Families and Parent Educators Share Tips for Stopping Bullying (page 4)
Berkeley mom Claudette Johnson was concerned when her fourth-grade daughter, Louise, started dragging her feet on school mornings, withdrawing from activities, and gaining weight. Then Johnson learned from another parent that one of Louise’s friends was bullying her.
Bullying—which can include hitting, tripping, name-calling, threatening, or shunning a classmate—is more common than parents may think. By some estimates, more than 160,000 kids miss school every day because of bullying.
“Bullies often go after kids who are vulnerable or who are perceived as different,” says Lynne Wasley, senior parent advisor at Matrix Parent Network and Resource Center in Novato. Parents and educators discuss how families can intervene to stop bullying.
Be alert for warning signs
Children who are being bullied may cry or make themselves sick to avoid going to school, but other signs can be more subtle. “Any change in daily activity, how they eat, how they’re sleeping” can be a warning sign, says Wasley.
When parents are involved at school, they can see how students interact with each other. “Come early and ob-serve what’s going on in the schoolyard, or drop in on the class,” says Irene van der Zande, executive director of Kidpower, a Santa Cruz-based nonprofit that offers skill-building on personal safety and anti-bullying education.
Talk with your child
Johnson used a gentle approach to talk with her daughter about the bullying. She asked Louise how things were going at school. Later she mentioned that, when she was young, she was the target of a “mean girl.” Within a few days, Louise opened up, telling her mother that her friend was calling her names and demeaning her.
Johnson helped her daughter think of different ways to respond to situations that might come up at school. “I [tried] to get her to be more assertive about things,” says Johnson. If the other girl ordered Louise to get some crayons, Johnson suggested saying, “I’ll get them this time if you get them next time.”
“Don’t lecture” when a child talks to you about being bullied, adds van der Zande. “Just say, ‘Tell me more, and we will figure out what to do.’” Parents can coach children on what to say to the other child and role play situations and saying the words.
Provide tools to help children handle the situation
After 6-year-old Lily took an anti-bullying class from Kidpower, she used her new skills to respond to a first-grade boy bullying her and two of her kindergarten classmates. Lily “told her friends that just being mean back wasn’t going to get them anywhere,” says her mom, Lisa, a Hillsborough resident. The girls walked away from the boy, tossing his mean words into an imaginary trash can. When the boy kept bothering them, Lily told him to stop or she would tell. When that didn’t work, she reported him to a playground monitor and the boy’s bullying stopped.
“If a problem is small, the child should try to handle it first,” says Caroline Cabrera, an outreach specialist for Lutheran Social Services of Southern California who teaches the K-4 “Steps to Respect” program in Barstow.
Van der Zande adds that if the bullying doesn’t stop, children should get help from an adult—“schools often punish a child who fights back.”
Get involved when needed
Leslie Chen, a Sacramento mom of Chinese descent, found out one of her 12-year-old son’s friends had been taunting him for weeks, referring to him as a type of Asian food. At first, she says she didn’t take it too seriously—her son, Matthew, played sports with the other boy and the families had a common circle of friends.
“I never thought of this whole situation as bullying,” says Chen. “[My reaction was] turn your cheek, he’s just kidding, don’t let him get the better of you. I just wanted the kids to settle it themselves.”
“[Matthew] just tried to ignore [the boy] and told him to quit it,” Chen says. But one day, when Matthew responded with a clever remark, the other boy punched him. The boy was suspended; after his parents made him apologize, he started threatening to beat up Matthew.
Chen’s husband wrote a letter to the school and Chen also met with the principal. The boys had two classes together, so Chen emailed those teachers and asked them to keep an eye on the situation. “Even if your kid doesn’t want you involved, as parents we need to be an advocate to make sure they’re safe,” says Chen. “Both teachers talked to my son to make sure he was OK.”
Chen talked to the boy’s mother, who insisted her son’s threats were idle. But the bullying ended after school officials and the boy’s parents told him to stay away from Matthew.
Johnson also talked with administrators at Louise’s school. She asked a teacher her daughter trusted to tell Louise “you’re aware that she’s having a tough time and you’re here should she need anything,” she says. She also asked the recess attendant to step in if it seemed the other girl was hovering over Louise.
Johnson says the bullying seems to have ended. Louise is attending a new school this fall (unrelated to the bullying) and the two girls still email each other, though Johnson monitors the conversations.
Advocate for anti-bullying programs
Parents can push for changes in school policy to limit bullying. “[Schools] might need more supervision of children at lunch and recess. They might need a policy. They might need [an anti-bullying] training program,” says van der Zande.
Wasley says it’s important “to address the whole school culture,” so that bullying behavior is seen as uncool, bystanders are willing to say so, and incidents are reported to adults. “Everybody has the right to be respected and feel safe for who they are,” she adds.
Some names have been changed.
- Kidpower offers workshops and trainings on self-protection, confidence-building, and anti-bullying. Site includes resources on safety and bullying prevention. Some resources are in Spanish (scroll down). www.kidpower.org/ARTICLES/index.html
- Bullying Prevention Project, from PACER Center (which focuses on disability issues affecting children), offers resources on bullying, including a website for kids and prevention resources in English, Spanish, and Somali.
- Matrix Parent Network and Resource Center is a resource center for families of children with special needs. Offers a toolkit on bullying and children with special needs, including tips for talking with your child as well as advocating
for changes in your child’s school.
- The California Department of Education offers a list of publications and resources on bullying, www.cde.ca.gov/ls/ss/se/bullyres.asp
Extra resources from the Children’s Advocate bulletin
- Kids Against Bullying, from PACER Center, offers child-friendly information and resources about bullying, including stories from kids.
- Respect for All Project, from Groundspark, is a curriculum that helps reduce bullying and create welcoming school and community environments by challenging stereotypes and promoting respect. The organization also offers workshops for teachers.
- Bullying, from Education.com, provides information on bullying and tips for helping children handle bullying situations. Also includes tips for working with schools to end bullying. In English, some information in Spanish.
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Reprinted with the permission of the Action Alliance for Children.
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