Friday, October 1, 2010


With the Rutger's death this week, I am mulling over what strategy I might use with my children in a world overrun with bullies. I actually believe the "oh, it happens to everyone" or "it won't last forever" are pretty pathetic strategies. I think even one incidence of bullying changes who you are.

It is not enough to craft a strategy to merely "deal with it". In order for us to be part of the solution we have to figure out ways to stop it entirely.

I guess I have to start by creating some clear "rules" to consistently share with Lucas and Mya. If this happens, then you do this. Any ideas?

Maybe I should contact the school and find out their policies. What is my child to do if he/she witnesses bullying? What if he/she is the target of bullying?

I really hope I have instilled enough sense of right and wrong in my kids to avoid dealing with them being the bullies. Mind you, even the most solid child gets caught up in a bullying situation if they choose to do nothing, say nothing. Staying silent about it makes them complicit. Staying silent grants power to the bully and robs the victim too.

Already, Lucas worries a lot about other kids laughing at him. He is routinely told by classmates "you're not my friend anymore," only to be told the next day on the playground "you're my friend again". First grade recess must be pretty high-drama.

Mya determined in Lucas' "your not my friend anymore" situation she would approach the bully on Lucas' behalf and declare, "You should be nice to everyone". She clarified though that she would say so in a very nice, very polite way so the bully wouldn't turn on her too. Four seems way too young to be gathering street-smarts.


grandma anita said...

Barbara Coloroso sure has done lots of research on bullying.
It is sad that kids are bullied even in kindergarten and Grade 1.

I am glad you are starting early to help the children role play ways to deal with this issue.

Maria said...

You are so right that bullying will leave a mark on a person that does not easily, if ever, go away. I suffered from bullying when I was a young teenager. I re-entered the USA after living abroad for 6 1/2 years. Age 13 is difficult enough without having to adjust to a new school. But, it was more than just a new school - it was a much different environment. Living abroad meant we usually socialized with others who also were out of their home country (didn't really matter which country). We tended to bond because we were the outsiders. I went to small segregated schools because that is all there was. But, back home, in rural southern Tennessee, I was looked upon as a really odd duck. I didn't talked like anyone else, I thought differently and I was the shortest one in class (stayed that way until my junior year in HS). I tried to fit in. I was accepted on the basketball and softball teams. I was smarter than most in my class and was used to being vocal in class (so, I was labeled "teacher's pet"). And because I was so short and not developed yet - like all of the other girls in class (many actually 1 - 3 years older), the boys make fun of me, and the girls really taunted me for not having boyfriend.
During my junior year in high school, after having sprouted up 3 whole inches that summer and joining the drama club, my quality of life improved. Our drama teacher, a professional actress who grew up in the small town and had a somewhat successful career on Broadway and Hollywood, was most instrumental in putting all of us in our rightful place. And as a world traveler herself, she opened the eyes of all of her students.
But, that little tormented girl still comes out at times. She gets in the way of my better judgement of close personal relationships, but it is hard to shake her.
So, I have not offered any advise here obviously, but a statement that I do agree with you Catherine, it is a scary problem and I trust your instincts to guide your children in the right direction and to give them the confidence to survive the social minefield they will encounter.

Catherine said...

Anita, Coloroso is a great resource! Maria, so sad that anyone "different" has to suffer. The irony, of course, is that every single one of us is unique and different. I'm sorry that that happened to you.

Anonymous said...

I, like so many others, was bullied at school. What I did wrong, was the 'Jesus approach'. My grandparents, who raised me, taught me to ignore it, to pretend it wasn't there, turn the other cheek, and the bullies would out of disinterest (according to their 'politically and ethically correct' theory and method) eventually go away. But for bullies, this is a sign of weakness. The worst you can do when being bullied is to show weakness. You have to stand up for yourself. You have to stop it right there - no waiting period. You tell everyone, and fight back in every way. They will still do it when none of the adults sees it, but then you have to step up yourself. I actually could have done this, I was strong enough, but got wrong advice from home. With bullies the ethically correct, Christian methods don't work. Anybody who claims so, has never been bullied, I mean really bullied in their lives. Usually bullies gang up, and then even sk. 'good kids' get involved in bullying just out of peer pressure. So, actually pretty much anyone's child can end up on either side. That's why every school and society, even cyber communities need to have their official action procedures of what to do and who to contact when it happens. IT IS everywhere. At the moment I know three people personally: 1. one child in Kindergarten who doesn't know the language well enough yet, 2. a teenage girl at a social networking website who is being bullied by her boyfriend's ex & co. 3. A boy in the 1st grade who already changed classes to get rid of bullying, but the school is unable to stop it still since the parents of the bully are too influential in the society / give so much money to the school. Yeah, we really need a what to do procedure program at every institution.

Catherine said...

Anon - thanks so much for sharing your own experience. I am always so sad to hear of personal experiences of being bullied.

I am certain that if enough of us talk about this and keep it open for discussion, some change can happen. I am giving serious thought to my own family's "here's what you do" procedure. I agree that swift action, zero-tolerance makes sense!

