I know that we are all here in the midst of summer fun and no one wants to start thinking about heading back to school just yet…. but it is during this downtime of summer, when life is more peaceful and quiet that we have a fantastic opportunity to talk to our kids about tough issues like bullying. Sometimes it works to have these discussions directly while having dinner together as a family, and allow everyone to chime in with their thoughts and ideas. And sometimes you might be more successful getting a tween or teen to talk while you are in the car heading out on an errand, because they find it easier to open up and share when Mom isn’t looking directly at them! But wherever you open up this discussion, it is a good one to have with your kids- now….. so if they find themselves in a bullying situation during the school year, they will remember what you talked about and will have some ideas on what to do.
Talk To Your Kids About What Bullying Looks Like
Most of us think that bullying is pretty obvious- right? It’s the mean kids teasing or even physically punching other (smaller) kids on the school bus or on the playground. But truly, that is only one form of bullying. What happens more often (and is certainly the more prevalent case with girls) is “exclusionary bullying”, when a group of kids decide to leave another kid out of their “fun”. It takes the form of “Let’s not let HER sit at the launch table with us”, and “No Bobby- we don’t want you to play in our game of tag”, and it leads to kids standing around by themselves in the lunch room and at recess with no where to go and no group to be a part of. This kind of bullying cuts deep- makes kids miserable, and makes it extremely difficult for kids to focus on schoolwork.
Exclusionary bullying is also much harder for teachers and school administrators to see happening, because nothing physical is occurring- there is just less to witness. And quite often when an excluded kid complains to a teacher or playground staff member “Suzi won’t let me play with her!“- the kids are encouraged to “work it out” or are told to “go find someone else to play with“. It can be really hard for that school staff member to see the difference between “kids being kids” and exclusionary bullying. Bullying, by its very definition contains three elements: an imbalance of power, an intent to harm, and repetition. So leaving a kid out of a game one or two times is not bullying. But a group of kids that excludes another child repeatedly, knowing that it makes this child feel awful IS bullying. And this is what we all need to recognize.
Talk to Your Older Kids About Cyber Bullying
Exclusionary bullying is a HUGE issue online. What kids say about one another on Facebook or in texts can be extremely hurtful. Talk to your kids about what they share and what they spread that others have shared online. Kids do not realize that once something is posted online, it is there for forever. A mean comment made today about a friend that made you mad will be there long after you have resolved your differences. A post encouraging other kids to ignore and exclude someone doesn’t go away. Teach your kids to not engage in this kind of online bullying.
Talk About Including Others
… and specifically how not to exclude others. I talk with my kids about looking up from lunch once in awhile and noticing if there are kids standing around with no place to sit in the cafeteria. And I teach them “one liners”… “Hey Jim, you want to sit with us?”. Sometimes kids have good intentions of not excluding someone, but have no idea of how to go about doing it. Just talking about this with your kids will make them more aware.
Empower Your Kids to Talk to Trusted Adults When They See Bullying
This is hard to do. When kids witness bullying- physical or exclusionary, it is hard to “speak up” because they worry about turning the tables against themselves. But we all need to understand that the more we do to make our schools bully-free, the better the environment is for everyone to learn. So kids that they see it and don’t say anything are allowing bullying to be a part of their school environment. Everyone has a responsibility to make the schools bully-free, and that includes our kids. Talk about which adults and teachers in the school they know and feel that they can trust in a private conversation. It could be their teacher, it could be the gym teacher, or it could be a recess aide. Each of your kids should be able to name a go-to person that they can talk to.
Advocate to Your Schools
Insist that your child’s school implement a bullying prevention program. Our school is using Olweus which our teachers and administrators have been very happy with. If your school does not have a prevention program in place, see what you can do to get one going. Olweus is a good place to start. Perhaps you can gather a few other parents and offer to help to raise money to fund the program through parent donations, corporate sponsors, etc. This is such an important step in getting schools to recognize and react to bullying. Education is key.
This post is sponsored by Chase — a strong supporter of the Bully Project, a program committed to ending bullying and ultimately transforming society. Learn more here at JPMorgan Chase and the Bully Project.