When Your Child Bullies…

bullying

Nobody wants to get that phone call…

As parents, we talk a lot about bully prevention and helping kids cope with bullying, but we can’t leave out the other part.  Every bully has parents, and it’s important for parents to know what to do if that phone call does come home from school.

Kids bully for a variety of reasons, and the best first step is to identify the trigger.  There always a reason behind a behavior, even if it takes time, counseling, and a lot of patience to find it.

Teaching empathy is crucial.  Ideally, all parents teach empathy from the beginning.  But it’s never too late to start.

Modeling kindness and appropriate conflict resolution skills is essential.  Kids learn from us.  They see and hear what we do and they internalize it.  That might feel like a lot of pressure, but it’s true.  So we have to be aware of our actions, voice tone, body language, and words.

Books are always useful for young children.  Check these out:

How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath & Mary Reckmeyer

One and Zero by Kathryn Otoshi

Help!  A Story of Friendship by Holly Keller

That should get you started…

And please stop by Everyday Family to read more about what to do when your child is the bully.

On raising awareness…

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October is a month of many causes, and one of them is bullying.  I can write another post citing statistics.  I can talk about prevention, coping, and taking responsibility.  And I can beg you take cyberbullying seriously…but the truth is that bullying is a community problem – a national problem, really – that requires far more discussion and action than I can provide right here, right now.

That doesn’t mean that I’m burying my head in the sand.  I’m not.  I’m working with my daughter’s school, because sometimes you have to start small.  There is no true bullying prevention strategy in place at this time.  There never has been.  So I’m starting the conversation and getting other parents involved.  Because you have to start somewhere.

I’m talking with other writers and professionals about cyberbullying, the downsides of technology, and the dangers of texting.  And I’m not referring to distracted driving.

And I’m doing my best to raise awareness about the best ways to help kids cope when they do face bullying.  Because childhood and suicide are two words that do not belong in the same sentence.

Do bullying prevention programs work?  At the moment, the results are mixed.  But there are a few things that do work:

Teaching kindness

Teaching empathy

Strong family bonds

and…

Active parenting

With that in mind, I have a few articles for you to read this week.

Childhood depression is on the rise, and it is essential to understand the signs and symptoms and to know how to help.  Head over to Everyday Family for more on Understanding Childhood Depression.

Bullying happens.  We can talk prevention programs until we’re blue in the face, but we have to deal with what is happening right now.

Head over to Everyday Family for What to Do if Your Child is Bullied.

And over on allParenting this week, 5 Bully Busters.  There you will find symptoms of bullying and strategies to help your child.

Keep talking.  The moment we become complacent is the moment that we truly begin to fail our kids.

Be proactive.  Talk to your kids.  Talk to other parents.  Get involved with the school.  Do your part to help zero tolerance become a reality.

 

 

Baby Bullies or Lessons on Friendship?

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It seems that talk of bullying is everywhere right now, and for good reason.  The statistics are staggering, the lack of response is concerning, and kids simply don’t know where to turn to get help.  When tragic stories hit the news, awareness is raised.  And while awareness is a crucial first step toward making great change, it can also cause parents to panic.

Although it seems that some parents sweep bullying under the carpet, others seem to be looking for it around every corner.  I can’t blame them.  When you hear the stories about kids who were taunted and teased for months and years with little support from the school – you shudder.  The truth is that no one is immune to bullying, and that’s a scary fact for parents to face.

But not every child who teases a few times is a bully and not every negative peer interaction is part of a larger problem.  Sometimes kids just don’t get along.

I’ve heard a few stories about “preschool bullying” lately.  When one child struggles in preschool, parents seem to quick to label that child a bully.  And while I agree that bullying can and does happen in the sandbox, I worry that we might be too quick to slap a label on children when what is really needed is help.

Preschoolers are impulsive by nature.  When you look beyond the race to academic excellence for just a moment, you are reminded that the purpose of preschool is socialization.  It’s a first school experience – a time to learn to relate to others.  Yes, there are letters, numbers, and a little bit of writing thrown in for good measure.  But preschool, when you really break it down, is about learning social skills.

Before we start labeling kids bullies, we might want to step back for a moment and refocus our efforts on teaching social interaction skills.

Bullying, by definition, consists of an imbalance of power.  It includes unwanted, aggressive behavior and is repetitive in nature.

Impulsive behavior seen in preschoolers can include hitting, biting, yelling, kicking, and grabbing.  It might seem as though one child is targeting another, but it’s important to address the social skills before labeling a child.

