Q: My oldest child starts kindergarten soon. I know there will be the class and/or bus bully who will cause her some distress, whether directly or indirectly. I want to know how to handle it before it happens so I'm prepared. I feel she will have to learn to handle situations like this as time goes on, but at this age she will need my guidance and intervention. What should I say to her now, to prepare her, and how I should handle incidents when and if they occur?
A: I most definitely and unequivocally do not advise you to begin her “anti-bully” education now. That will only sensitize her to potential problems at school and stands the chance of turning what should be eager anticipation into anxiety, even dread. You’re jumping the gun by several years anyway. As a general rule, bullying isn’t a problem until third or fourth grade.
As for what to do about bullying when it actually happens, all parents should know several things: First, it is a school’s responsibility to provide a safe and positive learning environment for all children. Second, if a school is lax in responding to a bully, parents can and should (in my estimation) explore legal means of forcing the school to act. Third, if bullying is physical, then the bully has broken the law (which applies to children as well as adults), and parents have a taxpayer right to file a complaint with the police, and the police have an obligation to investigate and determine whether or not to charge the perpetrator with a crime.
The problem is that for all the hoopla schools make of their anti-bullying programs, many administrators, when push comes to shove, respond to bullies and their parents in decidedly less-than-effective ways. The reason may be that there are no parents more difficult to deal with, no parents who defend their children with greater ferocity, no parents more blind to reality, no parents more irrational, than the parents of bullies. They are world-class enablers and terrorists all rolled into one. The apples don’t fall far from the trees. As a result, many administrators handle them with kid gloves — unfortunate, inexcusable, but somewhat understandable at the same time.
I said as much on a Charlotte talk show recently, and then braced myself for a flood of complaint from outraged school administrators. It never came. In fact, I heard not a peep. That spoke volumes.
A number of years ago, I learned the value of letting law enforcement handle a lawbreaker, even when the lawbreaker is a child. When my son was 12, the neighborhood bully, around that same age, chased him into our house when we weren’t home and backed him up against a wall, threatening him with bodily harm. When my wife and I got home and the sitter informed us what had happened, I promptly called the police and filed a complaint. The boy, whose parents had consistently failed to recognize his budding criminality much less do anything about it, was served with a warrant. Two days later, a For Sale sign appeared on their front lawn and within a month, the family had vanished.
Enabling always comes with a price.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his web site at www.rosemond.com.