By Debra Vigliano & Bobbijean Spellman
As children all across the Triad started school in late August, bullying was a big concern for many moms. As moms, we work hard to create little people who are good and whole and strong and then we turn them over to the world and hope that the world will be gentle and not chip away at our hard work. We hope that our children will be spared. If our children are spared, we have the luxury and the responsibility of asking “How can I help my child be a peacemaker?” “How can I help them stand up for their peers who are being bullied?” The world needs more heroes in our schools and on our playgrounds and in our communities.
But, perhaps the toughest parental challenge in this scenario is if our children are the bullies. What then? How do we look at the little people we created and love and know that they are chipping away at other children? It’s uncomfortable, to say the least, to know that our children are causing pain with their words and actions. However, our reactions, our support, and our love as moms can turn the tide on any one of these challenges. The important thing is to act. Doing nothing can leave damaging effects and send all the wrong messages to our children. I imagine that more often than not we do nothing because the task seems too big or we are at a loss of what to do.
So, what do we do whatever the scenario? The first step is simple, but often overlooked. Talk to your child about bullying; tell them what it is, what it looks like and open a dialogue about this problem. This way when your child wants or needs to talk about it, the door has already been opened. And keep peeking through that door and checking in.
Next, be watchful! Keep track of notes sent home, falling grades, friendships diminishing or disappearing or appearing unhealthy, a sudden resistance in going to school where previously there was excitement. Watch body language when opportunities arise for you to observe your child and their peers. Look for aggressive or passive body language that tells you something is not quite right.
Finally, the most important thing you can do: be engaged! Find ways to spend time with your child because making them a priority by giving up something else changes things for the better. Place your child in extracurricular activities where they will excel and then support them in these activities. Encourage family and friends to support them. Many of these activities have scholarships for low-income families, so don’t let money be a barrier.
*When your child does come to you about bullying, validate their feelings and let your child know that it is normal to feel hurt, sad, scared, angry, etc.
*Help your child be specific in describing bullying incidents: who, what, where, when. Look for patterns or evidence of repeated bullying behaviors.
*Ask your child how they have tried to stop the bullying and then coach them in possible alternatives.
*Support your child by encouraging them to extend invitations for friends to play at your home. Helping your child (whether the bully or the one being bullied) to foster friendships that are supportive and healthy outside school will give them greater confidence in school.
*Treat the school as your ally! Share your child’s concerns and specific information about bullying incidents with appropriate school personnel. Work with school staff to protect your child from retaliation and establish a plan for dealing with future bullying. Or require that your child accept responsibility for the bullying they were a part of.
*Talk with teachers and when progress reports come out, always check the box for a conference.
*Work with your school and the PTA to bring in anti-bullying programs.
Remember that bullying is not a sudden occurrence. It does not begin when the fighting starts. Bullying exists on a continuum that builds over time from smaller, unaddressed actions. And whether your child is the victim, the bully or the bystander, keep working hard to create little people who are good and whole and strong. The worst choice is to make no choice at all.
Our guest bloggers, Debra Vigliano & Bobbijean Spellman, are from Win-Win Resolutions, Inc. This is a non-profit that has been serving Guilford County for the past 11 years. Its mission is to reduce violence and prejudice in schools and communities by teaching conflict resolution and positive social skills through interactive drama, anti-bullying and mentoring programs. Find out more about our programs online at www.winwinresolutions.org or call (336) 230-1232. Like us on our Win-Win Facebook page too!