Note: this is from the perspective of a without-child civilian who was bullied (in elementary school) and from the perspective of the much older sister of a young boy. Please don’t be offended if you don’t do all of this (you may not have the time – ask someone in your family if they do).
This morning I watched a segment on bullying, and I couldn’t help but reflect on my own ghastly experience with bullying in elementary school; a gaggle of girls snarly chants while I used the bathroom stall, the same group of girls asking me where I was going for lunch (knowing very well it was the library – my solace – as I had no friends back then), the same girls making fun of my Afro hair, my curvier body, and the very same girls saying just about anything to make me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. When I went to teachers about it, their response was for me to try to make ‘friends’ with these bullies; essentially, they said that I was responsible for these bullies behavior towards me. To make matters more unfortunate, my parents didn’t take it as seriously as I wished they would have (because they weren’t able to understand). I was a very sensitive child, and all of it hurt. I don’t hold it against them anymore, as it was in the past and I see things a lot clearer now, but I was left with an intimate understanding of the bullying dynamic, and the need for more school and parent pro-activity in combating it.
But you get lessons in life right? You get the information that your relatives may not have, and you work with what you can. I believe that it is very important to teach anyone involved in a kids life how to value them and their well being. I would love to share what I think I know with you here:
Top Five for Kids:
1. Ask your kids (everyday) about their school work and their social life
Make time for this moment: don’t be one of those parents who asks those important questions while looking down at your phone (unless you have to talk to them on the phone), iPad, or other work (I’ve seen this at work and on the street). Shut down all devices, paperwork, and anything that would prevent you from having your energy directed towards your children. Hearing your children’s voice with your head down is not enough: the eyes are the windows to the soul, and you need to be looking into them in order to feel the breath and depth of what they’re saying to you.
2. Watch for a change of spirit
If you are taking the time to stay engaged in your children lives, then you will certainly notice a change in spirit right? Are they not as happy as they use to be? Quieter? Not as talkative? Notice it. I often see parents blaming their children for so-called ‘sudden’ changes of mood or personality (re: lashing out or becoming more secretive) on ‘growing pains’ or ‘the pre/teen years.’ Wrong: its often you not taking the time. You didn’t take the time to follow them every step of the way, and now they’re trying to get through the maze that is their teen years knowing they don’t feel comfortable or able to ask questions or lean on you. It is your obligation to keep in touch: you set the standard which can have a positive or negative impact on family togetherness. Anything at school could be the actual issue: their love life could be on hold or under stress (guess what? They have one!), their school work could be an issue, a difficult teacher, or any number of things. Its really not easy going through that space between being an almost adult and no longer being a kid. Respect their journey and make time for their emotional well being. Support your kids.
3. If there is an issue at school act quickly.
Contrary to popular belief, bullying is not a necessary ‘rite of passage’ or something that ‘just happens.’ To be honest, I find it ridiculous that some parents still claim to be unaware of how detrimental to emotional and physical well-being bullying is. Some kids experience it moderately (in regards to being socially excluded), and other kids are called awful names (stemming from how they look or who they are), other kids are manhandled…I could go on. The tying factor in all of it is that bullying is absolutely abuse (and therefore a trauma). The reaction parents have to their kids experience of this abuse is truly a threshold moment where you have the ability to show them how much their feelings and concerns matter to you. Brushing aside your children’s sharing of real trauma (which often comes with a lot of shame, pain, and vulnerability) will steer the course of your relationship for a long time to come. This experience of abuse (whether verbal, physical, or psychological) can follow them for the rest of their lives. Its really your job as a parent to react in a way that puts an immediate end to it, and also allows your children to begin healing. And I really do mean act swiftly: see teachers, guidance counselors, the principal and the vice principal. I would schedule a meeting with all school authorities, and I would have to insist on immediate movement in their domain (with the penalty of going to the local school board and blasting an alarm against them if they don’t). For an institution responsible for the education of kids, they are obligated to do their job thoroughly. But its also a parents job to do their part in keeping them accountable. Children and parents have to learn how to respect and look after human lives as they move in the world.
4. If you feel resistance, don’t give up!
A child or teens reaction to parents suddenly re-engaging in their life is often suspicion and mistrust: where were you when they really wanted to talk to somebody about that thing you don’t know they went through at school or in their social life, and where were you when they really wanted to ask you an important question they felt you would laugh off or not make any time for? This ‘new’ trend of ‘suddenly’ caring for your kids may or may not be well received. In these cases, I always say its never too late: its better to reconnect with your kids (who you can loose contact with while living under the same roof) rather than to feel like your bid is over. Its never too late to reconnect and stay connected. The important thing to remember is that, while you let time go by, there is still plenty of time to rebuild. Be patient…
5. Be patient with your kids
You can’t be a parent without patience. If you dropped the ball and lost trust, you have an obligation to your children and to yourself to gain it back. Though it will take time to rebuild the emotional connection, your repeated, gentle, and relentless effort will eventually pay off. Often, parents try once or twice and give up because they think ‘its too late.’ But what actually happened is you dropped the ball, did the damage, and now you have to own your part in the fall out and repair the damage to your relationship. It’s going to be a labour of love, which you may have seen in your own life and times (before your kids were born): businesses weren’t built overnight, books weren’t written in a day; films aren’t often made and released in the same calendar year, and neither were dynasties erected overnight. Start listening to your kids: prioritize spending time with them, doing things they enjoy or just chatting, and continue to rebuild.