I am fortunate that I am self-employed, because I can break away to my kids’ school at pretty much any time, and I believe pretty firmly that the likelihood your kid has a real problem with bullies decreases every single time you make an appearance at the school – so make a lot of them.
My two younger girls were having not quite a problem, but just a little anxiety about lunch time when they switched to their most recent school a couple years back, so I started showing up with some McDonald’s or Raising Cane’s. Just blast right in there like a pitcher of Kool-Aid, and don’t be shy about it, either.
I like to make a spectacle of myself. Flamboyantly pass out chicken fingers, call everyone by completely random names. Make sure that “Ellen’s Dad” and “Chrissy’s Dad” is an actual person, a real guy who looks at you and casts a shadow on your lunch tray, not a vague concept out there in the universe.
Maybe that’s not the way for everyone, but the awkwardness and shyness can snowball into bigger problems, including bullies. I go in there, I break up the ice with a pizza or something, talk to the teacher monitoring the cafeteria. Just generally go around peeing on the whole school like a dog marking its territory, because as long as my girls are there, that’s exactly what it is.
My wife is even more involved. She goes in and asks the teachers directly, for each child – how are things socially. The teachers are practically chomping at the bit to tell her, and most of the teachers they’ve had so far have been fantastic. They really keep an eye on things, and the sooner you catch the drama, the easier it is to keep it contained.
Speaking of teachers, they are your friends. I like to bring in extra classroom supplies, either at the beginning of the year or later in the winter as they’re starting to run out. Anything to demonstrate that you respect the extra effort that teachers have to go to these days. Their responsibilities really, technically end when the bell rings, so if you want a partner working with you to bird dog the bullying problems, you don’t want to treat them like hunchbacked lab assistants.
Busy. Kids should be crazy, unbelievably busy. They should stagger in the door from some kind of athletic practice, and then collapse on their beds to fall asleep doing homework. My oldest has a job, on top of that. Is she getting bullied? No, she doesn’t have time. If you tried to insult her, I don’t think she’d notice and I’m positive she wouldn’t believe you. Also these activities provide a peer group to fall back on, if they start attracting the interest of bullies.
Just think back to when you were a kid, where did you retreat when the kids were being jerks? The band room? The art room? The journalism room? We try to make sure we’re listening to the girls in terms of what interests them, and then we free up the resources to pursue those interests, because they are rock-solid bully shelters.
Also, we try to identify which friendships are really positive. Which friends are really there for our daughters, and which ones float away every time the wind blows, or more likely every time a gaggle of popular girls wants to go to the mall? The friendships we identify as positive are the friendships which get reinforced.
It’s cheap to reinforce those friendships, too. How about I pick up your pal and take you guys to the dollar movie? I can sit in an Applebees and blog while they’re in there. Later make them some popcorn while they’re watching iCarly. Two little girls go to school the next Monday feeling a little better about themselves.
Confidence is the opposite of fear, and bullies can smell both.
I don’t know how it works with boys – I don’t have any of them. I have three adolescent girls with all the drama and bickering and hormones that come with them. As far as girls go, they need to know you love them. I tell them all that at least three or four times a day, and they never get tired of it. Also, when they screw something up, it appears to be very helpful to tell them it’s normal.
Don’t worry, that’s a normal mistake you made. I did that exact same thing when I was your age. I love you.
Sure, but some of you are thinking, what about the harshest degree of bullying you hear about? The organized network of cyberbullying? An entire school gone poisonous with nastiness?
I really think there’s a reason why their schools have not done this to them. I think it’s because we’re there so much. If any of them were having a problem like that, then they’d find me and my wife stomping around the hallways and principal’s office every single day, and good luck getting rid of us.
We would haunt that place until it stopped. You’d think someone said “Beetlejuice” three times. There would be cops and lawyers, and news media, and it’s possible I’d wind up in jail for throwing some fourteen year-old kids around. The point is, you go in there and get everyone to understand that everything stops until the bullying stops. Bullies need some level of indifference to pull off their bullying. My wife and I would remove all traces of indifference from that school.
Maybe we don’t know what we’re talking about because our kids aren’t being bullied at school in that way. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe they aren’t being bullied because we do.
Earlier: Bullying and the Suicide Fantasy