Teach empathy:

We can’t simply expect young children to think about others before they act, we have to teach them to do so.  We have to use simple language to illustrate what happens when one friend hurts another.  ”When you kicked John it hurt him and he thought you didn’t want to be his friend.  Kicking hurts.”  Long explanations are generally lost on preschoolers, but short and to the point helps them connect the dots.  ”When you say you’re sorry, John knows that you care about him.  When you help him up, he feels happy.”  Kicking hurts but helping feels better.  That’s a lesson a preschooler can internalize.

Basic rules:

Most preschools have a few basic rules for kids to follow.  Look around the classroom or ask the teacher to find out what rules are being followed at school and reinforce them at home.  Consistency is essential to internalizing positive behaviors.  When kids know what to expect and how to proceed, they feel confident and make positive choices.  Try to use the same language your child’s teacher uses when talking about friendship and feelings.

Increase the playdates:

If you feel that your child is being targeted by another child, playdates are probably not at the top of your to-do list.  The truth is that preschoolers need practice when it comes to being a good friend.  While they have time to socialize in the classroom, they also need smaller group play to work on the fine details of sharing, keeping their hands and feet to themselves, and using friendly words and voice tone.  **Note:  Preschool playdates require close supervision – put the smartphone away!

Saying no:

There are times when kids need to use a strong voice to say “no”.  When kids are taught to say “no” in a firm voice when others are hurting them, they are more likely to stand up for themselves.  Role play (or use puppets to illustrate) different scenarios when it is acceptable to say no.  Don’t just talk about it, show your child how to use body language and a firm voice.

Getting help:

Somes kids are quiet and prefer to fly under the radar.  These kids might be reluctant to seek help when something goes wrong at preschool.  Encourage your child to signal the teacher when he needs help, and help him practice asking for help.  Again, use role play or puppets to actually show your child how to seek help.

And, by all means, don’t expect your preschooler to advocate for herself just because you practiced.  Ask for a meeting or phone call with the teacher so that you can share your concerns and figure out a plan.

Talk to the other parents:

If there is a problem between your child and another, talk to the parent.  Reach out and try to problem solve.  You never do know what someone else is dealing with until communicate.

Increase the compliments:

Compliment your child often and teach her that compliments make others feel good.  Practice complimenting other people and point out the smiles that people have after being complimented.

Read a few books:

There are some great books available that address early friendship skills.  Get them.  Read them often.  Keep increasing your social skills library!  Below are a few of my favorites (but I could go on for days):

 

 

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End Bullying Now

13 million kids will be bullied this year.

Was that loud enough for you?

13 million.

It could be one of yours…

Sean and I finally found some time to see Bully yesterday.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to.  Right away.

Yes, we (as in both of us) sobbed from the opening credits to the bitter end.  Yes, we felt overwhelmed, a bit lost, and completely exhausted for the rest of the night.  But I am so glad that we saw that movie together…because the only way to make a difference is to be involved.

 

Even if it’s difficult, emotionally exhausting, and terrifying to face.

 

You will see parents mourning the loss of their children to suicide.  You will see children repeatedly targeted and tortured (both physically and emotionally), you will see entire communities of people just standing by, and you will see parents telling their kids to just handle it, to just fight back and put an end to it.  It will break your heart.  But you need to see it.

 

Because looking the other way is no longer an option…

 

What is bullying?

  • Deliberate intent to harm others using physical aggression, verbal abuse, social isolation, and or/technology (cyber-bullying)
  • A clear imbalance of power
  • Often involves repetition (same target)

 

What are the signs of a child being bullied?

(Signs may vary…look for marked changes in demeanor and behavior)

  • Social isolation
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • School refusal
  • Nervous behaviors (nail biting, hair pulling, etc.)
  • Withdrawal from family

 

A Facebook friend recently posed the following question:  Do you teach your kids to fight back?

I teach my kids to use their kind words to stand up for themselves, each other, their friends, and their beliefs.  I teach them to seek help from an adult.  I do not teach them to fight back with aggression or angry words…

Because bullying doesn’t beat bullying. 

 

You can make a difference.  Teaching our children the power of kindness, empathy, positive interactions, and helping others starts at home.

Below are some tips to help you do your part to stand up against bullying:

1.    Teach kindness and empathy:  Bullying is a learned behavior.  Just as kindness and consideration start at home, so does bullying.  Teach your children to care about others, to imagine how it must feel to be teased or targeted, to reach out to others, and to meet a smile with a smile.  Teach them that all people are valuable and important.  If it sounds simple, that’s because it is.

