Follow TSP on Facebook
Follow TSP on Twitter


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bullying – It’s not what it used to be

By Guest Blogger
Michelle Bostian, LCSW
Lower School Counselor for Greensboro Day School

Bullying today is just not what it used to be ... We are always hearing that these days. “Well, when I was a kid we had to walk to school in the snow!” The same applies to bullying. It is not the tyranny of the big mean boy who steals lunch money. It’s the otherwise sweet girl that shares her candy with all the girls she likes in front of that one girl that she doesn’t. It’s the special clubs and exclusionary occurrences on the playground day after day. Sure, there are still instances of name calling and deliberate tripping. But now there are obvious and malicious emails intended to haunt and dominate. Today, the bullying we need to target and prevent with our children is the subtle, the covert and the as yet, uncensored.

Bullying prevention could be called something friendlier like “friendship skills”. Or it could be called something really basic, like “empathy”. Bottom line, the emotional impact from any type of bullying is the same. The psychological scarring implicit with this behavior is well known to be a common underlying factor in a child’s history who later commits acts of violence or other socially unacceptable behavior.

So here’s the deal. All kids can be bullies, or “wear the bully hat” as author Trudy Ludwig puts it when she travels the US and talks with school age kids about bullying. When someone hurts someone else, dominates them in some way, and they know it is hurting the other person, that is bullying. Plain and simple. It’s the group of girls at lunch who scooch over and fill up the empty space when your daughter comes to sit down. Then they quickly adjust to allow the girl behind her space to sit at their table. Bullying is when your son tells you he and his friends did sit ups in a goofy way just like “that weird boy”, and everyone laughed.

You know it when you hear it. As a parent you likely get that feeling in the pit of your stomach that you just ache for your child. You want to go grab that kid in the library and set a few things straight. You want to give that kid a piece of your mind, let her know that she can’t treat your kid that way and get away with it. But you can’t. When you intervene like this as a parent you render your child powerless and at greater risk of being victimized again.

The more powerful thing to do is to empower your kids. Equip them with the problem solving skills to assert themselves. Role play with your kids. They need to practice the skills to create those pathways in their brains. They need to practice until it is as automatic as “stop, drop and roll”. Please don’t tell them to ignore it. Every kid who has ever come to talk to me about this stuff has already tried that. Teach kids first to say, “Stop”. They also need skills like walking away, changing the subject and saying something ridiculously funny. Explain the difference between telling and tattling. Tattling is to get someone else in trouble: “He took two cookies instead of one”. Telling is to protect someone from getting hurt on the inside or on the outside: “She calls me Fatty Patty every day at recess and now two other girls call me that too.”

Books your children can read to help build the skills and social resilience they need to succeed are listed at the end of this article. There are lots of books you can read, too. Equally important, there are things you can do each and every day to reduce your child’s likelihood that they will be bullied or that they will bully. It boils down to empathy. Teach them to think about their feelings and the feelings of others. Teach them that their behavior has an impact on the feelings of others. Model this type of behavior at home through simple things like sharing your “lows and highs” each day. This gives kids a tool for talking about their feelings. And it gives adults a tool as well.

In our family, on the nights we sit down together for dinner, we share our lows and highs. One person starts with “My low is that Caitlyn broke my favorite pencil today. My high is that we had ice cream after school.” Each person has a turn, even parents. It’s important for parents to let kids know that not only do they have feelings, but that sometimes relationships have difficult elements. It might go something like this: “My low is that I had an argument with a friend today and I feel sad about that. My high is that we had a good talk at lunch and we worked it out.” You don’t need to share more about the disagreement. Just share that you have them and that they don’t feel good and that you DO work them out.

Last, be sure your school has an empathy building curriculum. (At Greensboro Day School we use a program called Second Step.) Ask your school how they build a child’s empathy, perspective taking and problem solving skills. These are the skills to success. Not just emotional success, but educational success as well. When kids are not preoccupied by their social world around them they are much more focused on their school work. And guess what? They are also more inclined to follow directions at home when they are not ruminating about social drama at school!

