The second in our series by Kirk Winter about bullying.

By Kirk Winter

As parents, we all want our children to be happy and to enjoy life. If something is preventing that from happening most of us want to get involved and provide solutions so that our children don’t hurt.

Many parents I have spoken to operate under the illusion that bullying typically doesn’t begin until later in elementary school. With that in mind, they often feel that they don’t need to address bullying with their primary aged children.

A ground breaking study out of Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts suggested otherwise. The Bridgewater study reported conclusively that in their sample size being studied “that bullying began in Kindergarten.” Typically the children being targeted were “shy, sensitive, small or perceived as being different”, and if parents knew what to look for, the warning signs of bullying were there by the end of most children’s first year of organized education. Those signs included “headaches, stomach aches, clinginess and in older children a sudden need for isolation.”

The study indicated that young children were learning their bullying behavior from popular media, siblings and the actions of prominent public figures where often bullying/dominance is equated with societal success.

What should we do if our children become the targets of bullying, and how can we help our kids dealing with this issue?

Step One – Confirmation And Reporting

Bullying goes unreported because children “don’t want to tattle.” A UCLA study reinforces the Bridgewater findings by stating that “kids don’t want to tell anyone what is happening.”

Often what parents believe is a minor cold or stomach upset in younger children, and moodiness in older children, is actually the child reacting to being bullied.

The UCLA study asked parents to keep track of their children’s possessions that go to school. Are they suddenly going missing, or coming home in tatters? Your child may be a victim of bullying. Is your child coming home hungry despite being provided with a lunch or money to buy it? Your child may be a victim of bullying. If there is a noticeable change in your child’s attitude towards school or people he/she had once associated with., your child may be a victim of bullying.

Once you have confirmed with your child that bullying behavior is going on then there are a whole series of people out there who need to know, and these individuals may be beneficial to your quest for a solution.

Step Two – Build Alliances

If the bullying is occurring at school, arrange an appointment with both your child’s classroom teacher and school administrator. Speak to these people directly, honestly and respectfully. Almost all want to help. Report what is going on as specifically as possible so that if they were unaware, they now have all the facts. Ask them what they have seen, and what can be done from their end to help deal with the problem.

If your child is identified and has an educational assistant, make sure this person is part of the solution. Their insights from working closely with your child are very important.

Bus bullying in any rural area is unfortunately commonplace. Bus drivers have 48 children to deal with twice a day, and with their eyes on the road, they often miss what is going on in the seats behind them. Preferential seating near the driver at the front of the bus can often reduce the bus related incidents.

School bullying often continues in after-school activities like hockey, dance, swimming and gymnastics. Every athletic association in Canada has a near zero tolerance policy on bullying in their sport. Some of the worst stories I have heard about bullying begin at school and have been allowed to continue into the evening. Make sure you talk to your child’s coach or instructor as you would their teacher. Make them part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

If you don’t receive satisfaction at any these levels remember almost everyone has a boss.

If the school appears to be uncooperative and you have exhausted your possibilities in dealing with them about bullying, find out what superintendent is responsible for your child’s school. Go to the school board's website, and you will find them all listed. They are but an e-mail away.

First Student Transit is responsible for busing almost all the students in the CKL. If there are problems on the bus, start with your student’s principal who will speak to the driver for you. If that is not satisfactory, give the company a call and share your concerns.

As the former president of the Kawartha Lakes Soccer Club, I can tell you that if you aren’t happy with your child’s coach/coaches and what is going on between their athletes, there is a hierarchy above those coaches who will respond when you call. I investigated a number of bullying complaints in my time as president, and heard similar stories from local ball and hockey executives.

I cannot stress enough, though, that shouting, threats of law suits, and irrational talk of personal violence being wrought on the bully are not the way to build these alliances.

Make sure you also document all these meeting/phone calls and e-mails in case you need to move further on up the food chain in pursuit of a solution for your child.

Step Three - Get The Other Parents Involved

I am not sure I could have done this, but a considerable amount of the academic literature on bullying encourages you to contact the offender’s parents, and offer via e-mail or phone call to resolve the matter together.

The research tells us that most bullies are not the product of atrocious parenting, and in many cases the bully’s parents are blissfully unaware that anything untoward is going on at school, the change room or in the team hotel with kids four to room and lax parental supervision.

Many of us in the City of Kawartha Lakes live in small enough communities that these meetings are between known individuals, and if a civil meeting of the minds is possible is would be nothing but beneficial.

Particularly within the construct of community activities I have seen this model work, often with an executive member present to act as a neutral third party.

Step Four – Work With Your Child

The first thing we can do with our children is convince them that there is value in getting help. They need to be “coached” to get help whether it be from the bus driver, their teacher, whatever adult is responsible for playground supervision at school, or their community coach.

Second, studies have told us that we need to be able to look other people in the eye. If your head is up, and you appear to be confident you are less likely to be bullied. If your child can’t tell you what colour eyes the bully has they might not be making eye contact. Making eye contact with the potential bully often diffuses the situation before it begins.

Third, your kids need to be scripted ahead of time so they know what to say if they find themselves in a situation where they can be potentially victimized. The script needs to be delivered confidently. Whining and crying once again only encourages the bully-type personality. Statements delivered confidently and loudly so as to attract adult attention are very effective studies indicate. Suggestions include, “Stop bothering me,” and “I am not going to play with you if you act so mean.” Bystanders clearly comprehend what is going on, and as the potential victim you are clearly stating in easily understood language what you want to have happen.

Lastly, if you as parents have the opportunity to praise other kids for effectively dealing with bullying, do it. Point out what those kids did, and reinforce the good decisions the other child made.

In the third article in the series, we will deal with one of the most interesting and promising options that will cut your child’s chances of being bullied by 50 percent.

Local NewsDeb Crossen