parents

Parents: "My kids were bullied. Don't make the same mistakes I did."

Bullying happens when adults don’t step up.


by STEPHANIE OSFIELD

My family life has been shaken up like a snow dome throughout years of bullying. I mean seismic shudders. Gut wrenching. Infuriating. Crushing. And relentless.

Beyond the tears and fears, my kids have suffered migraines, nausea, insomnia, stress-triggered seizures (in my daughter who suffers nocturnal epilepsy) and terror of being harmed (triggered by food threats made against my other daughter, who is anaphylactic to peanut).

Studies show that bullying slam-dunks immunity. We lived this. It decimated the health of my daughters, now 11, until they escaped by getting into an OC class, free of those girls. Suddenly my twins enjoyed their best health in years. The change was miraculous. The bullies still continue to recruit people to exclude my girls. But now they get less daily access to engage in their other behaviours.

Sadly, last year we then went through it all again with my son. In his first year of high school his bullying involved physical assault after months of verbal denigration. Again, I was shocked. The shock has never been as much about the children’s behavior, (though downright awful), as it has been about the way that adults around them behave when it all comes to light.

Each new surge of bullying has picked our family up and dumped us. Down. Dashed on the rocks. Swept into our lives like a sudden, emotional tidal wave. Some days I have barely came up for air. Before the next dumper. Had to fake the smiles and calm while the afternoon butterflies were swarming in my stomach. Because for months on end, home time meant my kids arriving in tears or needing a de-brief about that day’s devastating incidents and humiliations.

Looking back? One of the biggest emotions I feel is guilt. Full on. Hardcore. Regret. That I didn’t do enough. Sure I was there – with the tissues, the cuddles and the pep talks. But I should have been a warrior woman – Boadicea and Buffy rolled into one.

This Friday is National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. In the lead-up I’ve been thinking about how I handled my children’s bullying. How I owe them a big apology. How bullying happens when adults don’t step up. And up. And up. I came forward only three or four times and it was disastrous.

One parent went kind of beserko. One school told me I should get my kids counselling asap because the bullying was having a devastating impact. They then did absolutely nothing. We were dismissed. A few rounds of battles and I was punch drunk. Couldn’t face any more. But I should have got right up and back in that ring.

To other parents, what I want to say is this – if you ever find yourself in that bullying frontline, don’t make these same mistakes that I did:

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 1. I didn’t want to rock the boat

Know what? Once the bullying happens it is too late. That dinghy is rockin’ and a rollin’ all over the place. You’re in for stormy weather. Silence won’t calm the waters. My keeping quiet allowed us to run rapids for years and capsize repeatedly. But I shut up because my kids have only ever been bullied by people we know socially. People we’d once broken bread with and shared champagne. At their houses. And ours.

What a newbie I was when the school years and the bullying kicked in. I’d thought any threat would come from kids who were strangers. Knowing the culprits, made me tread softly when I should have bovver-booted. I kept thinking, ‘we live in a community’. Thought if we rode it out it would stop. Didn’t realize that train we were on was a rollercoaster with no end. It I had my time over? I would be in the faces. Of all those in a position to slam-dunk the bullying, who didn’t act. I wouldn’t back off. Being a bulldog certainly could not have made the situation any worse than it has been.

Stephanie Osfield

2. I encouraged my kids to be friends with their bullies

Bigtime. Dumb. Move. What was I thinking? My dodgy logic went like this. Never make enemies. Keep those awful alpha kids on side. Maybe if you find a connection you can all be pals – not allies, just not enemies. I know, I know.

There’s no room for your inner flower child in the face of bullying. Think Toni Colette, “Killing Me Softly”, About A Boy. Those times I got my kids together with the children who had bullied them? They were treated like second-class citizens – pushed around, put down and subjected to appalling behaviour. Big no brainer. How did I not see that “Danger” neon sign.

3. I told my kids to ignore it

Ignoring bullying is like trying to ignore a landslide in a hurricane. It’s a non strategy. Does. Not. Work. Now I believe it is better to call bullies on their behaviour from the get go. Preferably in front of others. Particularly those girls with goody-two shoes smiles and Shirley Temple “thank-yous”, said while they slip that knife right under the radar and into the back of your child’s ribs.

When I did take my girls for counselling a few years ago, they were really damaged. At my wits end I had a few separate sessions myself.  I mentioned the many incidents, some that I’d personally witnessed. The counsellor didn’t sugar coat it: “You need to teach your kids to step in way sooner when people get competitive and say hurtful things and push them around.” Again, even with friends I had always advised a ‘just ignore it’ approach – for fear of ……. bullying. Right on, me.