2.    Define bullying:  My five year old knows the meaning of bullying.  She knows the difference between a sibling squabble and knowingly hurting another with words and aggression.  She knows how to get help and how to recognize a bully.  She knows the word bully.  Use the word bully.  Define the acts of bully.  Teach them how to get help.  Provide specific examples.  When 13 million kids are at risk of being bullied, it’s never too early to teach our children.

3.    Set clear limits:  It’s time to take a stand against “boys will be boys”, “kids fight”, and “siblings don’t always get along”.  Do not allow teasing of any kind in your home.  When teasing happens, there should be clear consequences and apologies.  Do not allow aggression and harmful comments.  You can set the stage for positive interactions.  Do it.

4.    Model/Get help:  Kids learn the power of the positive and the power of the negative from watching their parents.  Many bullies have been bullied at home.  Rely on clear expectations and consistency.  Stop yelling; avoid sarcasm and emotionally fueled commentary, and DON’T EVER HIT.  Get help so that you can model healthy interactions, acceptance, and empathy.  Make your home a positive place to learn and grow.

5.    Listen and help:  Kids are more likely to report bullying to peers instead of parents.  They might feel humiliated and ashamed or fear that their parents won’t help.  More often than not, victims are not able to fight back or “take care of it”.  They are being targeted for a reason.  Keep an open line of communication with your kids, be involved with the school, and be the voice of your child.  Listen to what they are saying and provide support, empathy, and help.

6.    Teach acceptance:  We are all different.  There is no room for hatred in this world.  Teach your children to accept and learn from others.  Teach them to give others a chance.  Isn’t that what you want other parents to teach their kids?

 

See the movie.  Teach your children to be kind, loyal, and empathic.  Take a stand against bullying.  Let’s all work together to raise a generation of kind and accepting individuals.  Let’s all work together to end bullying now.

Our children deserve better…

 

Other ways to take a stand:

Stand For The Silent

Stop Bullying: Speak Up

The Bully Project

 

How will you take a stand?

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The Making of a Bully

It's never too early to start teaching social skills...

People often wonder what causes children to bully.  Why is it that some children feel the need to hurt and humiliate other children?  What do they really stand to gain from this cruel behavior?

Some studies indicate that some (not all) bullies have naturally aggressive and/or hyperactive personalities from the start. Some.  But that doesn’t mean that all “spirited” kids will bully while all “mellow” kids will be perfectly empathic and kind.  Those are just a couple of traits that have been identified in some bullies.

The truth is that bullies are not born into this world.  Bullies are raised.

Bullying, at its core, is a learned behavior that is used in response to stress.  Bullying is an attempt to gain superiority or control over another.

Bullies do tend to have a few things in common:

  • Immature social skills
  • Lack of compassion and empathy
  • Poor impulse control
  • Watch more aggressive TV shows and play more aggressive video games

Due to immature social skills, bullies tend to view threats where there are none and identify other kids as hostile when they are not.  Accidentally bump into a bully in line at the cafeteria, and a fight might erupt based on a snap judgment. Due to lack of compassion and empathy, bullies have difficulty understanding how others feeland they are unable to accurately decode situations in which other kids are actually attempting to show empathy toward them.

Although it can be difficult to find compassion for a bully, particularly when your child is the target of one, there is generally a reason behind the bullying.  That’s not to say that bullies should not face consequences.  They should.  And zero tolerance is the only way to truly eradicate bullying…

I’m over at Confessions of a Dr. Mom today talking about what makes a bully and how we can raise empathic children.  Stop by to continue reading “The Making of a Bully”.

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Enough is Enough

Every 7 minutes…a child is bullied.

“The following is the best kept secret in parenting:  There is a very big difference between hearing your child talk and actually listening, I mean really listening, to what she has to say.

There is a very big difference between simply answering a question that is asked of us and slowing down to consider why the question was asked in the first place.

It is our job to listen.  It is our job to slow down and consider the information presented.  It is our job to be the safe haven so that our children have someone to count on.  It is our job to listen to their concerns without judgment or repercussions and help them through the difficult times.  It is our job to be there for them…”

Please stop by Mommy Moment today to continue reading Enough is Enough.

Bully Busters (Tips for preventing bullying)

If you haven’t been following the story of Jamey Rodemeyer, you need to start now.

Jamey Rodemeyer was a 14 year old boy from Buffalo, NY who took his life shortly after posting a farewell message on his Facebook page.

Jamey was tormented by an identifiable group of teens for at least a year, but far longer according his parents.  Jamey was tormented by hate comments with gay references on social networking sites.  On one site, where anonymous postings are the norm, bullies made reference to the fact that no one would care if he were to die.  That’s not the case.

