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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.