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Raising Wayland: Bullying and Your Kids

Bullying happens everywhere ... even in Wayland.

Bullying. The topic has been all over the media lately. From popular TV shows like "Glee" to news stories of bullying that ended in tragedy.

In January, I attended a Wayland Middle School PTO meeting during which a couple of Wayland Police officers talked about the . 

And while cyberbullying might be the 21st century version, bullying itself has been around as long as there have been children (and adults, for that matter). But as a parent, how do you handle the topic?

I was bullied as a child. Never physically hurt, but kids can be vicious with words. I was a bit overweight, had glasses and braces, and I made good grades -- it was a perfect storm in terms of things kids like to pick on. But looking back, I know that I said and did some things that weren't very kind either -- always to someone whom I viewed as more bully-able than myself. I was raised better than that, but in the heat of a playground moment, those lessons on compassion and kindness and respect went out the window from time to time.

Still, my parents never gave up on those lessons. Respect for people's uniqueness was drilled into me. Humility, saying "I'm sorry," and always trying to love the unlovable were lessons my parents never wavered in teaching. And they took.

So how do you handle bullying in your home? Has it touched your kids directly? If they are bullied, how should they respond? How do you teach them to avoid retaliatory bullying?

They're tough questions, but they're important to the health and well-being of kids today who will grow up to live in an adult world that still has its bullies. How are you helping your children learn to respond?

Jenny Harding October 19, 2011 at 06:55 PM
Since our kids are young (kindergarten and first grade) you might think we haven't had to deal with this situation yet. Unfortunately, we have (on the being bullied side). We were informed by the teachers. Then when it persisted, we informed the principal and guidance counselor. We have been very impressed and pleased with the response. Our son is being taught by this team that he has a voice and that he has "power" to do something. He has practiced handling the situation in different ways at home and at school. We got a couple of books out from the library about it too, "No One Knew What To Do" (their favorite) and "Bullies Never Win". My hope is that dealing with this situation at such a young age will give both of our sons helpful tools for when he gets older and the situations can be much worse. Here's a question; how many parents (fathers in particular?) have told their kids that if they have tried everything else when being bullied (telling teacher or parent, playing near adults, using their voice to stop the behavior) that it is OK to be physical?
Debra Goldman October 19, 2011 at 08:06 PM
I was bullied as a child. It was awful and was based on religion. I was Jewish growing up in a town that had very few Jews in the 1960's. Raising my son here in Wayland, I have to say that I did not see many instances of bullying. He didn't come home from school complaining and, just as important, there were no complaints about his behavior!
Brooklyn Lowery (Editor) October 19, 2011 at 10:11 PM
Jenny, it's great to hear that you were impressed by the school's response. I'm sorry your son dealt with it so young, but I hope you're right that it has been an opportunity to show him appropriate response. As for your violence question, I attended the Walden Forum last night at First Parish (story is coming, by the way) and all the speakers talked about teaching non-violence so as to help kids understand down the road that dating violence is wrong. Your question is excellent. Are there parents out there who have told their kids that physical responses to bullying are OK, but only as a last resort?
Amy Simmons October 20, 2011 at 10:54 AM
This is such a tough one, and we, too, have had to deal with bullying, but with a less-than-favorable response from the administration, making it more complicated. It was all verbal bullying, and when the school couldn't stop it for two years, we focused on hard choices with our child - you can choose to believe what this child is saying about you and give power to their words, you can choose to stand by while the same thing happens to someone else even though you know how they feel, you can choose to not be yourself so people won't make fun of who you are, or you can work really, really hard every day to NOT choose the easy choice, but to choose the one that makes you feel good. We practiced things you can say at home, when our son started imitating the behaviors that were being done to him towards his sister, we nipped that in the bud and made it clear that no matter how someone else acts (even if it seems they are "getting away with it"), you need to remember not only that it is NOT allowed in our family, but remember how it makes YOU feel and that you don't want to make someone else feel that crummy. We focused on building back up our child's confidence by helping him make new friends, finding activities that he loved and did well enough at to feel good about himself, and finally, by making sure that he was separated from this other child in his classroom the third year. That was, ultimately, what gave him the space and confidence to get over the bullying.
Amy Simmons October 20, 2011 at 11:05 AM
We also made clear to both of our kids that children are learning the ins and outs of social behaviors, and that even adults have a hard time remembering to be nice all of the time, so if someone slips and says something that hurts someone else, it might just be a mistake they made, and if it was you who did it, the best thing to do is to apologize...even if it's a day or two later...and that that is the difference between a child making a mistake and working on their own social learning curve versus a bully, who behaves that way all of the time, towards different children, and without any remorse. This came up because our kids thought that any one-time infraction against someone else was "bullying", and we were trying to teach them how to right a wrong even against each other. I think, Brooklyn, that while kids can be mean to each other and slip and call names (especially siblings!!), there is a difference between those social mistakes and bullying. You can see the WPS definition of bullying on page 16 of their bullying report (http://www.wayland.k12.ma.us/UserFiles/Servers/Server_1036352/File/Wayland%20Bullying%20Plan%20April_2011.pdf), and it is definied as REPEATED behaviors, and I think that's the key. The hard part is when those repeated behaviors are verbal, and not physical, and a child has to be taken at his/her word (possibly agains the word of a more confident bully) about what's happening. That was where the system failed in our experience.
Brooklyn Lowery (Editor) October 20, 2011 at 02:01 PM
That's so encouraging that your son didn't seem to encounter it in Wayland, Debra. And I'm so sorry to hear what you went through as a child. I know that the It Gets Better Project (http://www.itgetsbetter.org/) was conceived with LGBT youth in mind, but I so want to say the same thing to non-LGBT youth I meet sometimes ... to the girls who are a little heavy, the boys who aren't good in sports, the kids in general who face persecution for any number of things. I want them to know that it gets better for them, too.
Karla Vallance October 20, 2011 at 06:11 PM
@Amy, I love that idea of suggesting kids apologize if they've been nasty, even if it's a bit later.
Amy Simmons October 21, 2011 at 01:21 AM
Thanks, Karla! It came about when one of my kids felt badly about the way an argument had gone with a friend at school, and it was a revelation to them when I pointed out that even a few days later they could go back to a friend and say that they were 'sorry about what I said the other day', and that it was never too late to say you are sorry. It's a great lesson for anyone. :-)

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