The Buffalo police launched a criminal investigation into the case.  It won’t bring Jamey back, but hopefully it will send a clear message.

Lady Gaga is also on the case.  She intends to meet with the President to discuss making bullying a crime, and she recently dedicated a song to Jamey at the IHeartRadioFestival in Las Vegas.  She’s also asking Twitter to trend #MakeALawForJamey

The National Education for Educational Statistics reports that 28% of students ages 12-18 admit to be bullied during the 2008-2009 school year.  The most cited forms of bullying include ridicule and rumors, with cyber bullying on the rise.

Bullying is becoming an epidemic.  Lady Gaga is right:  Bullying should be illegal.

We all have to do our part to take a stand on bullying in our own communities.  And it has to start at home.  Below are some tips to help you bully proof your child:

1.   Teach your child about bullying:  For years parents have been avoiding family discussions about bullying with the hope that it just won’t happen.  It’s happening everywhere.  Explain bullying to your children.  Make sure that they understand that bullying includes teasing and rumor spreading, not just physical aggression.  It’s up to you to make sure that your children truly understand what bullying is and how it affects others.

2.   Allow for open communication:  Create an atmosphere where your kids feel comfortable coming to you with their concerns.  Be open, objective, and honest with your kids when they come to you with concerns about friendship issues, even if you suspect that your child might be bullying another.  If our kids are afraid to talk to us, we can’t help them.  Be there for them.

3.   Set clear rules and be consistent:  Kids need to understand rules and boundaries.  They need to know that limits exist to keep them safe.  Make your house rules clear and apply them no matter where you are.  Be consistent in applying the rules and helping your kids make better choices.  Rules only work if they are used consistently.  This is not a negative.  Rules exist to keep everyone healthy and safe from harm.

4.   Teach empathy:  I cover this topic regularly, so I will keep it brief.  Teach your children to think about how another person might feel when being teased or left out.  Teach your children to reach out to friends who are feeling sad or frustrated.  Teach your children to care about others.

5.   Take a stand on aggression:  If I have to hear “boys will be boys” one more time…I get it.  I have a boy.  He jumps from furniture and literally attempts to climb the walls.  Would you like to know what he’s NOT allowed to do?  Hit.  Punch.  Kick. Push.  Bite.  Stop physical aggression immediately, whether it’s within the family or out in the community.  Kids need to learn healthy alternatives to physical aggression.  It’s up to you to teach them.

6.   Respect differences:  When you really get down to it, we’re all different.  Race, religion, parenting styles, interests, abilities, food preferences…the list goes on.  Teach your children the value of learning from someone else.  Help your children see that different can be very good, and can open their eyes to a new way of doing things.  Teach them to show the same respect to everyone, regardless of differences.  You would think that in 2011 this wouldn’t make the list…sadly, it does.

7.   Model conflict resolution strategies:  If you yell and scream every time you have a conflict with your partner or get frustrated with your kids, your kids will do the same.  If you resort to name calling and teasing when you’re frustrated, your kids will do the same.  Model appropriate ways to cope with frustration.  Teach them to walk away, take a few deep breaths, write it down first, etc.  Teach them how to react without bullying.  If you use physical aggression as a means to discipline your kids…GET HELP NOW.

8.   Know what’s happening:  Whether you are a working parent or not, life can get busy and it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening at school.  Try not to rely on your child’s reports alone.  Know what’s going on at the school.  Forge friendships with other parents and support one another.  Contact the teacher if your child appears withdrawn and/or avoids social contact.  With so many students in each school and a heavy focus on making the grade, social issues can fall through the cracks until it’s too late.  Stay on top of it.

9.   Encourage strengths and interests:  With college becoming more and more expensive, and more and more competitive, parents are always looking for the right track to get their kids on.  Let them do what they love.  When kids engage in activities that they enjoy, their self-confidence soars.  When kids are self-confident, they are less prone to giving in to peer pressure and better able to stand up for themselves or others.  Maybe golf scholarships are a way to get into college, but cultivating that love of art might just save your child from either being a bully or being bullied.

10.                Increase supervision:  At the end of the day, you are responsible for your kids.  It’s a big job.  If you choose to give your child a Smart Phone complete with email, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and other forms of social networking, you are responsible for supervising all of those accounts.  Sure, kids need some privacy and boundaries.  But they also use technology to target others.  Be prepared to check the text messages and have the email filtered through your account.  Know the passwords for Twitter and Facebook.  Be honest with your kids.  Tell them that access to these outlets comes with supervision.  Have them check their phones in at night to avoid lost sleep due to tech overload and keep the laptops in family rooms.  Monitor usage.  You are responsible for your children.

