Dealing with Bullies in School
Bullying sucks. Believe me, I know. After I finished kindergarten at a private school, my parents switched me to our local public school, and I skipped to second grade. Boy did those kids seem to "have it in" for me.
My first day there, I wore a jumper dress and a backwards hat. I was a dork (who am I kidding, I still am a dork)! I had no concept of what kids wore; I had been wearing a plaid uniform for my entire public life! Of course, hats are not allowed in public schools. I had several bitchy girls to inform me of that in front of the whole class. Then one of them took my cookie away after I had brought it onto the playground after lunch. That wasn't allowed either. These girls tormented me well into middle school, and high school was a whole new ballgame of even more sophisticated kids with more sophisticated reasons for hating my guts.
It's not too long ago that I graduated from high school and moved far, far away from that world of being bullied. But here are a few tips. Some of them are things my parents did right, and some of them are things I wish we had thought of. Know, though, that your child will grow up, and his peers will grow out of this. He might even be a world ahead of them for it.
The First Thing To Do
Make sure your child knows his value! Bullying makes us feel small, weak, and useless. That's why the bully does it; he wants to exert his power, however falsified it may be.
So reinforce to your child that he is meaningful and loved. You may think that this is obvious to him, but a reminder never hurts. Try to preserve family time, and prove to him that he is a valuable member of the family unit. A small job like helping to set the table every night and then a big "thanks" afterwards gives him a very specific role in the house. He has a purpose; if he didn't set the table, then who would? You need him, and that's what he needs.
Do not try to overcompensate for the bullying by coddling your child or lavishing gifts upon him. The point is to draw attention away from the fact that your child is being bullied, not to "make it better." Try to continue life as normally as possible. Otherwise, the bullies have won.
For more on self-esteem, make sure to check out Self Esteem the 2K Way. It's a great hub on the little (but significant) things parents can do to preserve self-esteem in their kids.
It's All in the Angle
I know it's tough to see your child in pain. Hey, it's tough to be in that pain, especially when school and other kids are your entire world! If only you could explain to him that, eventually, those bullies might be the kids who are the losers and he might be the one with the power, it would make it all better!
Unfortunately, even though it's worth saying, that message won't get through, so don't dwell on it too much.
Focus on your child's well-being. Do not give energy to the fact that he is being bullied; instead, focus on his happiness and comfort. Those two may seem like the same thing (and they are), but how you think about them will, in turn, affect your child's attitude about the whole thing. And that will change everything.
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And Now, For Some Action!
So enough of the lovey-dovey, semi-inactive stuff. What do I do?
- Encourage Activity
You should, in a sense, "take his mind off it." While bullying may feel inevitable during the school day, it should never occupy his mind once he walks out those doors in the afternoon.
Personally, I took Kung Fu lessons, both at school and at a local martial arts training gym. They weren't for self-defense (though that's always a plus); rather, martial arts very much focus on respect: respect for self, respect for others, and respect for the world. If a child can come even close to mastering any of these, he has beaten the bullies. It will also give him something to look forward to for getting through the day!
Martial arts work especially well with bullied kids, I think, because it empowers them. It is also an individual sport (as opposed to team), and many bullied kids are introverts or otherwise individually minded, but it still gives them the opportunity to socialize with other kids in their classes. And they get a positive role model in the form of their teacher!
If martial arts are not possible where you live -- or for some reason you have a problem with them -- any type of class will do. Sports are nice, but also any sort of extracurricular art or music class works. Obviously you should tailor it to your child's interests, but remind them that opening a new door they had not previously considered can be extremely rewarding!
- Find Him a Safe Community
For me, this community (two of them, actually) was (were) life-saving. I had my local church, which was mostly supportive of my growth as a chorister, and a creative arts sleep-away summer camp, where I discovered my love of songwriting. In each case, I felt safe in these places (at church during the whole school year, and at the camp in the summer). I had a community that supported me without putting me down in any way.
This is vital. If a child's only community is school and he is left out in that community, how is he to ever learn to seek a place that is nurturing? Help him find his first nurturing community, be it through church, camps, Boy or Girl Scouts, or anything like that. It will even give your child a safe mental place to go if he is bullied while in school ("Wait until I tell my camp friends how stupid these bullies are!").
Mostly, Keep it Positive
Bullying is a tough thing to deal with, for parents and for kids. I'm sure there are more than a few good books out there that would be worth reading and sharing with your children, whether you know that they are being bullied or think that they are perfectly well-adjusted. It's always good to be knowledgeable about issues as pervasive as bullying.
Do not expend too much energy trying to "fix" the problem from the other side (namely, trying to "fix" the bully). Make sure that your child is safe first, of course! But after that, keep things as positive as possible. The more energy you give to the bullying, the more the bullying will grow. And the more energy you channel into your child's well-being, the more well he will be... or... you know what I mean.
Good luck out there.
For another great hub about bullying that covers some different topics from the ones I covered here, check out How to Help Your Child Handle Bullies.