My first grader is being bullied at school. How do I address this and with whom?
MOLLY: The reader also asked if she should be talking with the teacher or the principal, or even the parents of the girl who’s bullying her child.
Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): I think there are a couple lines of approach with this. First of all, as a parent she should recognize that being bullied can be a really hard thing for a child to deal with, and unfortunately, not that unusual for a child to encounter at some point in their schooling. I think it’s not uncommon to see bullying behaviors in 6th, 7th and 8th grade among girls, for example. I’m not sure what goes on during that those years but girls can be terribly mean to each other and gang up on each other.
One of the things she will want to do when her child comes home and tells her about the bullying, is to be sympathetic to her child, and not blow it off. She’ll want to share some understanding of how difficult this is and talk to the child about avoiding those kids, if possible, or finding new friends, if that’s the issue.
If the bullying behavior continues, the teacher needs to be made aware of what’s going on in the playground. The kid might be able to tell the teacher herself, or she might be uncomfortable telling her teacher, so that would be the time for the parent to step in and have an informal conversation with the teacher to ask if the bullying behavior has been noticed.
MOLLY: I think a lot of this stuff happens on the playground and out of the teacher’s sight.
MOM: You kind of have to take this step by step. The next step would be for the parent to talk to the teacher about what’s going on so the teacher can start watching for inappropriate behavior in the classroom and alert the playground aides to watch for it outside, too.
Sometimes the bullying occurs after school, like on the bus or while walking home from school, in which case the teachers would have no knowledge of what’s going on and wouldn’t be able to step in to stop it. At that point, I would contact the parent of that other child.
I saw a case like this in my office where the child was being bullied on the bus ride home after school. The child was about 9 years old and another 9-year old boy would approach him and inform him of the horrible things that were going to happen to this boy. The boy went home and told his mother and the mother spoke to the parents of the bullying boy. Those parents denied that any of that could have happened, so the mother had no choice but to go to the school and talk to the teacher and also to the principal. That actually worked: the school administration called in the parents of the bullying boy and it was taken care of on that level. The bully had to sit directly behind the bus driver in a seat by himself because he wasn’t just bullying this one 9-year old boy, it turned out that he was bullying other kids on the bus, too. So you have to take it step by step, and you have to be fairly dogged about it in support of your own child.
MOLLY: Yeah, you gotta protect your kid.
MOM: Bottom line: you have to protect and advocate for your child.
MOLLY: What can happen if you don’t address this at the time and the bullying continues?
MOM: Duke University recently released a report about the effects of childhood bullying and how they last into adulthood. The study found that victims of childhood bullying were more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders and panic attacks as adults. Interestingly, they also found that the adults who were doing the bullying as kids were more likely to be diagnosed later with anti-social personality disorders and show lifelong patterns of blatant disregard and violation of the rights of others. We can see that bullying behaviors can have lasting effects on both the bullied and the bully. Clearly, it’s important to address this issue early on before it leaves a permanent impression on a child’s personality.
Experience this? Comment below if you’ve had success dealing with bullying in elementary school using other strategies. Or Contact US if you have other parenting questions you’d like to see addressed