Bullying is taking the lives of very young children, but it doesn’t have to.  Let’s all agree to do our part to make sure that our children don’t bully.

How has bullying affected your life?

 

October is LGBT History Month.  Take a moment to focus on teaching respect and acceptance.  Teach your children to empathize with others.

Zero Tolerance for Bullies (Tips for taking a stand on bullying)

I want to start off by thanking everyone for the very positive feedback over the past few days.  On Wednesday, I opened a door to my past and shared my personal story about being bullied.  If you missed this post, please read it when you get a chance:  “Pour Your Heart Out” – Bullied.

Whether or not we want to accept it, we live in a culture that is highly focused on power and winning at all costs.  From politics to sports to simple running races, we, as Americans, want to win.  The catch is that we can’t all be winners all of the time.  Inevitably someone ends up on the losing end of the race.  Do we really prepare ourselves for that possibility?  Do we prepare our kids?

Incidents of bullying continue to rise.  The optimistic in me hopes that, at some level, higher percentages indicate that more kids are coming forward and reporting bullying.  The realist in me knows that statistics don’t lie.  They vary, but they don’t lie.

Bullying takes many forms.  The following are the most recognizable:  Verbal, social (isolation), physical, pack, cyberbullying, homophobia, and intolerance of disabilities. Research indicates that boys are more likely to be the targets of physical and pack bullying, while girls most often experience verbal, social, and cyberbullying.

The psychosocial affects of bullying are heartbreaking.  Students who are bullied are likely to experience:  Depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, increased school absence, physical illness, and suicidal and/or homicidal thoughts and/or actions. How many children have to suffer the consequences of bullying before we, as a country, get serious about this and truly take action?  In my opinion, we’ve lost too many kids already.

As of 2009, many states have anti-bullying laws.  The states who have yet to pass legislation include:  Alabama, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.  If you live in one of these states, it’s time to start flooding your local representative with email and phone calls.  They are falling behind.  The state that takes the most progressive approach toward bullying is New Jersey.  An “anti bullying bill of rights” was introduced into the NJ state legislature in October 2010.

There is currently a lot of talk about the fact that bullying is a national problem.  What we really need is action.  Below are some tips to help you take a stand against bullying in your community:

 

1. Know the facts: Many people choose to remain blissfully unaware of the level of bullying that occurs daily.  While statistics vary based on the study, it is important to know what’s really happening.  The 2009 Indicators of School Crime and Safety statistics reveal that 1/3 of teens are bullied at school, 4% of teens report cyberbullying, 44% of middle schools report bullying as a problem, females and students with disabilities are targeted the most often, and homosexual and bisexual students are the most likely to report bullying. For those of you thinking that 1/3 doesn’t seem that high, look around.  You wouldn’t want your child to fall into that statistic.  Other reports indicate that 160,000 students miss school each day for fear of being bullied, and that every 7 minutes a child is bullied. It’s worth repeating:  Every 7 minutes.  Adults only intervene 4% of the time.

2. Mutual respect starts at home: Research shows that families that are not loving, are not open to expression of feelings, are inconsistent with discipline and supervision, and include parents who bully (either each other or their children) are more likely to produce bullies. It’s our job to teach our children to accept differences.  It’s also up to us to teach our kids how to cope with feelings that might lead to bullying behavior.  They don’t have to be friends with everyone they meet, but they do need to show respect to all other people.  Parents need to model appropriate conflict resolution skills.  If dad bullies mom at home, you can bet that behavior will resurface with your children at school.  Point out times when conflicts are handled appropriately.  Use incidents where conflict was not handled appropriately as a teaching tool.  It sounds easy, but it can take some soul searching to really evaluate parenting styles and make the necessary changes.  There’s no room for sarcasm, physical punishment, or berating when it comes to child rearing.  Check your emotions at the door.

3. Know the “Don’ts”: Children struggle to come forward, even to their parents, when they are being bullied.  They experience a range of emotions, including (but not limited to): sadness, anger, frustration, embarrassment, and anxiety.  Parental response to reports of bullying can have a huge impact on whether or not a child reports future incidents.  Don’t blame your child.  Don’t tell your child to ignore the bullying (this often makes it worse).  Don’t tell your child to fight back.  Don’t call the parents of the bully to blame them (this often fuels the fire).  Don’t immediately pull your child from his school.  Don’t assume that the school isn’t doing anything (most school policies preclude the school from providing details about the aggressor and consequences provided).

