As I headed toward the swing set, I could see a circle of students on the playground. There were some shouts. As I got closer, I crouched down. Peaking around knobby knees, sneakers and knee socks, I could see a girl on the ground. Someone was taunting, “Kicky, girl! Kicky, girl!”
I don’t know what precipitated the incident, but I do know the child was outnumbered. She was striking out with her feet to defend herself from the swarm around her. Most of the other kids were kicking her. I remember feeling sick in the pit of my stomach. “If it happened to her, what would keep it from happening to me?”
I was 6. The perpetrators and victim were also first-graders.
Bullying is an ugly issue. It’s not just a problem among today’s YouTube-posting teens. It’s been around a long time, and it starts young. Parents and teachers need to be vigilant for signs of this behavior. We need to be proactive, too, teaching children that verbal or physical bullying is absolutely unacceptable.
Unlike the woman who was just arrested in Hartford, Conn., for sending her 12-year-old to elementary school with weapons to protect him from bullies, we can arm our children with effective and less drastic methods for handling mean teasing.
The National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) offers these tips on its website in an article titled “Safeguarding Children from Bullying, Gangs, and Sexual Harassment.”
- Teach your children early on to steer clear of youth with bullying behavior.
- Teach your children to be assertive rather than aggressive or violent when confronted by a bully. Instruct them to walk away and get help from an adult in more dangerous situations. Practice various responses with your children through role-playing.
- Teach your children to never defend themselves from bullies with a gun or other weapon.
- Keep communication lines open with your children. Encourage your children to share information about school and school-related activities.
- Pay attention to the following symptoms that may indicate your child is being bullied: withdrawal, abrupt lack of interest in school, a drop in grades, or signs of physical abuse.
- If your child is a victim of bullying at school, inform school officials immediately. Keep your own written records of the names, dates, times, and circumstances of bullying incidents. Submit a copy of this report to the school principal.
- Respond to your children's concerns and fears with patience, love, and support.
Big Universe offers another way to broach this subject – hopefully before it becomes an issue for your children and students. The children’s picture book website has added a new piece of fiction to its online library shelves. “Dimples Delight” tells the story of a child who becomes the target of a classroom bully. Written by Frieda Wishinsky and illustrated by Louise-Andrée Laliberté, this Orca chapter book takes a look at how seemingly innocent teasing can escalate into emotional torture. The story also shows how friends support friends with kindness and a listening ear.
Dianna Hutts Aston’s book “Not So Tall for Six” (Charlesbridge) is another clever book offered by Big Universe. Frank W. Dormer illustrated this humorous take on a serious topic. Although some of the text will prompt smiles, readers will still feel the undercurrent of fear experienced by the main character. (Target audience: ages 6-8)