should feel comfortable to point their bullies out. I think it’s ridiculous that parents know their kids are bullies or getting bullied and not do whatever they have to to stop it. My kids are 1 and 4, and if I ever found out that someone was messing with them or they where messing with another kid, I would get involved and stop it. There are no excuses if you know it’s happening.
I wasn’t going to make any more comments but I have to respond to the comment from Brette. 1. Kids do not feel comfortable pointing out the bully because they don’t want to be a “tattle-tale” and they know the bullying will just get worse even if the teacher steps in at that moment. Bullying doesn’t just happen at/on school grounds. It happens on line, phone calls, at b’day parties, you name it. 2. As a parent, OF COURSE I’ve done everything I could to stop it. Meetings at school, talks with the other child’s parent, talks with the bully and my child. I wish I could just switch bodies with my daughter and go to school for her. Do you know how much pain, as a mom , I feel?! Your kids are young, and I hope they never experience this. But the answers are NOT as simple as you might think.
The first response to both is “Why?” Sometimes the angelic kid you live with can be an ass or is teasing another kid. Sometimes innocent teasing or bragging (in my kids’ case football at recess leads to many, many issues) leads to an altercation. It should not, but a lot of kids are not mature enough to respond in a reasonable way. My kids have also been on the receiving end of some bullying and “Why?” is always the first question we as so we can figure out a solution.
I think calling parents is almost always a bad move as parents are quick to deny, not give you the satisfaction you are looking for, and potentially make the situation much worse. I think it is different if a real physical issue is involved; however, I have been called over what I would consider a very minor thing and was annoyed to have been called. Sometimes kids are kids and act dumb — that does not necessarily warrant a call or “intervention.” Stuff happens. Admittedly, I am biased in that I subscribe to the “don’t make every molehill into a mountain” camp.
I agree that the off-school site issues are much worse. Do you read your kids Facebook, texts, etc… I do — with my kids knowledge — and the stuff they write and much worse because not all parents are tech-savvy or involved enough to see it.
Back to work. Oh, and . . . all of this stuff is much worse with girls than boys.
We certainly don’t “preach violence” in our house by any means. We teach kindness, respect and good values. But it is also critical to us that our children grow up with self-confidence and self-esteem (perhaps the two most important qualities we wish for them), and part of that is never, ever, being made a victim. When it comes to bullying, our guidance has always been fairly typical–avoid “bad kids” and bad situations as best you can. Walk away when you can. If you are being verbally taunted and the situation is right, be confident and use your brains and humor to give it right back and/or show that it doesn’t bother you. But one way or another, don’t be a victim.
When it comes to physical bullying–and this may come off to some as inappropriate, but so be it–we have told our children that they have our permission to do what is necessary to defend themselves. I (the dad) have not a scintilla of tolerance for physical bullies. None. This particularly applies to our son, simply because he is older and has different social interactions than his younger sister. I have told my son that if anyone *ever* gets physical with him, he has my full permission to respond in kind, at an appropriate level, and I will always have his back even if he gets in trouble for doing so… again, as long as his response was appropriate. By “appropriate,” he understands I mean he is not to respond to an annoying elbow-nudge in the playground with a karate chop to the neck, or break a kid’s nose because he called him a doody-head. But if he gets knocked to the ground with obvious force and malice, or punched, or otherwise treated with clear, genuine, indisputable “violence,” he should react immediately and decisively to make sure the bully finds an easier target in the future. In other words, as the saying goes, never start trouble, but absent other options, finish it.
We had a real example of this when there was a kid who randomly selected our son as an easy mark in lacrosse… the kid would just come over and knock our boy down (and not in the context of the game, which of course is a completely different thing). Our son was no longer enjoying the sport as a result. So I said to him, “You’re bigger than he is, but he can see that you don’t have a tough temperament. So next time he comes near you, simply put him on the ground. Show him he picked the wrong kid, and I promise he’ll move on.” Sure enough, the next week our son came off the field with a huge smile on his face. He told me the bully was coming up to him to dispense the usual grief, and he just pushed him out of his path and and onto his butt. Never saw the kid again during the game.
