How Can We Prevent Bullying? Start with Our Own Children.

Small children experience bullying.  Childhood bullies are as common as childhood friends, often, in my opinion, because the issue is not taken seriously at a young age.

Childhood Bullying Image Credit: Safe Network

Perhaps we think our children are simply fighting back, or learning to stick up for themselves.

Perhaps we think kids will be kids and shrug off something that may seem like no big deal.

Perhaps we can’t imagine our child being the one who hurts someone else, and may or may not do it deliberately.

There may be many reasons we ignore early signs of bullying, but none of them are acceptable.  Without addressing mean behavior early, children learn that bullying is in some way normal and those that are bullied learn fear and loneliness and even at some point, self loathing.

Remembering

I remember being in 5th and 6th grade and being the girl “out” for a day or a week.  There were a few leaders of the pack and I suppose they chose whose turn it would be and for the one chosen to be out, life was miserable.  It was as if you had no friends.  The girls talked about you, made things up, said things to boys….and I, we, said nothing.  In fact, I am ashamed to say that when I was not out, I was confused and scared and did not stick up for other girls when it was their turn to be excluded.  I didn’t know what to do, and at that time a lot of adults said girls will be girls.  Soon this shall pass.

For some girls, it did not pass.  I remember girls transferring out of school for being mocked.  I know girls who tried to take their lives.  Bullying was the cause.

I remember the boys who got pushed around too.  For them, in my school, it was less an in or out thing.   Those who couldn’t cut it physically just seemed out.  For good.  There were some physical fights, but more, it was just a general lack of acceptance that I am sure broke their hearts.

Reflecting

Looking back on the childhood bullying I saw or experienced, I am thankful that for me, it went away.  I also look back further in my mind and know it started far before I felt it.  While we cannot always nip things in the bud, with bullying of any kind we must be vigilant.  Ignoring warning signs of your child being a bully or being bullied is simply not okay.

Yesterday I became one of the millions of people (5.7 million now) who watched 8th grader Jonah Mawry’s Video on YouTube.  This young man shared with the world the pain he experienced since his youth and the physical hard he caused himself as he contemplated suicide at a young age because he was mocked and hated at school and felt like he hated himself.  Then he shared that his life would not end and showed his last index cards reading “I am not going anywhere.  I have a million reasons to be here”.

Those million reasons and the bullying that almost moved him to take his life moved me to write about my own children.  We all have a million reasons to be here and should never be made to feel like we are not good enough, not pretty enough, not straight enough or not anything enough to live.

Reacting

I wrote a post in March of 2010 titles That Mean Girl is Mine in which I shared my then 3 year old was being very mean and excluding one specific girl at school.  It broke my heart to hear about it and to write about it, but I felt it was important.  Sophia has a strong personality and one that leans towards being a leader.  Leadership brings power over other people and in that nugget lies my fear.  Any power should be used for good, but we all know how easily cliques are formed and how very nasty they can be.  I simply will not allow actions of exclusivity to pass as anything other than unacceptable in my home.

Last week I overheard Sophia telling her brother about a club at school when he asked her why some people were mean to him on the playground.  Miles is 3.  Sophia said she could help him with whoever was being mean to him because she was in the “Bad Girl’s Club”.  He asked her why a certain girl was always nice to him and she told him that if they told her to mean, she would, because she always listened to them.  She proceeded to reveal who was in the club and that they planned things to do to people.  I was in shock.

I called her in and asked her to explain the club to me.  She blushed a deep and revealing red. I asked her how she would feel if someone was mean to her and she started to cry.  Thank God, she started to cry.  She said the club was new and that they didn’t actually do anything.  She said she did not make up the name.  She said it was not her idea.  It was no joke, I said, to make other people feel unloved.  Still red, she admitted she knew that, and said she was very sorry.

I asked her to tell me everything and I told her we needed to talk to the other parents and to her teacher.  She asked me not to tell Daddy.  I told her that we could both talk to Daddy and to her teacher.  I called the other mother that I knew and talked to her teacher the next morning.  Sophia’s teacher talked to the girl’s that day.  We talked with my husband later in the evening.

