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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What should parents do when their child is being bullied in school

This is a tough one. Firstly, it is not easy to establish bullying. Just what exactly is bullying? I read from KidsHealth.org that....

"Most kids have been teased by a sibling or a friend at some point. And it's not usually harmful when done in a playful, friendly, and mutual way, and both kids find it funny. But when teasing becomes hurtful, unkind, and constant, it crosses the line into bullying and needs to stop.

Bullying is intentional tormenting in physical, verbal, or psychological ways. It can range from hitting, shoving, name-calling, threats, and mocking to extorting money and treasured possessions. Some kids bully by shunning others and spreading rumors about them. Others use email, chat rooms, instant messages, social networking websites, and text messages to taunt others or hurt their feelings."

I think that is a very good definition of bullying. After reading the article, I have established that my girl is being bullied in school by the boy that sits beside her. This is what he does to her
  • calls her "stupid" and says bad things about her to other friends
  • bangs on her table and shouts at her
  • blocks her way when she wants to leave her desk to talk to teacher and erases the work that she has copied from the black board so she has to redo it
  • tells her "I will beat you" though not actually doing so
  • mocks her 
  • tells her he hates her, she is his enemy and all other sorts of name calling
  • takes away whatever books that teacher hands out to her saying "this is mine" and gives her the other one instead
So what do we as parents do? I am afraid that we have been inconsistent. First we told her to ignore him. Then we told her to stand up for herself. We told her that since it is the end of the term and only 2 weeks left, we will not be talking to teacher so we taught her how to deal with it. Then daddy walked her to class one morning to access the situation. The boy saw him and this made matters worse. He banged on her table and said "You told your daddy, didn't you? Tell me the truth! Tell me the truth!" This frightened my girl even more. We told her not to be frightened. We told her that the next time he bangs on her table she should tell him "Go and bang on your own table."

The next day he banged on  her table again and she came home with a note to us. It said

"What Alan did to me. He banged my table, called me stupid and sang a song about me like stupid. The song that Alan sang.... "I hate you. You are a bad girl. You are stupid..." and a lot more things that are bad about me. But daddy, I was too scared to say bang your own table."

Looks like we had handled this in the wrong way. I read the article which states some reasons why kids are sometimes afraid to tell their parents about bullying which includes...

"Sometimes they're scared that if the bully finds out that they told, it will get worse. Others are worried that their parents won't believe them or do anything about it. Or kids worry that their parents will urge them to fight back when they're scared to."

That is very true. My girl is very afraid that telling will make the bullying worse and she is afraid that we will ask her to fight back because she is afraid to. She has become so afraid of the boy that it spoils her weekends and her bedtimes as she worries about him.

I asked her what does she want to do in her heart and she says "Tell teacher" but when I said I will tell teacher, she said "No! Please don't!!"

Finally we decided that we had no choice but to step in. She was afraid of the boy. She was afraid to tell teacher. She was afraid of us telling teacher. She was afraid that teacher may switch their places and the boy would be angry. She was even afraid to be seen with us in case the boy got mad. She was plain afraid and she didn't know what to do.

Deciding to intervene is not an easy decision. Firstly, we want to teach our children to be assertive and stand up for themselves. Secondly, we do not want to be overly protective of our kids. I read that many parents hold back from speaking to the teacher for this reason too... ie worried that the teacher may think that the parents are being over protective.

However, at the same time, we also want to show her that we support her and believe in her when she comes to us. In order to do this, we must take what she says seriously.

It is a fine line... deciding whether you should or when you should intervene. Who said parenting was easy? It is a growing process. We grow along with our children and face new and different challenges along the way.

Eventually, I read the whole article about bullying to her. I praised her for being brave enough to tell us about it. She does not dare to tell the teacher because she is afraid the teacher may brush her off and she is afraid of repercussions from the boy. I told her what is the difference between aggressive behaviour (the boy's) and assertive behaviour (which everyone should have to stand up for their own rights.) I do not believe that it is too early or too young for my child to understand this. No one every taught me about being assertive and as a result, I was less than assertive for most of my life.

