I am not even sure how to open this topic. It is a Pandora's box full of fear, self-loathing, hate, embarrassment, shame, and buried memories, all wrapped up in one word: BULLY. My book club is reading a book called Dear Bully where seventy authors write of their experiences of being bullied, being the bully, or being the bystander. It really makes my heart ache. I think everyone should read it.
Perhaps the only thing worse for me than any personal memories is watching my kids create their own. Recently I've left a group of homeschoolers that I have known for at least six years. Many of them are among my closest friends and I am sure I will continue to see them but in a more limited way. Others I may never see again except through Facebook. I had a lot to lose by walking away but it was a choice I made to keep my daughter from being the target of bullying.
Her problems were small but the pattern was there: the avoidance of her by the group, her submissive posturing to be included, their insinuations that she wasn't "bad" enough to hang out with them, gossiping, and, perhaps most painful for a mother, her questions about why they don't like her and how she could change herself to make it better.
So, is this bullying? Maybe.
What should I have done? Left? Talked with the other mothers? Taken the issue to the group? there was no clear or fully correct answer. Leaving was what my husband wanted me to do and perhaps he was right, but I chose to go to the other mothers first, and later, when that didn't work, I chose to leave. The group was made aware eventually and it wasn't pleasant for anyone, but nothing about these things are.
Yet, I think that my end of things was the easiest. Part of the reason this event went from a seed of a problem to a giant, choking, poison ivy vine was that one mother couldn't imagine her sweet, caring daughter doing this. Want to know the kicker, I couldn't either! She was sweet and caring. The problem was that she had a best friend and they wanted to be alone. They were growing up faster than my daughter and they wanted to leave her at a distance and my daughter wouldn't cooperate. But in the setting of a small park group, it wasn't possible to avoid the issue.
I think we all worry about having our child bullied, but we should also prepare ourselves for our child acting as the bully. Any child can be a bully, a bystander, or bullied. There is no guidebook to raising kids, but if I had to write my own, here would be some things I would include:
When my child is being bullied:
- Take it seriously. Listen to the entire story. Determine if the problem was isolated or a trend. If it is a trend, act on it.
- Ways to act include:
- Observation. Unless there is a concern for my child's immediate health or safety, keep an eye on it until you have some examples for the next step.
- Take it to the parents or the authority in charge. Don't expect to be believed. Know that any range of emotions is possible and that things may never be the same with the people involved again.
- Remove your child. It may seem impossible, but do it anyway. Remember, just the act of believing your child and following through will heal things greatly.
- Once it is over, try to move on and look at the situation with good humor. Harboring hatred is not a way to heal.
- Remember that all sides are children (if they are) and they are all learning the rules of life. Growing up is not easy.
When my child is a bystander:
- Listen to your child's version of the story.
- Brainstorm for ideas ranging from standing up for the bullied child to talking to the bully to anything that will show kindness and encouragement to the bullied child and distaste and discouragement to the bully.
- Make kindness the goal but be understanding about how hard it is to speak up.
- Be prepared for the fallout.
When my kid is the bully:
- Take time to get my emotions under control before acting. This will be hard but it is important.
- Ask my child for their version of events.
- Consider that even if my child sees no harm or wrong, if another child is hurting, things should be addressed.
- Declare all discussions about the children involved off limits with anyone but me. No gossiping. If others ask, have a default answer of "I'm working on things and not allowed to talk about it."
- Contact the other parents or authorities periodically to ensure progress.
- Be kind to your child. Growing up is hard and making mistakes are part of it but try to help your child be someone their adult self will not regret.
If you or someone you know is being bullied, it needs to be addressed. It won't always go away or get better, but it will end, hopefully with as little damage as possible.