4. Know the “Do’s”: If your child comes to you for help, try to remain calm.  Do listen and empathize. Tell your child that bullying is wrong.  Listen for the details.  Do know the school’s policy on bullying.  Contact a school administrator immediately. Many children fail to report bullying for fear of being blamed or for fear of future repercussions.  Do talk about a plan. If there is a teacher, coach, or school counselor who your child trusts, see if that person is willing to be a point person for your child.  Involve your child in meetings with school administrators.  Do get help for your child. Forget about stigmas, therapy can save lives.  Help your child as soon as possible to work on self-esteem, anxiety, and possible depressive symptoms.  Do practice assertiveness skills at home, including seeking help.

5. If your child is the bully: No one wants to get the phone call identifying your child as the bully.  It happens.  Try to avoid crafting excuses and instead focus on understanding why the event happened.  It might be an isolated event, or the latest in a series of events.  Either way, accepting that your child bullied another child is the first step toward helping him learn a better way to interact.  Set clear and consistent rules for behavior at home AND in the community. Standards of behavior shouldn’t change just because your child leaves the house.  Listen to the explanation. The best way to figure out how to help your child is to listen when he explains his behavior.  Supervise your child carefully. At home, during play dates, and out at the park, watch your child closely and be prepared to intervene.  Be aware of your child’s friends. Particularly if it seems to be an isolated event, you might want to be more careful about who your child befriends.  Get help. As much as bullying makes the bully appear to be a monster, it is also a cry for help at times.  Get your child into counseling immediately.  Work with the school. They don’t dislike your child, but they do need to stop the behavior.  Work with them to come up with a plan.  When parents repeatedly argue with school administrators, everyone loses.  Look for positive outlets. Everyone is good at something:  Music, art, sports, poetry, and the list goes on.  One of the biggest linebackers at my college later published a book of poetry.  Find your child’s strength and channel his energy there.

6. Focus on assertiveness: Studies show that bullies are more likely to back down if other kids intervene and stand up for the target.  Teach your child to help when others need it.  Help might come in the form of standing up to a bully with a quick (and witty) response or it might involve getting an adult.  Recent statistics indicate that peers only intervene 11% of the time, but when they do the bully is more likely to move on. Sean received a note in response to my personal story about bullying.  It was from an old middle school friend who said that he had helped her through some very difficult years simply by being nice to her.  Teach your children to reach out to others and offer friendship to someone in trouble. Even just eating lunch with another person who is going through a difficult time socially might change that person’s life for the better.

7. Be the adult: Bullying is starting younger and younger these days.  It currently peaks during ages 6-9 and during middle school.  But it starts as young as preschool and continues well into college and adulthood.  If you see a child bullying another child it is your job to intervene. I’m the mom at the park who has no problem speaking up.  I keep a close eye on my kids and when others don’t I jump in and redirect those kids when trouble begins.  I wouldn’t say it makes me popular, but it keeps (my) kids safe.  The fact that adults only intervene 4% of the time is alarming.  You are the adult.  You need to make it stop. Ignorance is not bliss.

8. For educators and schools: Back in my 9-5 days, I was a school administrator.  Due to my own experience with bullying combined with my frustration regarding students bullying other students, I made it my mission to design and implement the first bully prevention program at that school.  Although it has seen changes over the past few years, it remains in place today.  The research indicates three key areas of focus for schools.  Policy:  Schools need clear definitions of bullying in place so that incidents of bullying are easily recognized.  They also need a clear policy that each student and family reads and signs off on each year. It’s difficult to hold parents responsible when they argue that they didn’t know the policy existed.  Make sure they know.  Make it as black and white as possible.  Consequences:  Clearly defined consequences for bullying must be included in the policy to be read and signed by all students and parents. When grey areas exist, people find loopholes.  Avoid the loopholes by developing a comprehensive policy that covers every possible scenario.  Education:  Regular, mandatory staff training on bullying is important. Teachers are on the front lines.  They need to be able to recognize bullying and symptoms of victimization, and have a concrete action plan.  The best way to support your teachers is to offer them resources and education as regularly as possible.  Create award programs where students are rewarded for good citizenship.

