From Grade 4 right through to Year 12, daily bullying tainted my school life.
I was a kid who loved school: as a self-confessed nerd, I really enjoyed learning. It was the schoolyard that I came to hate; I very often took refuge in the library. (Bullies never seem to spend time in libraries.)
When it came to dealing with this great challenge, the only advice I ever received from the adults around me was to “just ignore it”.
It seems logical to me now that, of course, ignoring the hurtful taunts would never change anything, but at the time I felt there were no other options. No one was hearing me.
It’s taken me many years to accept this experience, to stop hearing the voices of those kids in my head.
As a parent, it means that I’m determined my children won’t have their confidence taken from them, that they won’t have to spend years of their lives recovering.
My bullying experience affects my parenting
It was when my eldest daughter started her first year of school that the mean girls reared their heads. Throughout preschool, they’d been her friends, but for some reason had decided to turn on her.
I went into Mama Bear mode. When her teacher refused to acknowledge that it was happening, I stepped him through what action needed to be taken (starting with removing her from being seated between the two bullies). I helped my daughter create new friendships, by inviting other kids over to play.
I won’t pretend that I handled the situation perfectly – how could I, when I was only just learning that seeing my child be bullied would be so triggering to me? Things got a little fiery at times (but never in front of my daughter).
This led me to deal with my own demons more fully, so that these situations – which, I was realistic enough to realise, would come up again – would become ones that I could deal with a little more rationally.
So, three years later, when some verbal and physical bullying towards my daughter began to happen (different kids, different school), I was prepared.
I became the support to her that I believe she needed, and deserved. I was able to help her with empathy – drawn from my own experiences of what it’s like to feel unsafe in the schoolyard – but without the heavy emotion of putting myself back into that situation.
How to help your child through bullying
The temptation for us parents is twofold: we either want to leave our kids to deal with things themselves, or we want to rush in to solve the problem for them.
Both instincts come from a place of love, but neither is a full strategy.
In my opinion, parents need to get involved when our children are having a hard time with other kids.
I’m not suggesting that we race in and give the bully a piece of our mind. (Please don’t do this!)
I am suggesting that we step up.
This is when our kids need us; saying, “Just ignore the bullies” or “You’ll be fine” – well, it might have been the hands-off manner of past generations of parents, but it just doesn’t cut it anymore. (It’s okay to be a hands-off parent, but there are times you need to guide your child.)
On the flip side, having parents who say, “Here’s how to solve it” or “I’ll talk to the other parents and we’ll deal with it” doesn’t help any kid feel empowered to deal with tough situations.
There is a middle ground. A child who’s struggling needs parents who will:
- listen (and really hear),
- believe them,
- help them brainstorm some strategies,
- sit beside them (if they want this level of support) as they report any incidents to their teacher,
- monitor the progress of the situation,
- advocate for their child if things aren’t being dealt with appropriately by the school, and
- listen, listen, listen.
Dealing with bullying is something that most kids need to face at some point of their school life. Stepping up to be the parent they need in those times is crucial in making sure it doesn’t become their defining childhood experience.