I told her to ignore the boy so that he would get bored. I told her what is a "poker face" from the article and we practised it which made her laugh. I told her that she can busy herself with drawing comics (which she likes) or reading and ignore him if he disturbs her again and then we role played the situation. First she pretended to be the boy and I practised ignoring her and then I became the boy and she practised ignoring me while I pretended to call her names. That was good fun.

Finally, I went to see the teacher. (even though there was only a few more days left to school). I had the impression that the teacher felt that I may be overeacting because she said "This is very common. The kids call each other names all the time." I would not call it bullying she said. I would say it is teasing."

Oh well. I agreed with her that it is common and it makes a teacher's job very difficult if every parent were to complain each time their child is called stupid since there are 40 over students. I did not want to disagree with the teacher so I just smiled at her and said yes maybe she is not used to it but I hope you can do something about it.

Though, I personally think that if the teasing is constant, spiteful and mean to the extent that it hurts and scares the child, then it has crossed the line and is no longer fun or funny teasing. If the teacher thinks otherwise that is her prerogative and I do not blame her for thinking so in her position. I am not there to argue with her but to get things done.

The teacher agreed to switch their places. I also gently asked whether the teacher could have a word with the boy to leave my girl alone and to have a word with my girl to go to her if it happens again. I told the teacher that it is better for this to come from her than from us because to a child, the teacher is always right and the teacher's words "is like gold". If I were to tell her, she would just say "No mummy, I am scared. I don't want to tell teacher." This, I hope would prevent the situation from getting worse.

The boy saw me and looked at me with knowledge and recognition in his eyes. I just pretended not to see him though I would have loved to give him a glare and a word or two. However, I don't think it is in my place to give him a lesson or teach him. Not unless the bullying is physical, in which case, I think his parents should be involved.

And that was that. I hope we don't hear anymore of this.

The boy gives me the impression that he comes from a well to do family. My girl tells me that he is often talking about going for overseas holidays. He would buy gifts for friends and discard them if they didn't want them only to buy the very same thing again the next day at the school shop. When there is a school funfare, his parents give him a lot of money to spend to his liking. He likes to sing pop songs in class and has 200 over facebook friends. And he is not stupid. He was number 1 in class in std 1. He sounds like a poor little rich boy to me since he has to behave this way to get attention and feel powerful.

Many people think that bullying must be physical, pushing, shoving, extorting money etc . However, verbal bullying can hurt and nowadays even cyber bullying has even caused youngsters to commit suicide. I think that as parents we must be sensitive to our children and believe in them. Never brush them aside and tell them to "just stand up for yourself." We should give them our moral support and encouragement but not overdo that too because children must be given the room to learn and discover ways of dealing with people and situations on their own too. It is a fine line... deciding whether or when to step in.

If you think your child is being bullied in school by his peers, here are some advice for kids or more ways to help your kid deal with bullies from that same article I read.


  1. I hv just read about Phoebe Prince who committed suicide because of being teased by other girls! I always tell my boy to fight back only when there's no weapon involved! He's still working on that! We know how it feels when we being teased! I still remember whole lot of friends gang up and teased me when I was young, yes, ignore them if you could, after all this is a passing phase for the bullies too!

  2. My girl was bullied by two boys last year (different occasion) . It was minor, not really serious, but I went to speak and warn the boys.

    As much as I want her to stand on her own feet and handle the matter as well as telling her to ignore and move far away from the bullies, but when the bullying repeats, I think we as parents must step forward too.

  3. wow...my parenting is easy compared to what you have to go through.

    Glad you found a way to work it out. Will def keep your advice in mind if it ever happens to me.

  4. thanks for sharing this MG. i'll remember what to do when the time comes though i hope it will not :) with a temper like mine, i know i would go straight to the school and have a word with the boy :)


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