9. Consider the causes: Bullying occurs for a variety of reasons.  In some families, teasing and bullying is the norm. Family behavior models teach children how to act/interact under various circumstances. It’s important to model assertive behavior as well as empathy, honesty, and appropriate ways to problem-solve.  Open the closed doors. Many families feel that what happens behind closed doors should stay there.  The problem with this approach is that eventually your children will bring those feelings and behaviors into the community.  It’s ok to ask for help.  In fact, it’s probably the most important step families can take.  Often kids get more social recognition for negative behavior, which easily creates a pattern. Focus on the positive behaviors displayed by your children.  Extra praise never hurts, but constant nagging and negative input can cause children to feel like they have no other choice.  Jealousy and lack of social skills to cope with feelings of jealousy can cause kids to lash out at one another. Social skills development starts at home and continues in school.  Focus on teaching your children how to cope when things don’t go their way.  Past experiences of social rejection can cause kids to want to “pay it forward” to other kids. If your child has experienced social rejection get help for him so that he can process his feelings and move forward with positive coping strategies.

10. Consider grass roots: Many large organizations once started as small neighborhood initiatives.  Wouldn’t it be great if it were hip to be FAB (Families Against Bullying)?  The fact that support doesn’t currently exist on a smaller level doesn’t mean that it has to stay that way.  Consider starting a neighborhood program.  Bring in local law enforcement and a child psychologist/therapist to provide parent educationAgree to a no tolerance policy for bullying in your community.  Enforce that policy when you see bullying in action. There is always power in numbers.  The only way for us to eradicate bullying is to come together as a country and stop tolerating it at all levels.

Bullying doesn’t have to be a part of our culture.  Kids don’t have to live in fear and hate themselves.  But we do have to come together and present a united front.  If you feel so inclined, please consider taking a very small first step by sharing this information with your friends and family.  Like I said, there is always power in numbers.   

“Pour Your Heart Out”-Bullied

I linked up with my friend Shell at Things I can’t Say today to tell my story for the anniversary edition of her weekly meme, “Pour Your Heart Out”.  Shell offers this weekly linky to encourage other bloggers to share their most difficult stories and to provide a safe place to vent.

Somewhere at the very bottom of the deep end in my long term memory exists a story that I don’t often share.  In fact, it’s buried so deep in the recesses of my brain that I only shared it with my husband a few weeks ago.  A man I have been with for 11 ½ years.

I’m not embarrassed by it.  I’m not concerned that sharing my story will have some repercussions.  I’m not afraid.  I believe that once I’ve worked through something difficult, it’s best for me to learn from the experience and try to move forward.  And, believe it or not, what you are about to read is not the worst thing that I’ve lived through in my 36 years.  In fact, it’s not even close.

I was bullied.

My freshman year of college I fell into a group of friends who lived on my hall.  Most of that year remains a blur of study, play hockey, party, sleep, and do it again.  These friendships, as often is the case in college, were based on proximity.  We lived a few doors apart and became fast friends.  A few of us were athletes, which provided another common bond.

Early during my sophomore year, the tides turned.  It happened in an instant during a football game party (or “pre-game” as it was widely known on campus).  One of my roommates sent me to talk to a guy she was interested in.  She wanted to find out if he had any interest in her.  He didn’t. Before I knew what was happening I stood accused of trying to “steal” her man.  A man I never had any interest in.  By the end of the game, 4 of my 7 roommates had turned on me.  The other 3 kept a low profile and didn’t take a stand.

It started out small.  Nasty comments, dirty looks, rummaging through my drawers when I wasn’t around.  Bitch, slut, whore…I wish it stopped there.  That, I could have handled.

Their cruelty knew no bounds.  They spread rumor after rumor.  They poisoned anyone who would listen.  I was ignored and snickered at to a point of such discomfort that I didn’t even feel comfortable watching TV in the common room.  My TV.  The one that my father bought for me.

They stole from me.  They stole dresses, clothes, and money.  When my mom started to worry about my rapid weight loss she took to sending me back with bagels from my favorite bagel store.  They ate the bagels.  When I finally mustered the courage to confront them they responded with, “if your name isn’t on it, it’s not yours”.

They failed to deliver phone messages.  One night, in frustration, my sister left a message mentioning that it was not the first message she had left for me.  The note that was left for me read, “Dear Katie, Your f###ing sister left another f###ing message.  Stop f###ing telling people that we don’t give you your f###ing messages”.

I finally had my own phone line installed to the unused line that ran through the suite.  They plugged in their own phones and ran up my long distance bill.

Despite all of that, I still tried to get back in their good graces.  I tried to just take it and keep a low profile.  It wasn’t that I was desperate to be liked; it was more a function of not wanting to be so brutally hated.

My weight loss became dangerous.  I was incapable of sleep.  Tears spilled from my eyes every time darkness set in.  I feared for my safety.  As the cruelty became more and more pronounced, I was no longer certain of what they might be capable of.

