Saturday, August 23, 2008

Self-Defense Against Mean

I am crossing my fingers for a bully-proof year.

My daughter attends a small Catholic grade school. She will be starting the 4th grade on Monday. She is excited because she found out that she got the teacher she wanted. Last year was a rough year. I was glad when the school year ended and I do not think the summer was long enough.

The first quarter of third grade was terrible. I think I received three slips from the nurse each week. My daughter was constantly in the nurses office with a stomach ache or a headache. Finally, she confided to the nurse that the kids were being mean. She said "The kids have been mean since kindergarten but now that they are older, they just find new ways to be mean." We took her to the doctor to make sure that there was nothing wrong with her stomach. The doctor concluded that her upset stomach was a result of stress caused by the mean kids in school. The school acted quickly and things got better. I seriously considered changing schools.

My daughter knows the basic school yard self-defense. She knows how to get out of wrist grabs and knows how to avoid a push. What is the self-defense against mean? The kids that are one day your friend and the next day won't talk to you. I was surprised to learn that cliques start in first grade. When did it start so early? We have practiced how to use assertive words. We discussed when it is appropriate to "tell". I have tried to explain that bullies are looking for a reaction and that her best reaction is ... no reaction.

I send her to school armed with what I call "The Mommy Rules". The first rule is that "I love her ... no matter what". The second rule is "I am proud of her". I think kids need to know their parents are their ally. She refuses to stand up for herself because she is concerned she will get in trouble at school. My daughter is an only child and spends much of her time around adults. She is involved in school activities and gets good grades.

How do you prepare your child against bullying?


Perpetual Beginner said...

I wish I had answers for you.

I will tell you to be very, very careful about the no reaction advice. Some bullies go away. Some bullies escalate. I was told by my parents that bullies were just looking for a rise and not to give it to them with no acknowledgement that some bullying went beyond the place where not reacting would be useful. By the end of middle school (things got better at the switch into HS), I had been beaten with a jumprope, pushed down stairs, had my reportcard stolen and passed around the entire grade, and had entire classrooms decide to treat me as invisible for weeks at a shot. Ignoring was neither possible nor advisable, but I kept trying anyway because it was all I knew to do.

Steve said...

I think it's telling her a daily basis how strong she is mentally! Eventually, she will believe it and see herself in that role.

Also, I know you may not be a Christian, but I remind my boys that the Bible commands us to defend those that cannot defend themselves (or if you've seen the movie "A Few Good Men" the message is in there too!). Remind her of someone else in her class or grade that may also be "bullied." And she can be strong and befriend that person.

Davidx said...

I wish I had an answer. My daughter is starting first grade; there have been no major issues yet but I’m been thinking how we will handle it when it happens. I’m afraid dealing with bullies is a sad fact of life. My first thoughts have been to stand up to a bully, try to talk around issues, and depend on teachers to help. I know that doesn’t always work. I hate bullies more then anything; they are predators that should be stopped. No one should feel bullied or tolerate seeing it happen to another. I want to tell her that no one should ever lay hands on her, and if they do, they have crossed a line. I’d like for her to not to hit and use gentle techniques, but I would hate for her to feel she should not defend herself. I’m baffled for the right answer. I try to temper my initial thoughts since this is the era of “zero tolerance.” When I was in school ages ago, fights were handled, there might be a suspension and everyone moved on. Now kids quickly get expelled. That would make life very complicated; if she got expelled defending herself or another from a bully I don’t think I would be the least mad at her. It’s crazy to worry about these things in elementary school.

Meg said...

Oh wow. You ask some very tough questions. She knows that she's a good person, just keep enforcing that idea. Kids are cruel. You've set the foundation for her already by telling her you're there for her. It's important that she knows that you guys are there for her and are her best advocates. I hope she's not afraid to talk to her teachers either. There is no reason for a child to be afraid to go to school!

Hack Shaft said...

We were in a similar situation. Our daughter was medically fragile at birth, and so spent a lot of one-on-one time with adults caring for her. Her voice is also very different from other kids, just another opportunity for teasing and bullying.

In our case, it came to a head in 6th grade when the main bully made things physical. At that point we called in the big guns; the Principal got involved and parents were called on to bear responsibility for their childrens' actions. Things were still tense at the end of the year, and in our case we're starting fresh at a private school--albeit for other reasons.

I don't think parents are ever prepared for bullying. Best advice I have is to teach your child to be direct with the bully; Look them in the eye, and in an even tone tell them to STOP.

The child must be assertive and not 'whiny'; Saying "STOP" means exactly that, and not "stoppit, quitit," etc.

Looking down or away while speaking is a submissive posture. Speaking directly to them takes away their emotional power and dominance.

Michele said...

Thank you for your comments and insights. My daughter started school today and came home excited with her teacher and class.

Perpetual Beginner: You make a good point. I need to make sure my daughter knows to what extent she should ignore a bully. Thank you for your advice.

Steve: Yes, we are Christian and I believe that she would step up if she saw someone being hurt. I like the word "strong" and I intend to use it more during our conversations.

Davidx: Crazy ...I agree ...elementary school! We have told her many times that we would support her if she got in trouble for defending herself. Good luck to your daughter starting first grade.

Meg: I think/hope she knows that she has her parents support. She is an articulate child and communicates with adults well.

Hack Shaft: You are right that tone and posture sets the stage. We teach this in women's self defense classes. My daughter and I practice using assertive language when confronted with a difficult situation. Last year the Principal was involved and handled things extremely well.