After years of being the victim of bullying, this mum has come up with a ‘bully proof’ plan to protect her kids.
As a child, I was bullied almost every day of sixth grade. Mostly because I looked like a boy after a haircut went very, very wrong. But later on, it was because I was poor. It was discovered by one of the boys at school that I lived in Housing Commission, something I had not realised I was meant to either hide or be ashamed of. This however, was wonderful fodder for the school bully. Being poor was apparently something they could all agree, was both funny and worthy of their ridicule.
Back then of course there was no Internet. There was no keyboard to hide behind and nor did they seem to require one. They were quite happy to publicly ridicule, harass and torment me in person.
Looking back I can see how terrible and out of line this was. I was a KID and I was also, an easy target. I was weak and I lacked confidence. There were so many days I was actually frightened to get to school before the bell rang. If I did, that would mean I would be alone in that schoolyard, practically begging for their unwanted attention. My lunch hours were spent hiding in the school library, nose in a book, desperately wishing for the school holidays to begin.
It all came to a head one day when a boy, surrounded by his posse, found me. The library was shut that day for whatever reason so I’d found a rock in the corner of the playground to sit upon to eat my lunch. That’s when he started calling me a ‘Shag on a rock’. Honestly, I didn’t even know what the hell that meant, but I knew it wasn’t complimentary. I was by this stage, so sad, so lost that I simply burst into tears. And I sobbed. Loudly. This attracted the teacher on duty who asked me what had happened and I told her, I couldn’t help it, it all came out. Subsequently, these boys were disciplined by the Principal. My mother was called to the office and the boys were made to apologise to me in person. We were only 12 years old but they were suddenly very aware and very ashamed of their actions.
By its definition, to bully means to use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something.
The thing is though, these boys (and the girls who were also along side of them and thought that they were hilarious) didn’t force me to do anything. Their end goal was simply to further their own feelings of superiority. They were essentially calling out a poor girl for being poor.
From that day onwards, my life got better. I wouldn’t say I was the popular girl, but they left me alone and I was left to forge my own way and make friends that understood and “got” me.
But how though, can we “bullyproof” our own children?
I have publicly written about my son who is Aspergers and the physical and verbal bullying he has been subjected to due to his obvious physical appearance and weakness. On the flipside, I also have another son who I fear will be a part of the problem if he’s not educated. So I’ve researched on both sides of the fence. And come up with the following 5 tips:
Have the conversation.
Outline exactly what a bully is. What behaviours a bully displays. Make them understand it is neither cool nor fun to make their classmates feel sad or upset because of either their physical appearance or social interactions. Tell them to watch out in the playground for someone who might just need a friend. And to always be inclusive.
Model kind, compassionate and confident behaviour.
Your children look to you to learn their behaviours. If you are actively kind and compassionate, they will only have this as their reference to model themselves on, especially in early life. This will also help them recognise the bullies when they start appearing in the schoolyard. It will also hopefully, give them the knowledge and strength to intervene when they spot this kind of behaviour.
Stay connected to your child in all ways, at all times.
Children are no longer just bullied in person. In fact, it is far more prevalent to be bullied online these days. One way to monitor this is to know what platforms your children have access to and are using. If you think your tween/teen doesn’t have a Facebook or Instagram account just because you’ve said they aren’t’ allowed, then I’m sorry, but you are seriously deluded. If they want it bad enough, they will get it. Instead of banning, just allow them to interact and have these platforms but be across them, understand how they operate and then MONITOR them. You’ll then know what to watch out for.
Teach your child that there is no shame in being frightened by a bully, in walking away, or in telling an adult and asking for help.
The thing is there is often a great deal of shame attached to being bullied. The child can think that it is their fault and not that of the perpetrator. This mindset needs to change. They need to feel comfortable to tell someone, hopefully you. They need to understand that they can speak with you or their teacher when they feel unsafe. And that there will be no negative consequences as a result.
Teach kids to intervene to prevent bullying when they see it.
It could be argued that if you don’t intervene when you see another being bullied, that you are no better than the bully yourself. It’s hard because often, children are simply just trying to make their way through the maze that is school themselves without attracting unwanted attention. What they need to understand is that to stand up for someone who is being unfairly made of fun is a very brave thing to do. These tips won’t change your child’s life immediately. I think though, if we could all, as parents, make a concerted effort to just have the conversation with our children, then we are already heading in the right direction. To point out that they need to speak up if they are being bullied and similarly, if they suspect that their own child is part of the problem and possibly the bully, then this also needs to be addressed.
Teach your children to live and let live. That they won’t always like everyone that they meet but that’s okay, that they’re not supposed to. But you should always allow people to be the way they are without public or private ridicule.
What suggestions would you have for children, to avoid them being bullied or even becoming the bully?