After speaking with her teacher, it became clear that this was not Sophia’s idea and that she did not plan the one attack the girls executed.  They chose people and attacked them with leaves.  You may giggle, but it all starts somewhere.  These girls are 4 and 5.  It doesn’t matter to me whether or not she did that one thing.  The fact that she would be in such a club warranted a serious response.

Now, there is no club.  All clubs in the 4’s class must include all kids or there will be no more clubs.  I guess they have a thing with clubs right now.

I thought for the moment, this was behind us.  The bullying stuff.

Then Miles became upset.  I picked him up from school and he said that he was sad on the playground.  He said there was a boy, the same boy who tried to pull his clothes off him on Halloween, who still tried to pull his pants down and also pushed him and his 2 best friends.  He said he got pushed down a lot.  Most revealing, I asked him if he was friends with this boy, as that can sometimes tell me if this is a playground thing.  Miles likes everyone.  He said they are not friends, that this boy is mean to him.  I did not leave carpool until I had spoken with a teacher.  I will talk to Miles’ teacher tomorrow.  You see, Miles could easily be bullied.  He is open-hearted and kind and not aggressive at all.  He does not thrive on competition and gets upset easily.  He could easily be picked on.  I will not let my son think I don’t care.  I will not assume this is a little kid thing and ignore it.  I have to address it.

I have to not only teach my children but protect them when I can.

Resolution

Whatever age your children are, please consider this an area of immense importance.  Bullying can go unnoticed by adults because it becomes so hidden in schools.  Listen to your kids if they still talk to you.  Let them know how much they are loved.  Speak to your kids about bullying from a young age.  Share the real value of kindness and inclusive behavior and model it at all times.

We need to do all we can to love our kids and show love to others.

Then, we need to work on preventing childhood bullying by teaching our children it is absolutely not okay to be mean physically or emotionally to others.  We need to teach our kids that people are different and that is good.  We need to prevent bullying when we can by being pro-active and responding to situations as soon as they develop.  Talk to your kids in words they understand.  Everyone knows what hurt feelings feel like.  These conversations aren’t always easy, but they need to be had.

Please intervene.  Whether it is my child or your child or a stranger, please get involved when you see or hear of bullying.  It is never okay.  Please understand that in bullying, kids often cannot work it out by themselves because there is an imbalance of power.  A dominant adult must step in – or guess who wins?

Be vigilant – follow up.  Like a hawk, I will keep my eye on this.  We will talk to our kids about their days, we will ask questions, we will care about their friendships and relationships.  I will talk to my kids and I will talk to their teachers.  When I hear something, even if it does not involve my kids, I will mention it to a teacher if it involves bullying.  This is not prying or tattling.  It is protecting.

It may not be a resolution but I resolved to fight childhood bullying with everything I have.  As my kids get older, it will only get harder.  As much as possible, I want them so see those million reasons to be here all the time and have the strength to see them even when things are hard.  I want them to see that others have a million reasons too.

Parenting is not easy and bullying may be one of the hardest issues we face.  I resolve to be on a campaign for nice with my family.  To show it, to talk about it, to reward it.

As I said before, make room at the the table.  Include others.  Be a friend.  This never goes out of style.

Here’s to acceptance, kindness and friendship.

Please share your own thoughts on raising kind children and dealing with the issue of childhood bullying.  It is real and terrifying what happens as our kids get older.  I would welcome any advice or comments.

Also, I do not ever ask, but please share this post.  Put it on Facebook, Stumble It, Tweet it….anything.  There are just too many parents who let this go too long.  It is critical that we help our children grow into respectful, kind, open-hearted people of the world.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Comments

  1. says

    Wow, Brittany, this is so powerful. Thank you for being so honest about what your children are experiencing and the steps you are taking to address this. This is so very important for all of us to pay attention to.

