Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bullying in the Elementary Years -- Protecting and Preserving Innocence

Parenting is tough enough it seems in the climate of our current culture. One can consider themselves fairly fortunate if their child has an easy going attitude and seems to go with the flow. Often, those children let bullying roll off them like water off a duck's back, or are never effected by it's intrusion. But some kids, often the most vulnerable or the most confident, become the target of an aggressive child.

What would influence an elementary-aged bully to choose from either end of the spectrum and not someone in the middle? It's a power play, a way to be in charge; asserting control over the vulnerable and displacing the confident leader is often attractive to the child dealing with an internal power struggle that manifests itself as bullying. The bully wants to remain popular, powerful and often learns how to manipulate adults into believing that they are not "the bully" at all.

What could possibly be behind the desire to gain power in the elementary grades that would cause bullying?

There are any number of reasons that a child would want to act out and assert control over his surroundings as well as others. At issue, typically, is the child's sense of self-worth also commonly referred to as self-esteem. That is not to say that there may be many other factors that contribute to behavioral unrest and socially inappropriate actions and reactions.

It is necessary that parents understand how to proceed responsibly with bullying. One place to start is with the child's teacher. Schools offer their guidelines and even show the children educational materials related to avoiding bullying. Often, the bully doesn't see him or herself as the object of the lesson. This can be an issue, especially if the child cleverly conceals the behavior. The teacher is then faced with determining whether it is a he said/she said and tattling scenario that is being related. This is frequently a further traumatic event to the child being bullied; the child can think no one believes him.

So what can be done to support the child being bullied?

One website I found useful in my search for information on this topic was Trish Berg offers some practical advice to parents from a Christian perspective and additional resources to help navigate the rough terrain of bullying in the elementary years.

Here's an excerpt:

What adults can do to S.T.O.P. bullying:

1) Stop and listen. Take complaints of bullying seriously. Bullying is a serious matter, and victims of bullying must be assured that you will protect them.

2) Be responsive. Take immediate, appropriate action to protect the victim. The longer bullying continues, the more dangerous it becomes. Take appropriate action to immediately protect the victim from the bully.

3) Follow through with your child’s teachers, school administrators and counselors. Make sure that they have taken appropriate action to stop the bullying and protect your child. If they have not, you need to take further action which may include temporarily removing your child from school, contacting the principal, superintendent or the police (if physical violence in involved).

“When children are picked on by bullies, whether physically or mentally, many feel the need to suffer in silence for fear that speaking up will provoke further torture. But bullying is not a problem that usually just takes care of itself. Action needs to be taken.” (3) I stayed silent far too long when I was young. Your kids should not. Let’s all work together to S.T.O.P. bullying in its tracks!

There are many websites that address how to deal with bullying, the link above lists several sites to visit to find more information on bullying. As I was doing my own research on this topic, I came across a site that addressed adolescent bullying. I found descriptions and patterns of behavior similar to and emergent in the elementary bullying scenario. They don't just start being bullies in the the 6th grade; it starts in the early years.

Protecting our children from the intensity of habitual bullying is important. The occasional taunt or tease happens to every child -- but, when a child becomes the target of unpleasant behaviors, this is an issue that must be met head on and cannot be allowed to continue. School and parents must work together to resolve the situation before it becomes a difficult wound to heal both psychologically and , God forbid, physically.

You are your child's advocate and it is your responsibility to protect their innocence and safety. Our children deserve a happy childhood filled with love and respect. Catholic parents can also draw from the teachings of the Church in this regard. The Catechism of the Catholic Faith offers this about respecting the human person:
Respect for the human person considers the other "another self." It presupposes respect for the fundamental rights that flow from the dignity intrinsic of the person. (CCC 1944)
Fundamental to breaking the cycle of bullying in our children is to teach them to love others as Christ has loved us. They must have enough respect for themselves to show that respect to others. And, they will trust the adult who listens and recognizes that they are in need of assistance when others are not showing them the proper respect.


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