Do you think walk away is weakness with both boys and girls? Is there a different way to handle a girl bully vs a boy bully?

Anonymous said...

I walked away, and it didn't help, it actually made it worse and now that I think about it, I was always being bullied by boys (even though a girl). So I have to think about this one before I can answer. And not everyone is willing or able to stand up for themselves right now and right there, which brings in the importance of the soooo 'non-innocent' bystander. But from my childhood I remember the bullied were mostly the ones who were not able to stand up for themselves, somewhat weak to the nature (on the outside that is), easy targets so to say. It wasn't enough that you were different, they also kind of had to allow it to happen from your 'too' kind, peace-loving, non-confrontational or shy or Christian nature, whatever we want to call it... Meanwhile I read on Barbara Coloroso, and I agree there are 3 parties always involved; the bully, the bullied and a bystander, who is never innocent either, and every party needs to be educated and proper 3 p's put in place as she calls them: policy, procedures and programs. Also a restorative justice: restitution, resolution and reconciliation is needed - otherwise the bully will end up bullying at a workplace etc. later. I just wrote out of my own experience with feeling, from a deeply emotional place, about a society that yet had to place these programs. I hope they are now coming finally, decades later. You are right, had I had to tools, the what to do's, I could have walked out of a situation by just leaving the class room always when it started, but it was not allowed. I wanted my A's; and I couldn't have gotten them leaving the room. But had there been a rule in school, that you can leave the class room, when being bullied and go to the nurse / pricipal / councellor, heh, I would have been saved from 3 years of misery. I don't think this rule exists yet either, but it should...

Craig said...

As someone who grew up, OK this point is arguable - as someone who went to public school, I am well aware of the social structure and absolutely do not believe it is just kids being kids. It is kids being adults (parents) and adults (teachers) letting them. It may sound like I'm rambling on, but what I believe is if these grandfathered behaviors (bullying is only one of them) are not absolutely explicitly condemned in our educational institutions, how can we really expect our kids to learn anything? Oh, it's the parent's responsibility. Oh, how can we expect teachers to handle that too? Because it is more important than 2+2, that's why. The real question is what should our personal policy be when we see our children bullied, and what will we do when the institutions through their inaction (willfully or not) 'bully' us into submission? How can we as parents effect change ourselves? We do this by bringing legion to the school board and the pta and we absolutely insist on zero tolerance. We build after school clubs that are bully free zones to give quieter kids a place to socialize and build strength. If the ignorance is enforced by the army of the status quo, we lobby tooth and nail for charter schools that beat our drum for a world without fear, a world that fosters mutual respect and compassion - a world that believes in itself. Dangerous thoughts.

Catherine said...

This is a pretty powerful post ....

Nicky Zaharko Bootle said...

Hi Cathy! This post couldn't have come to me at a better time. My oldest son is in kindergarten and he is experiencing a very similar situation to Lucas'. A boy who had initially befriended him, has now decided that he will be his friend sometimes, and not others. He will tell him that he will sit with him on the bus, then get on the bus and say "just kidding" and leave him to sit alone. When I was a parent helper at school, I witnessed this boy on numerous occassions, treat other children this way - pushing one child out of a group hug, telling another child that she could not talk to him and his friends. Yet, this boy seems to have a legion of followers, which my son, for some reason, desperately wants to be a part of. This is hard to watch as a parent and my first instinct is to tell this child that he should not act like that and tell my son that he cannot associate with that boy.

The teacher has not made the situation any better by dividing the children into groups (blue circles, red squares, etc.) which further segregates the children and is already causing cliques to form. And on top of that, the groups have been divided into boys and girls.

Upon speaking with his teacher (in particular, about switching up the shape groups), she made a comment on how we spend the early years of our children's lives teaching them to be good people, but that the world is cruel and once they get into the "real world", they must adapt to the cruelty of it. So basically, as you had mentioned in your original post, just to deal with it and that it will pass. That was a hard pill for me to swallow.

I have spent many hours trying to determine how to tell my son to best deal with this siutation. I waffle back and forth and in one breathe I tell him to try to get along with everyone and in the next breathe, I am telling him that he does not need friends like that boy.

I worry because I want his first experience in school to be a positive one. Most importantly, I want him to form confidence. I knew eventually, we would be faced with these types of issues but, naively, I did not think it would be in kindergarten.

Catherine said...

Nicky - so sorry your son is suffering through that! It is not helpful at all for me to say "it doesn't matter what they think" because it does. It isn't much use to say "don't let it bother you," because it does. I'm still sorting through what kind of constant steps/actions/words I can provide so they know what to do. You sound like you're doing a great job of getting in the class room and working with the teacher...surely if all of us (as Craig suggested) came at the schools with one voice saying "this cannot be tolerated" it would make a difference.

Craig said...

I suggest we set a date, get together and solidify our thoughts and goals. We then form this into a material package we bring to our schools and PTA meetings with talking points and curriculum expectations. Any takers?

Did you know you can look up schools and compare them? Interestingly, these search sites do not categorize incidents of bullying and other benchmarks that I would think are more important to building our children's character than academics and sports. Sounds like a great opportunity to start a new web service.