    I really want to know where this is coming from, though? Where does a 3 year old learn to bully? TV? Parents? Other children, sure – but where are those children getting it? This is so troubling.
    Candice recently posted… I didn’t put him thereMy Profile

    • says

      Candice, I think they learn it everywhere but really I think they grow up at different rates and when they are very young and relationships begin to form, they do not always know how to handle themselves. Small children need to be taught how to handle their wants and desires. It does not always come naturally.

      For instance, with Sophia, what she wanted was private time with the new girl. Instead of asking to have a play date she laid across a chair preventing another friend from sitting down. She said she did not want to mean, but clearly that is what she was. She really struggled with her feeling of “possession” of the new friend. We had to work with her on dealing with her desires and the new thing called jealousy she was feeling.

      We need to give them the right tools and understand that it comes from somewhere and help direct their energies in the right way.

      Unfortunately I think some specific actions, especially later, do come from TV or watching older siblings or maybe even parents (though this sort of seems less likely except in really bad cases).

      Let’s keep talking about it and coming up with a great Pre-School Emotional Toolkit. It would be well worth it.

    • says

      Oh Nic, it started in Sophia’s class when the girls were three too. I really believe it starts when friendships / relationships begin. Therapists usually say that kids start to play in real groups and not individual play in the same place between 2 and 3. It only makes sense that it this point they start to test relationships and figure out strengths, weaknesses, similarities and differences. That is why I think it is so important to start talking now.

      Ask questions. In Miles 3’s class they are talking about how they use their bodies and their words. They are role playing situations on the playroom or in the classroom. When I talked to Miles’ teacher I was SO relieved to hear that the boy’s family had actually talked to her after the Halloween incident about his physicality and aggression. They are working together with her to help him learn to handle his high energy and emotions. How awesome to have other parents, like me, be just as concerned with a child who is exhibiting questionable behavior?

      A lot of this came out when I asked Miles if there was anything wrong with his day. I like to stay all positive but I thought sometimes kids answer the question they are asked. When I asked about troubles, it came out. Very interesting, no?

  2. says

    What a moving post!! And such an important issue.

    I just watched the Jonah Mawry video yesterday too and it TORE at my heart. I have a post in my head that I hope will make it to the blog about it.I remember bullying in school it – it was AWFUL. The thought of my child being a victim or possibly worse- being THE BULLY scares me to no end.

    I cannot believe that it is starting as young as 4! What a great thing you did to intervene the “Bad Girls Club” at your daughters school. It is so important that all parents educate their kids on the topic as you did. We need to encourage them to open up when something is wrong and treat others the way they would like to be treated.

    • says

      Reading about this, bullying usually starts from when children are very young, whether or not they have a name for a club. Where there are friends and similarities and differences, there is need for kids to learn to be inclusive of all, to treat others all with kindness and it is not always easy. You are right with me – whatever side of bullying comes into your family breaks your heart. I totally agree that getting kids to open up and starting conversations while they are young and still somewhat open is of the utmost importance.

      Thank you so much for commenting and sharing.

    • says

      Please write about it. Spread the word. It is so hard, but we need to use our voices. I think it has always started young and in some ways, people being so different, it is natural that one child may have a more dominant personality than another. A lot of this starts in small children as a misunderstanding and then evolves into something bigger as feelings are hurt and anger aroused. It can also be that a child learns he or she is not getting “caught” being the power kid on the playground and grows bolder and even meaner. It all just must be addressed as soon as it is seen. I am so sorry that you were and are bullied. It is a terrible thing. I am not sure how to deal with it as adults but I am thinking long and hard about it. I know the answer is to not bullied, but for people who are, how do you handle it? Who do you turn to?

    • says

      Thank you so much. I am trying to spread the word because so many people think that it does not start this young just because it doesn’t look exactly the same or feel right to call anything a pre-schooler does by that name. Hopefully it helps someone. :)

  3. says

    I was bullied practically from the time I could walk. Everything you said in this post is so true. I have shared and will continue to share. I am vigilant about my child’s behaviour but honestly believe that both of them will be more likely to be a target rather that the doer. And that scares me. So much. I seriously pray that they are that small percentage who glide through the middle. Not super popular but not the playground targets.
    Stephanie recently posted… Now who is obsessed?!?My Profile

    • says

      Oh my goodness I often think I hope my kids are just in the middle too, but I know, with Sophia, that she is not. We will have to really work with her on being the nice girl, not being bossy, and using her super assertive personality for good. With Miles, we will have to hope that he learns to use words to stick up for himself and not get angry and start to lash out or hide everything inside. With Violet – people should just watch out because she might just eat them :)

      Thank you, for being as aware as you can be and sharing. So many people do not realize how young this behavior starts.

