Bully and the Bullied

This article, entitled Bully and the Bullied comes from Erin Ferris at chasingroots.com

Back in August, as I prepared to send my five-year-old off to kindergarten, I worried about what his experience in a new school and with new kids would look like.

What if another kid picks on or makes fun of him? What if he picks on or makes fun of another kid?

What if he is disrespectful to his teacher or bites a classmate and gets sent to the principal's office?

What if he has to eat lunch by himself or doesn't have anyone to play with on the playground?

What if he's picked last in gym? What if someone makes fun of his singing voice in music class?

My worries centered primarily around bullying. Thinking about his classmates picking on him scared me, but considering the possibility that HE might pick on other kids was nearly as stressful. (The little boy I raised is sensitive, kind, and a fairly diplomatic leader – an unlikely bully – but I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I don’t really know how my children behave when I’m not around.) Turns out I was worried about the wrong kid…

My three-year-old daughter is demonstrating the early signs of bullying.

Despite never really witnessing bully-like behavior that I know of – my husband/her dad and I have a peaceful relationship, and as I mentioned above, her older brother gravitates toward strict leadership rather than bullying – she’s figured out how to push her classmates around.

You’d never guess it by looking at her. She’s a head shorter and 10+ pounds lighter than nearly all of her classmates, and she looks – at first glance – quiet and shy. She has an innocent face, kind eyes, and a smile that melts hearts. It just goes to show that there is no “universal” bully.

I attribute some of her behavior to her age, and to the fact that in our family she’s the youngest and therefore has the least amount of “power” at home. Though we give her options and allow her to make choices for herself whenever possible, she’s still “forced” to run errands with me, sit on the sidelines at her brother’s baseball games, eat what I make for dinner, and follow a schedule that works for the entire family. I assume she’s trying her hand at creating favorable (in her eyes) environments and circumstances at school – by influencing the children around her – because she’s had little luck doing so at home.

But I also attribute her behavior to who she is as a person. She is fierce and passionate. She is proud, confident, and independent. She knows who she is and where she’s going, and she’s not going to let anyone get in the way of either.

Though many with whom I’ve spoken about her behavior are in no way concerned, I can’t help but worry. I consider it my responsibility as her parent not to downplay what I and others have witnessed. I can’t afford to assume that at some point she’ll simply “outgrow” attempting to intimidate and manipulate her friends. I owe it to her, and to all of the children she will ever interact with, to put an end to this behavior now, before it gets worse and while my influence on her is still great.

So here’s what we’re doing:

• When an incident occurs, her teachers talk me through what happened. Once we’ve left school, she and I talk through what happened. I help her understand how her behavior looked and how it likely made those involved feel, and then we discuss alternate ways of addressing the situation. (Her behavior usually stems from conflict or frustration, so there’s always a “situation” to work with.)

• We talk about and practice how to say “I’m sorry” in a real and meaningful way, but we also talk about how apologies can’t and don’t fix everything. She needs to understand that once the words leave her lips, she can never take them back.

• We read books about how bullying makes others feel, how to stand up to bullies, and what it means to be a good friend. A few of our favorites include:

o The Juice Box Bully, Bob Sornson & Maria Dismondy

o The Berenstain Bears and the Bully, Stan & Jan Berenstain

o Bullies Never Win, Margery Cuyler

o One, Kathryn Otoshi (this happens to be my favorite children’s book of all-time)

• And lastly, we hand down consequences for poor choices and unkind behavior. In our house, trouble in school generally results in the revocation of technology privileges for the day. Though they spend very little time “plugged in” during the school week, my children consider no evening cartoon the most horrible punishment imaginable.

I want to start (and then continue) the conversation about bullying among young children. Perhaps you’re the parent of a child who’s been bullied, or perhaps you’re the parent of a child who’s exhibiting bully-like behavior. Perhaps you’ve never been on either side of the bullying coin but you have professional expertise to share. Everyone is welcome at the table, for as they say, it takes a village.

How can we – collectively as parents – help our children be a part of the abolishment of bullying? Let’s discuss!

Note: I enjoy writing about my children. I love to share their accomplishments, the hysterical things they say and do, and how they publicly embarrass me. I even love to share my parenting frustrations, because I know that someone, somewhere, will at some point need to read about another parent who’s struggling and falling and getting back up. But it’s much harder – painful, even – to write about my children’s flaws, because I carry their flaws on my shoulders and consider them to be, in many ways, my flaws as well.

This was a difficult post to write because I was essentially drawing attention to one of my daughter’s flaws. But I did it for an important reason: I honestly believe that if we as a community don’t talk about bullying while our children are young, we’ll be talking about considerably more painful issues when our children are older.

So please, comment on this post. But be polite and constructive. Remember that’s she’s just a little girl, and that just like almost every parent out there, I’m doing the very best I can.

About the Author...
Erin Ferris
My name is Erin, and I’m a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas.
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