As the year came to a close, I was defeated.  My self-esteem was in shreds.  My soul was in pieces.  I moved through a sea of uncertainty like a ghost.  I tried to hide in plain sight.

I finally moved out in a spilt second decision one Sunday afternoon.  I just packed it all in and headed home.  For the remaining three weeks of school, as I prepared for final exams, I commuted from West Hartford, CT to Chestnut Hill, MA.  I stayed at a friend’s place a couple of nights a week.  But for the most part, I drove.

My other three roommates remained passive observers.  I knew that they felt for me.  I knew that they knew it wasn’t right.  They didn’t want to get involved.  I couldn’t blame them.

They took so much from me that year.  The clothes could be replaced.  The money would come back around.  But the stolen pieces of my soul would prove more difficult to repair.

By the time I finished my last exam, I was lost, tired, and humiliated.  I was 20 years old, and I was bullied.  I could hardly bring myself to talk about with my own family.  I came very close to dropping out of school.  Many times, I considered taking my life.

I thought it would end there.  With new roommates, I was sure I could leave it behind the next year.  In a school of 9,000 undergrads, surely I could start fresh.  It followed me.  For the next two years they showed up and refused to leave parties in my apartment.  They made snide comments in elevators and humiliated me every chance they could.

I finally sought help after my junior year.  I did the work.  I allowed myself to break down so that I could start over.  I repaired my soul.  With the support of seven amazing roommates during my senior year, I was able to really enjoy my college experience.

The bullying continued, but I was better able to cope with it.  I knew that I was better than them.  I didn’t need to tear people down in order to build myself up.  In my own way, I won the war.  On graduation day, one of those girls walked for her diploma with a restraining order hanging over her head.  I wasn’t taking it anymore.  I called in the campus police to help.

I recently received a Facebook friend request from one of them.  I can’t decide if she sent it out of guilt or morbid curiosity, but either way I didn’t accept.  I don’t harbor any angry feelings anymore.  Two years on the couch took care of that.  But I don’t feel like I need to let everyone in.  I have no need to be the most popular person on Facebook.  As strange as it sounds, in the end I felt bad for them.  They must have really struggled with their identities to have to repeatedly tear another person down in order to feel good and powerful.  It’s sad, if you ask me.

I shared this story today because I am saddened by the bullying that exists in our world.  Despite suicide, homicide, eating disorders, and cutting, kids continue to be bullied on many levels at most schools in this country.  Clearly, we haven’t found a solution.  I can only hope that sharing my story is a very small step toward awareness for others.

Please check back later this week when I share some strategies to help us band together to end bullying in this country.  Our children deserve better.

 

 

 

I Took The Mom Pledge…Will You?

I took The Mom Pledge.

A bloggy friend of mine started a new campaign with the hope of creating a positive online community for moms and to stand up against online mom bullying.  It’s hard to believe that we need to stand up against this kind behavior, but bullying knows no boundaries.

Everyone gets negative comments on their blog once in a while.  Sometimes it’s just a person voicing a different opinion.  Sometimes it’s not.

When done in an appropriate way, I think a difference of opinion is great.  We all come from different worldviews.  We can all help each other along the way.

My expertise is child development and parenting, but I know that there is no one right way to parent.  There is no perfect parent out there.  Parenting is a mixed bag.  I aim to provide guidance and a few easy strategies, but my advice won’t work for everyone.  And I make sure to read what other parenting experts are writing about, because I know that I can always learn more.

It saddens me that moms would use other blogs to vent their frustration and attack other moms.  One of my favorite things about this adventure in blogging is that I’ve met some amazing moms.  I’ve connected with incredible women all over the world.  I’ve helped some, and some have helped me.  I can’t imagine attacking any of these moms.  Ever.

I recently received a very negative comment by a mom who made no attempt to understand me.  She saw that I am married to a musician and jumped at the chance to say terrible things about him, a man she has never laid eyes on.  I have to admit, that one hurt.

A difference of opinion is healthy.  Talking about different ways to potty train, sleep train, feed little ones, or just survive motherhood is an excellent way to connect with people and share ideas.  But leaving angry, hateful comments is unacceptable.

I took The Mom pledge because I believe in community.  I believe in cheering each other on and offering support.  I believe in friendship.  And, above all, I believe that staying positive makes the world a better place.  I hope that you will join this already incredible group of moms and take The Mom Pledge.

For more information, visit The Mom Pledge here: http://www.efloraross.com/