I’ve done stories in the past about how to prevent bullying and what children, parents and school officials can do when a child is being bullied. Some of the answers from experts and parents were pretty helpful, and many times experts and parents didn’t agree. One expert said “don’t fight back.” A parent said “put your child in karate.”
I guess it depends on your situation and your child’s personality. But the other day I had to have this discussion with a child who was facing a real bully at school. The tension between the two boys had been escalating over a few weeks but one day the bully took physical action. The child being bullied, who was now angry and upset, didn’t know what to do. He wanted the bully to be stopped and he wanted the bully to get in trouble, but he didn’t want to tattle tale and get abused further by the bully.
The child approached his teacher and asked if he could go to the principal’s office. The teacher asked why. The child, not knowing the teacher well and not sure that he was all that comfortable with her simply said, I’ll tell you later.
Once in the principal’s office, the child was able to talk about the bullying. He talked about the events leading up to the physical altercation. He admitted that he wasn’t completely blameless. When the bully called him names, he called the bully names right back – mostly out of fear that if he didn’t stand up for himself the bullying would get worse.
The principal called the bully into the office and the two boys talked it out. The principal asked the child what type of punishment the bully should receive, in which the child said, “We talked it out so let’s give him another chance.” The principal then had a discussion with both boys and discovered other things going on in the school that needed to be addressed.
This being the first class of the day, the child finished out the school day, buried himself in his DSI on the school bus home (despite being teased for not having friends), and made it home from the bus stop to his house.
Then he saw his mom and he broke down. He had stayed strong all day long and when he found the person he trusted the most, in the comfort of his home, he cried and got angry. He yelled and did all the things any victim does once they feel safe.
His mom, initially angry that her child came home and began yelling at her, realized his actions were a result of something else, and did not discipline the child for acting out. She waited. The child said there had been problems at school and went to his room to calm down.
At this point, mom was pretty nervous. She knew there had been issues with one particular boy at school but she didn’t know what to do. She began searching online and found a website that helped her. When her son returned to the room, she followed it step by step. She recognized the warning signs and then gently asked about what had happened at school. She stayed calm and learned as much about the situation as she could. She promised her son they would handle it together. She worked out scenarios with her son about what he could at school when the bullying happens.
Then she called the principal and the teacher. The mom let the principal speak first, at which he immediately acknowledged that he should have called her prior to now. The principal apologized for asking her son what consequence the bully should receive in front of her son. He apologized for allowing a child to make an adult decision and assured her there are policies in place for this type of situation. He promised the mom that he would follow those procedures the next day.
Mom informed the principal that certain behavior is not to be tolerated and she would not tolerate the school being lenient on bullies. She then spoke with the teacher and explained why her son wasn’t comfortable going to anyone to discuss the bullying. Mom then set up a meeting with the teacher and her son so they could discuss why his grades in that class were not as good as they used to be.
Mom is now following up with her son and the school to ensure there are no further problems. The principal did take action against the bully. Mom is hopeful that the bullying will stop, but she cannot guarantee it.
Had mom not accessed that site, she may have instead gotten angry with her son just as he finally felt comfortable letting out his emotions. Upon learning the truth, she would have called the bullies parents herself and possibly caused further problems for her son.
It is hard to know what to do in difficult situations, but the steps outlined on the site were an answer she needed immediately. Early intervention can prevent depression and low self-esteem. Children are too young to handle these things on their own and they need to know that their parents are there for them. In some cases, more will need to be done and other professionals may need to get involved.
For this mom, she now believes the next step is to help her son improve his self-esteem. For him, that just may mean enrolling him in karate.