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4. I protected the bullies by keeping quiet about them

Fear drove this. I thought these kids were only singling out our family. Now? I know different. Almost two years ago, I hit the wall. Smack. Bang. I started speaking out and it was a bloody revelation. Mostly I didn’t even mention names. Didn’t have to.

After saying my kids had been bullied, the other parents knew immediately who was responsible. Named the very names of those kids who had made our lives hell. Over and over – those same names were raised. Still keep being mentioned. They had bullied so many other children – to varying degrees (with my poor kids getting the ‘full works’!). Yet all of us parents had kept quiet. All this time. Our silence gave the bullies power. We helped make the bullies strong.

 5. I made my kids offer olive branches

I might as well have bought them a ‘kick me now’ T shirt. Particularly the time I made my girls say ‘sorry there’s been a misunderstanding’ when the other girl was telling lies. I hoped it would just help the storm blow over. Reality check. After the apology that child’s bullying behavior ramped up big time. And as it grew the lies and character assassination got so widespread and problematic that other appalled parents contacted me about it. I had made things worse.

6. I thought we live in a progressive age

I thought schools had up-to date-bullying policies. Wrong. Actually followed them. Wrong. I thought we’d moved on from the 60s and 70s when sporty bullies ruled the playground. Wrong again. Worst of all I failed to recognise until very late a sad new breed I call the ‘beat you at everything bully’. Created by tiger mums on steroids who get angry with their kids over test results/ trophies. This child is under so much pressure from one or both parents they regard every peer as a rival/enemy that they need to best or slay.

 7. I said ‘surely we can talk this over like adults’

Several times. Stupid, stupid. Don’t ever bother trying this. Bullying tactics were used on me – even by a teacher –  who iced me – quite openly refusing to speak to me – beyond unprofessional!. I was subjected to screaming and screeching. Worse still, adult women gossiped to friends and some joined in the icy looks, rumour mongering and shunning.

This abuse really bruised me – particularly when one contemptible woman used these tactics on my children. I was shocked. Don’t they realize their children are watching them and will model their behavior? My girls asked me tearily, “How come when these children behave badly our entire family is mistreated? How come the adults behave like children?” I had no clever sound bites to offer. I felt broken too. Thank goodness for our steadfast friends.

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We let bullies freeze us out.

 8. We let bullies freeze us out

In weekend sport, training was often torture because of those same familiar names. Adults in charge pretended it wasn’t happening. Again I witnessed some of this bullying.

So we asked to be put in the lower grade team. We were so burned out by it all, my husband and I tried hard to convince our girls to just quit playing. They stuck to their guns and they were right to. But often we didn’t attend celebratory events because those families would be there.

Last year that meant one of my girls missed out on receiving her sportsmanship Player’s Player award in public. That day she and her sister came to us and said they felt too fragile to go.

I was relieved because I did too.

Did we protect our hearts by shying away? Or did we just give the bullies what they wanted?

 9. I was too long a polite pushover

I was so civil to people who were most uncivil to me. I should have given them verbal whiplash. Once someone even rang me at home to threaten that it ‘wouldn’t go well for us’ if we didn’t do what their child said. Their child who other parents had now informed me was considered a bully at a previous school. But did I spill it? Say ‘shove it’? No – I just sucked it up. Didn’t want to burn those bridges. Bad call. They were already in full flame. Time over? I would let the truth rip. But all in dulcet tones.

 10. I thought I was teaching my kids how to negotiate the world

Now I worry I just modelled to them how to be walked all over. When bullying is going down being nice doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s a time to be brutally honest. Bullying can only be effectively dealt with if all the adults who have power to initiate change have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy. We need to be prepared, not only for courageous conversations, but to stand up – to the bullies and their wingmen, whether the wingmen are their parents or their peers.

 National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence is about strengthening messages that bullying and violence at school are not okay at any time. For more information go to: www.bullyingnoway.gov.au/national-day/

Stephanie Osfield is an award winning health journalist and newbie blogger. To read her recent posts eg about the dangers of sitting, cancer’s link to sleeping pills and how bullying harms your child’s brain, go to Savvy by Stephanie Osfield

Were you bullied at school? Have your kids been bullied at school? Stephanie will be reading the comments and so please feel free to leave messages of support, as well as your own stories.

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