|Cody in his Kindergarten Uniform.|
My oldest son began his years of school accidentally being placed in an ESL Kindergarten class. The city we lived in was quite large and didn’t have the smaller town way of enrolling wherein you go to the school and sign your child up for that year. You went to an enrollment center and they placed the children in the school closest to them that had availability at the time. So we took the bus to the enrollment center and signed him up for Kindergarten that year, we had checked out the school previously but they didn’t have special pre-opening days as his school does currently and I didn’t have a vehicle so that I might take him his first day. Instead he got on the bus that first day of school in his big puffy orange coat and sat in the back by the window with his hand pressed against the glass and I watched him leave me for the first time.
After the first few days of school my son would come home sad. He would say that the kids in his class weren’t like him to which I’d reply that not everyone is going to be like him. I assumed that it was due to him never having grown up with other kids his age (outside of his cousin we moved away from) and wrote it off. After a few weeks went by he told me that he was tired of not being able to understand anyone and I asked why, which is how I learned that the school, having been overcrowded in the other Kindergarten classes, pushed him into ESL wherein all the kids were non-English speaking students. He began to get picked on on the bus by a group of Spanish kids because he was the only white child and his hatred of school blossomed. They couldn’t place him in a normal Kindergarten class and eventually we were able to move and begin again. He had a wonderful teacher for the rest of his Kindergarten year who brought him back to life with school and that gave him an eagerness to learn.
He went to that same school the year following, 1st grade. To say my son never understood how children worked would be an understatement. He had an adult mind and most of the people he knew were adults so the general things kids pick up on between themselves never sunk in. One of these things was that to tell a teacher about everything people do wrong is tattling, he assumed he was doing the right thing in telling the Teacher when things happened. After a few weeks of this and an entire group of 1st graders caught him on the playground and attacked him. It was the Kindergarten class that had recess with them that ran off and got a teacher to help. My sister was called, being the contact while I was at work and she dealt with the situation until I got home. The teachers, principal and otherwise were informed of this and told him should anything happen to let them know so the second time he was attacked by a student he told his teacher, to whom ignored it… a third, a fourth… he stopped telling my Sister and I because he felt no one would ever do anything until it got worse. I stormed into the school and demanded to talk to the Principal, the Teacher and she both basically explained that my son was a tattle tell and that this was just a normal reaction towards kids like that which was why anytime he told them he was hurt they ignored him. We left that school without regrets.
His second and third years would be a bit better. His fourth year he was home with me as we adjusted to a new city he wasn’t used to that had schools that I was not comfortable sending him to and then we moved into the town we are at now. Since 5th grade I’ve been called to the school twice for physical abuse and have went to the school over a half a dozen times for other abuses. At the end of his 6th year he was punched twice in the face after being kicked repeatedly by someone he assumed was a friend. It happened during an assembly and as I had told him that when kids say things just to ignore it and walk away, he did so and this was how the other child retaliated. Still he did not go to a teacher and instead quietly slipped off to the nurses office. The nurse called me and I picked him up from school and the end of the year came a week later.
So here we are in 7th grade. He’s dealt with his fair share of being made fun of and his things being broken by other kids. Thankfully we’ve yet to deal with other more heinous forms of abuse this year and instead I’m dealing with the issues of his memory and grades. His school and his teachers are wonderful here and I am grateful for that. However it doesn’t keep me from being aware constantly, of always asking what is going on around him; as a parent of a bullied kid I always feel I am on alert.
Signs that something is wrong: Just as when your child is sick and you watch for behavioral changes to know when to go to the doctor. You must watch your child to see if they’re mood changes. Are they becoming more introverted? Are they ignoring and/or refusing to allow you to know what is going on at school? Are they beginning to ask questions about dieting and/or refusing to eat? Are their grades dropping with their behavior? Have their friends changed drastically? Keep informed about what is going on in their lives so that way when something drastic changes you can be alerted. If you do not know what is going on in your child’s social life and/or school life then you may not know when something goes wrong and a teenager may not feel that you care enough to know.
How to approach a situation: A Mother’s initial reaction to bullying is to lose their minds. If you receive a call from the school and/or informed by your child… breath. It doesn’t help the child nor the school if the parent becomes irate and sometimes causes your child not to want to open up about it in order to not upset you. Be calm, get the whole story and talk to the teacher/principal and/or other parent reasonably. The bullying child also has a Mother who is just as emotional and more than likely is as uninformed as you. Know the school policies regarding abuse and talk with your child before the year begins on how to identify bullying. Sometimes it is difficult to know the difference between girls cattiness and boys rough-housing; help them to understand before a situation is ignored to the point of actual abuse.
What to do afterward: It doesn’t help to teach your child to bully back. Most often this is what causes a small dispute turn into physical harm. Instead work on building your child’s esteem. Self-Esteem works as a shield against most bullying and children with a lower form of it are generally attacked and/or effected more from it. Some examples on esteem building would be to take your daughter out for a girl day or have a spa day at home. Don’t just tell her how pretty she is, as most girls (myself included) generally assume that’s what parents must say. Show your daughter by letting her see for herself. For my son I take the day to nonchalantly highlight his better qualities. He’s amazing at video games so I will take the time to play with him and let him know how amazing he is at it. If your son is into sports, books, collecting, etc… spend some time with them on the things they enjoy and praise them for their aptitude in those things. When my son was made fun of for his looks I took him out for a day where he got to pick out a few new outfits in a new style he wasn’t used to and got a different haircut. It “renewed” him to feel better about himself. I always feel better when I get my hair done! Build self-esteem rather than bully back, it helps your child in the long run.
There are groups for Parents of Bullied Children for Parents who need more help on this topic and to speak to others dealing with the same situations. The more you stay informed the better. The more you praise your child and show them the wonderful qualities they have the better. The more you are involved in their school and their daily lives the better. As a parent of a bullied child and having been bullied myself, I know that the risk of not being alert, of not being knowledgeable and informed is too high. The cost is too great. Some of us only have to deal with minor things like bruised egos and others have to deal with wondering if their children will survive the next day.
I wrote this in reaction to someone’s assumed belief on our Facebook page that Bullying is Character Building. That “eventually” my son, as other parents sons, will figure it out and learn how to defend himself on his own. Some kids don’t.