The school year is coming to an end, and this is when I look back on the past year and see what issues have come up. I have a child in pre-K, kindergarten, and 2nd and 4th grades, so the issues have definitely varied, from scheduling to keeping track of everyone's after-school activities to separation anxiety.
But there is one issue that cuts across grade levels, and that is the bully.
There have been bullies in school as far back as we can remember. When I was in school, it seemed the norm for every class to have a bully, and it was just part of the growing pains. But now we know bullying can affect children severely with low self-esteem, violence and even the horrible outcome of suicide.
I always thought bullying could never happen to my child. That is, until my daughter was in pre-K and beginning therapy for a language delay. We knew that mainstreaming our daughter was the best thing for her socially and we found a half-day pre-K program. She was able to attend a school for special needs in the mornings and then the mainstreamed pre-K in the afternoons. I wanted more than anything for our daughter to be able to play with other children her age. I pushed for her to go to that school, hoping she could make friends and we would start scheduling play dates with other little girls her age.
After her first week at the school, however, she began crying at drop-off and pick-up. She didn't like it there and didn't want to go. But I just assumed the structure and transitions were hard, and pushed her to continue to go.
That was my first lesson as a mother to listen to your child when she is upset. She didn't know how to explain to me that she was being bullied. She didn't know what that meant.
When it was my turn to parent teach, however, I knew within the hour that my daughter was being bullied. I witnessed the girls purposely sit away from her in music, which left her sitting alone, and play tag with my daughter always "it," which turned into a run-from-her game. They called her names during free time and refused to let her play with them in the classroom. It took me one visit to see why my daughter hated coming to school. As I stood on the playground watching the game of "tag," I couldn't hold the tears back and they began to run down my face.
After class, I questioned the teacher. I asked her how after one day I knew my daughter was being bullied but even after a month the teacher didn't understand why my daughter wasn't happy at school. I got in the car and told Jaden she would never return to that school again!
That taught me to always keep in mind that you are your child's biggest advocate. Always talk with your children, but most important, listen. The words may not be there to express they are being bullied, but as a mother you know and can stop it before they are really affected by it.
As much as no parent would ever want to admit it, it may not always be your child who is the one being picked on. What do you do when your child is the bully? Parents have to understand that at some point their child could possibly be the one bullying. Don't be ashamed or embarrassed by it. How can a child learn if you don't teach them?
As a mother, I find it my responsibility to check in with my children and keep the line of communication open. When my son told me that a child was being picked on by his friend, I asked him, "What did you do?" His reply was: "I didn't do anything, but I wasn't the one making fun of him." I then explained that by allowing it to go on he was at fault just as much as the other boy who was teasing. I told him you stand up for the child being bullied, you remove yourself and find an adult to tell, or you are just as much a part of it as the bully. My son was devastated by that information and knew the next time he was a witness he had to stand up for the other student.
The following month, I received a letter from the school stating my son was named student of the month. The principal explained that it was for standing up for a fellow classmate when he was stuck in a bullying situation. It was a proud mom moment, and I knew he had listened to what I explained to him. No parent ever wants to hear that their child is the bully...but if you don't teach them, who will?
Amber is a mother of four, executive director and co-founder of PitCCh In Foundation and creator/designer of CCandy.