School bullying can have long lasting effects on kids and they may not feel comfortable telling you what’s going on in school; recognize the warning signs.
Now that school is in full swing, it is important to check in with your kids not just about how they are doing academically, but how they are doing emotionally. The first few weeks can be tough for kids. They need to acclimate to a new teacher, new classmates and a new routine. Getting information about your child’s day can be like pulling teeth, but it is necessary to make sure that they are being treated with respect at school.
Below are a few questions that can help start a conversation about what is going on at school. Parents should be equally concerned about their child being bullied, as well as being a bully.
- Tell me something that happened today that made you happy, sad, laugh, upset, etc.
- Did you do anything especially nice for someone today?
- Did you do anything that might have hurt someone’s feelings today?
- Did you see other kids acting kindly towards others today?
- Did you see anyone acting meanly towards others today?
Asking these simple questions can get kids thinking about their day. Try not to overreact if your child tells you he has been bullied or was not nice to someone else. You want your kids to feel comfortable when talking to you. If you react by yelling or punishing, it can backfire and your child will not want to share in the future.
If you hear that your child was being picked on in school, you need to get as much information as possible before assuming that she is being bullied. It is typical for kids to say and do things that are mean, especially at the elementary school level. Try to get your child to open up as much as possible about the event at school. I often ask my kids if they said or did anything mean to the other child (kids like to leave that part out). Then discuss strategies for your child to try and make things better. For example, encourage your child to stick with a friend at recess and to report any bullying to lunch aids or teachers. Kids need to know that reporting mean behavior is not tattling, it is protecting yourself and your friends. Be sure to check in daily about the situation. If the teasing continues, you need to take it to the next level.
It is risky to try and handle the situation with the other parent yourself. If you know the family and feel like you can talk to them, be sure to approach the topic carefully. Parents tend to feel defensive when their child is being accused of aggressive behavior. Try to approach it from a place of understanding. I started a conversation with a mom I knew by saying, “I know Joey probably didn’t mean to hurt my daughter’s feelings, but he has been giving her a hard time about her new haircut. Would you mind talking to him about that?” The response was great. She appreciated that I was compassionate towards her son instead of angry. My daughter received an apology the next day and the teasing stopped.
If you don’t want to handle the situation yourself, then you need to involve the school. Schools have a responsibility to protect its students from bullying. In many states, like New York, there are laws protecting students. The Dignity for All Students Act protects students from bullying on school property and on the school bus. Parents should report bullying first to your child’s teacher. You have the right to ask what will be done about it. If you do not feel like the situation has been resolved you need to contact your school’s principal and or superintendent. In many states they are required by law to keep children safe from bullying.
Bullying can have long lasting effects on kids. Not all children feel comfortable opening up about what may be going on in school, so it is important to recognize the warning signs. Some of them are listed below.
- Loss of interest in activities your child used to enjoy
- Fear of going to school, parties or play dates
- Marked change in behavior: anger, sadness, aggression, withdrawal
- Change in eating or sleeping habits including nightmares
- Sudden drop in grades
Finally, if you find out that your child has been bullying another child, try not to be defensive or overreact. It does not mean that you are a bad parent. It is important that you talk to your child about how they treat others. Sometimes kids don’t realize how hurtful their actions can be. Work with him on being sensitive towards others feelings. Insist on providing consequences for mean behavior and check in regularly to ensure behavior has improved. Also, have your child apologize. Being able to recognize when you were wrong is a powerful lesson that will serve her well in life.
Until next time,