Books for adults:
*Faber, Adele and Mazlish, Elaine. Siblings Without Rivalry
*Rubin, Kenneth and Thompson, Andrea. The Friendship Factor: Helping Our Children Navigate Their Social World – And Why it Matters to their Success and Happiness
*Sheras, Peter. Your Child: Bully or Victim? Understanding and Ending School Yard Tyranny


Books for Kids:
Burnett, Karen Gedig. Simon’s Hook; A story About Teases and Putdowns
Cohen-Posey, Kate. How to Handle Bullies, Teaser and Other Meanies: A Book That Takes the Nuisance Out of Name Calling and Other Nonsense
Crosby, Bill. The Meanest Thing to Say
Lester, Helen. Hooway for Wodney
Ludwig, Trudy. My Secret Bully
Ludwig, Trudy. Just Kidding
Ludwig, Trudy. Sorry
Moss, Peggy. Say Something
Munson, Derek. Enemy Pie
Polacco, Patricia. Mr. Lincoln’s Way

Michelle is a counselor at Greensboro Day School and has a private practice. I want to thank her for this very informative article today. I have made the mistake of telling my children to “ignore it” many times, so I was relieved to read the alternatives she suggested above. I already Googled a few of her suggested reading materials and they can easily be found on Amazon, as well as our local book stores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble.

If you have a child in Middle School, be sure to read our blog on
Athena’s Path & Hero's Pursuit, which is another great example of what Michelle discussed above as an empathy building program. - Rachel H

You have until Noon today to register for this month's giveaway! You may be the lucky winner of a $50 gift card to Emma Jane's Children's Specialty Shoppe! Their clothing, furniture, toys and accessories are high quality and unique! Good luck!


hallking5 said...

I felt like this article was just for us. I have an 8 year old, third grader, and this is what we have dealt with for the last 2 years. She is such a sweet girl and very smart. And as sad as this is, THAT is what makes her a target. We try as best we can to deal with this at home, but you can't raise other peoples children. It is such a heartbreaking situation, that really makes you want to go ring some little third graders necks. We just tell her to come out the bigger one in this situation. It is such a hard thing and as a parent you almost feel helpless. Thank you for this article!!!

Allison T said...

What a fantastic blog! I am going to send this to every parent I know. I like your suggestion to tell each other your highs and lows for the day. We do something similiar when we put our 7 and 4 year olds to bed. We tell each other our "happy thoughts" for the day. But, I do think we should include what our lows are, as well. Again, well written blog.

Anonymous said...

At bedtime, we say our prayers and then we have what we call "gratefuls." Everyone takes a turn and says what they are grateful for from the day. Totally going to use the "highs and lows" talk during dinnertime. Thanks, TSP!


Anonymous said...

These are great ideas. My daughter just went through this over the weekend. She had a friend over to play and the friend kept dominating the play date. She kept telling my daughter what to do, where to go, what they would play, how she was wrong about everything ... you get the idea. Afterward I wasn't really sure how to handle it. I don't want to tell my daugher to be bossy back to her friend, but I also don't want her to hunker down and ignore the fact that she is being bullied. Would you use the tactic here of just teaching her to say, Stop and take turns suggesting games. I am not sure exactly how to talk to her about this. She is six.

Down Home DIY said...

This is such a well written and informative article. Fabu to you. Sometimes as parents we don't know just what to say so thank you for the information and resources.

I'm off the the bookstore and to bookmark some of these websites.

All my best,

Maythi said...

Great article. Fortunately, we have not dealt with any of this so far, but these are great resources to have on hand. Bullying is heartbreaking - for the child & the parent. We also need to continue to foster our children's self esteem at home & make sure they know their worth and that no one can make them feel bad about themselves without their permission. I tell my oldest this daily & she seems to really "get it".
I really like the high/low activity as well. Definitely will give it a try.

C.D.H. said...

What about a boy who gets his feelings hurt really easily and cries easily, too? He just turned seven and I am scared the picking will begin if I can't help him here!

Kari Foster Allison said...

Is it common for a former victim to become a bully? We have a friend in that situation and it's actually impacting my daughter's friendship with her.

Michelle Bostian said...

Dear hallking5,
You are right. Sweet kids, people pleasers, they ARE more likely to be targets. Support her in knowing it's okay not to please all people all the time. When she brings up concern about how other kids are thinking or feeling, talk to her about how she feels and emphasize the importance of that.

Michelle Bostian said...