Again, I am NOT preaching violence. I am not “Mister-Go-Kick-That-Kid’s-Ass-Buddy-Boy” Dad” and I am not trying to raise a little Steven Segal. I want nothing but peace and love and friendship for my kids, but in the real world they will deal with abusive people in one form or another, and they should not be so passive as to allow themselves to just take it and hope it passes. If avoidance/walking away are impossible and the only remaining options are either to let it happen or put a stop to it, the latter is the only way they can hope to prevent it in the future–not to mention build their own confidence and self-respect.
Conversely, we have zero tolerance for being on the “delivering” end. We would never put up with either of our children being bullies or even remotely perceived as such. Fortunately it is not in their nature, but we are also not the kind of parents who think their kids are perfect so anything’s possible. If we were to find out they were in any way involved in bullying, there would be immediate corrective action at whatever level was necessary and appropriate to the situation. I would be (almost) as furious if one of my kids picked on another as I would be if the other picked on them.
I agree that it is unfortunately not realistic (or in a child’s best interest) to report bullying to a teacher or school staff member unless there really is no choice. Alison is right, more often than not it is likely to make the situation worse.
Teachers are indeed largely responsible for our children when they are at school, but they are not responsible for our children in the absolute. It all starts and ends at home. Raising children in such a way that they are unlikely to be bullies, reacting appropriately if they are, and doing what we can to help them when they are victimized–these are *our* responsibilities. And like most growing pains and challenges, often the most you can (or should) do is create the best possible environment and set the best possible example and hope it helps their path in life to be as smooth as possible. Protect and defend them aggressively when it’s really necessary and called for, but accept that you–much less their teachers– cannot control everything.
Michael, you are the smartest, most articulate man I know. I agree 100% with everything you say. I agree that understanding that one has emotional as well as physical strength is important for children to know about themselves. We don’t want them to feel like wimps.
What would you do if you lived with a pacifist? By this I mean, what if you told your son to put the kid down at lacrosse, but he wouldn’t do it. He simply wasn’t comfortable doing it. What then?
How do you teach a passive kid to be that little bit extra assertive/aggressive, to get him/her to understand that “putting that other kid down” is important and sometimes necessary — even if it means there might be a consequence?
Renee, here’s a case of bullying for you. My daughter – who is now 14 months, has a physical bully. I discovered this one day when I was leaving late from dropping her off at daycare.
While walking past her room, I saw one of the other girls in the class basically jump her from behind. My daughter was pushed to the floor and was crying to have the other girl taken off of her. It wasn’t until I went into the room, did they pull the other girl off my daughter. I had a long talk with the teachers/care providers and they said they would keep an eye on it.
A few weeks later, I was sitting in the daycare room, filling out some papers, and the mother brought the girl in. While we were all there in the room, the girl took her sippy cup and threw it at my daughter. Of course the mother responded appropriately to the action and repremanded her for her bad behavior. However, not 2 minutes later, while the mother’s back was turned, the little girl hit my daughter again – while I was watching them. I said something and the mother again said something to her daughter who clearly understood that she had done something wrong.
Upon further discussion with the teachers, they said that they were moving the little girl up to the next class and they hoped that would be the end of the “bullying”.
But of course it is never as easy as that…To make a long story short – I recently found out that the little girl is still bullying the other kids in her class and now my daughter is going to moved up to her class during the summer for camp. My biggest concern is that she’s going to become the object of this bully’s attention. I have shared my concerns with the school and they are doing their best to deal with the situation, but I’m not sure it’s going to be good enough.
Any thoughts or advice on how to deal with this issue? I don’t think telling my daughter to push back or be assertive is really going to work with her – at least not at this age.