  4. Jennifer says

    This came to me at the right time! My daughter is being bullied at school, and I had no idea how to handle it. Looking back, I brushed a lot of the stuff off that she told me because I thought she was just misbehaving. She was getting into a lot of trouble at school, and its getting better now, but It has just hit me that this could be a cause of it. My daughter is very isolated at school, though she is brilliant, and a lot of the kids pick on her. Its hard on her and this will help me help her find a way through this! Thank you again!

    • says

      I hope things go well! I spoke to my son’s teacher and was so impressed. They are now doing role play exercises in his 3’s class on how to use your words and bodies appropriately and talking about the fact that there is a difference between tattling and sharing with a grownup when you feel scared, left out, etc. Essentially, they are teaching the kids about bullying in words and phrases they understand. I am just so thankful!

      My younger sister was (and is) brilliant and was isolated at school. It was so hard for her. Looking back, my mom thinks there may have been a better way to approach things and I hope that by opening up a discussion and continuing it we can all help each other to find solutions that work for all age groups.

  5. Oopsiemumma says

    Thank-you so much for writing such a powerful post. I’ll be sharing this everywhere. We changed our 7 year old son to a private school this year just because we want our kids to go private. He spent the majority of the year being bullied by two boys that seemed to be jealous of his instant popularity and also seemed to be jealous that I was always there for drop off and pick up. Their mums can’t always do it due to work circumstances. There were times when I felt maybe I was over-reacting and boys will be boys but after reading your post I’m so glad I stuck in there and jumped up and down about it. My little one is now happy to go to school but I know that more jumping might be needed next year. But I’ll be jumping for as long as it takes.

  6. says

    Great post. Bullying is such a serious issue — as a new parent, it’s something I worry about a lot for when my daughter gets older — but it seems like the focus is so often on the victims. Quite honestly, I think this is the first piece I’ve ever read from the perspective of a perpetrator’s parent.

    Maybe parents of bullies are just less likely to talk about it? Maybe there’s a fear that having a child engage in any sort of bullying behavior means you’ve failed as a parent somehow? But overall it just seems silly to expect young children to figure out how to interact with their peers in healthy ways without any guidance or practice, when they need it in so many other areas.

    Anyway, lots of food for thought — thanks for speaking out and sharing your experiences on this issue.
    Sarah PH recently posted… Personalized Christmas OrnamentsMy Profile

  7. says

    Such an important message, Brittany, and thank you for sharing. I think you’re a great example to follow, for moms whose children face bullying, one way or the other.

    I was bullied in kindergarten, and at the time, I never let it bother me (I was 4, 5) but it clearly had an impact on me. I chose to start standing up for myself early on. I know that for many kids, that doesn’t happen as the level of bullying they suffer, is debilitating.

    I hope that when the time comes for me to handle this issue, I can do so with as much wisdom and grace that you have.
    Alison recently posted… Guest Star: Rach of Life Ever SinceMy Profile

  8. says

    Thank you for talking to your daughter and helping her understand what bullying is and why it’s not ok. And thank you for being a voice for other children. I’ve heard my friends tell me how their children were bullied at 3 and 4 years old and how the bully’s parents didn’t have a problem with it. Makes me upset that more adults don’t take this seriously. Thank you for the message.
    Rach (DonutsMama) recently posted… I’m A Super Star!My Profile

    • says

      With bullying, the more actionable the better. And the earlier we talk to our kids about how they act and how relationships work the better. Thank you for your kind words on the post. I am trying to spread the message that talking to our youngest humans about this is a real way to help prevent bigger bullying problems.

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