Dear Annonymous,
I think it might be helpful to role play with your daughter some ways to respond. See what she feels most comfortable with; I know some kids feel like it's rude to just say STOP. One way might be to say, "I'm not having fun. I want to pick the game too. How about we take turns?" Basically encourage her to express her dissatisfaction with the friend's behavior in some appropriate way. Then ask for what she wants. If that fails to work you might intervene during the playdate saying, "I notice you two aren't having a lot of fun right now. I wonder if it's because you aren't really taking turns. Let's put all your ideas for what to do in a hat and then take turns pulling them out." Last, read the book, My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig. It may be that your daughter needs to choose to put her energy into other friends for a while.

Michelle Bostian said...

Dear C.D.H.,
Although it is certianly still normal for young 7 year olds to cry easily, I can see why you are concerned. Try to see the crying as his effort at problem solving. It can be a way to say, "I need help, I don't know what to do, I am angry I'm not getting my way, I'm overwhelmed". First I'd teach him some calming techniques, like taking a deep breath or counting backword from 10. Then encourage him to draw what he is upset about or tell you with words, or even write about it if he can. I also wonder if maybe he is anxious in general. Sometimes kids who are anxious cry easily. Whatever the cause, please be careful not to tell him he can't cry at school. He may be able to pull it off, but without learning HOW to deal with his feelings he will likely just stuff them inside, which can lead to other behavior problems or depression.

Michelle Bostian said...

Dear Kari Foster Allison,
Yes. It is common for victims to become bullies. You might read the book, The Ant Bully. Basically, we all have the potential. It's as easy as wanting to teach someone a lesson who has done you wrong. The child who has been bullied needs more support working through how she was bullied so she can move on. If this is a good friend, you might find a tactful way to bring it up with her parents. Just gently state your observations. Maybe something like, "I noticed that the girls aren't getting along as well as they usually do. This is what I saw/heard today......" This is the kind of situation that guidance counselors can be really helpful with as well.

C.D.H. said...

You have no idea how much help this has been. Thank you Michelle for responding.

Rachel H said...

Michelle, this is great. I already have some ideas to role-play with with my kids. You have helped tremendously!

Katie M said...

Wow, Michelle thank you for such a wonderful post and for all your thoughtful responses. We really appreciate you as a guest blogger on TSP!

Patty said...

This is really a great article! My daughter has been on the bullied end for many years, and although it has eased up some she still holds those emotional scars and feels like everybody hates her. I am going to check into some of the materials that you recommended! I also like the highs and lows talk communication is so important with kids!

Lisa T. said...

Great article! Girls in middle school tend to be meaner in words. I will defitnelly practice with my daughter in how to handle these situations.Also this day forward we will practice her high's and low's. Thanks for great advice!

Very Concerned Parent said...

Thank you for this article and the responses to the comment section.

I've also got a tall six year old 1st grader who is people pleaser, but also still cries frequently. He's had issues where it has gone beyond the verbal to include getting slapped, pinched, fingers pulled and most recently someone putting their hands around his throat on the bus.
He freezes up, doesn't tell the adults around him and getting him to discuss these things once he alludes to them is difficult. As a single parent, I can't avoid the bus.
I went to the No Parent Left Behind Workshop at the beginning of the year, because they had an hour on Bullying. These issued have been raised to the school and I've already involved the school councelor. Regardless, it's just not helping him avoid or cope with these situations.

Michelle Bostian said...

Dear Very Concerned,
I'm so sorry to hear of your struggle. At times it does seem like those we go to for help aren't really listening. First, I encourage you to keep your focus on your son, not the process, the institution, or "getting justice". What are his symptoms? How often does he talk about the incidents and in what context? Teach him skills to avoid bad situations and to absolutely tell the adult in charge the moment it happens. If he is nervous he can ask a nearby friend who likely wittnessed the incident to go with him to report. Ask the teacher, or the assistant teacher to tell you what they observe happening in class or during recess. Keep doccumentation of everything and persevere. Most schools have policies about bullying and take this very seriously. It is good you have involved the counselor and administration. It may take time to really improve, as most difficult situations do. Continue to be both a coach for your son and an advocate as well. Keep talking with the teacher, the administration and the counselor.

Post a Comment