Chances are, in your lifetime, you have been involved in or a witness to an act of bullying. Now that my older children are in school, it is something that is on my mind a lot, and I wanted to explore a few ideas and put some resources out there for parents. Sometimes the problem is that kids are embarrassed of the bullying, and they don't want to admit that it has happened. In my case, my son was being bullied by someone who he thought was a "friend". A kid he knew since preschool was on the same bus as he was in kindergarten, and he would come off the bus with red welts on his neck and stuff missing from his backpack. I would ask him about the welts and he would shrug it off, saying he and his friends were "roughhousing" on the bus, and that he "gave" his toy away to his friend. It didn't sit right with me, but I felt uncomfortable pushing the subject with him, and if I attempted to, he would just clam up anyway.
One day he got off the bus, visibly upset, but clearly trying to hide it from me. He had a big red mark on his face, and the bus driver waved me over and told me that his friend had punched him in the face. Of course, I was VERY angry. And it was a weird feeling, because I was sort of angry at this other five year old, angry at his parents whom I had never met, and just angry in general. My little five year old got punched in the face by someone he thought was his friend. And I got angrier after he told me that it had been going on for months. This boy, who still claimed to be Finn's "best friend" would hit him, kick him, put him in a headlock, take his toys, his lunch money, pinch him, slap him and make fun of him. It broke my heart. Just thinking about it now makes me feel a million different emotions.
I felt bad for Finn, of course, but I also felt bad for the bully. What was going on with this kid, this LITTLE kid, five years old, that was making him act out this way? I also still felt really pissed off. How DARE this kid punch my kid?! There were many, MANY times I had to stop myself from looking up this kid's address and sharing a piece of my mind with his parents. I would see him on the bus, and I have to admit I narrowed my eyes at him, at a five year old child, yes I did. I wanted to send the message that "I'm watching you buddy". I also called the school, made sure they were aware of it (they weren't in class together), and made sure they were no longer allowed to be sitting next to each other on the bus.
Then I had to explain to Finn that this kid was not his friend. It made him sad. And it made me sad. It made me incredibly sad to have to explain to Finn that this kid was picking on him, not playing with him. But, I was also grateful to have the opportunity so early to point it out so clearly. It also opened my eyes that this was going on for a while and I had no idea, and I wasn't really sure what, or how, Finn internalized the whole thing. So I started to do some research into signs to look for if your child is being bullied. I want to share them with all of you. Some you probably have heard about, some maybe you haven't. But the sad thing is, bullying can happen younger than you think it can, and it can have some damaging effects on children. Often, kids might not want to share what is going on for a number of reasons. Maybe they are embarrassed, like Finn was. Or maybe they don't want to be seen as a "tattletale" or they fear some backlash from the bully. Sometimes, kids might not want parents to know what a bully is saying about them, whether it is true or not.
In this series I want to cover multiple topics on bullying, what to do if your child is the bully, what to do if your child is being bullied, and more. For today, look over this list of warning signs of bullying to watch out for.
- Unexplainable injuries
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
- Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide.
This is a great way to approach the topic with kids, even younger kids, about what is bullying:
- When someone says or does something unintentionally hurtful and they do it once, that’s RUDE.
- When someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they do it once, that’s MEAN.
- When someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they keep doing it—even when you tell them to stop or show them that you’re upset—that’s BULLYING.
In the next installment of the series, we will go over ideas on how to talk to kids about bullying, and some tactics to help prevent it from happening to your child.