Q. My sixth grade son suddenly hates school. I have now learned that some other boys are teasing him and stick mean things on his locker. What should I do? He is worried I’ll embarrass him further.
A. The first thing to do is to be sure that your child is safe. If you haven’t spoken to your son’s teacher, do so immediately, and try to provide as many details as possible. (This conversation will, of course, be off the record so your son shouldn’t worry about negative repercussions.)
Become familiar with the discipline policy of the school or district and include this knowledge in your conversations. To provide details, you’ll need to continue the dialogue with your son, but not only for the sake of getting the details. Being bullied is a big deal. Kids take on what others say about them and question themselves, their self-worth and their actions, so it’s critical in this dialogue to support your child in his own development and confidence in who he is. Sadly, being the victim of someone else’s judgment doesn’t always end after middle school, so it’s better to focus attention on what your son does have control over: himself.
The next step is to stop the behavior of the bully. How this is done depends on what we think is valuable in order to put an end to it. Oftentimes, bullying behavior is reprimanded, yet there is little done to truly heal the interactions and the relationship between the bully and the victim. The focus remains on the actions of the bully and the reaction of the victim with no acknowledgment of the culture that may be creating the fertile ground for these types of relationships.
The process of mending relationships can be aided by learning more about students’ personal stories and challenges. The victim has a story – and so does the bully. There are many ways for teachers to facilitate this type of interaction through the curriculum, and not overtly in a problem-solving setting. As a parent, I might request this type of dialogue between students so that the problem can be solved, rather than addressed through policies that serve only to reprimand and not heal.
P.S. Sometimes we embarrass our kids… and that’s really OK, especially when it comes to them being is physical or emotional danger, though I believe that this situation will not require you to do so!