I learned recently, to my dismay, that a child cannot be too young to be bullied. I learned this when I realized my son was mistreated at a good friend’s house during the regular course of innocent playtime. I felt overwhelmed at first, but then I felt empowered as I learned how to help him, and myself, understand and deal with this challenge. This is something that affects everyone, but individuals with disabilities seem to make particularly likely targets. Here are ten things you can do about bullying today:
1) Assume it is already happening. Even if your sibling or a child you love is one of the approximately half of children who have been the victim of some form of bullying or other, you may not have heard about it yet. If not, he or she has probably witnessed bullying. Don’t be afraid to open a dialogue about something that might not be an issue, because it probably is.
2) Seek to love, but not excuse. It is easy to become angry and vengeful when we find out someone has hurt a person we love, but this anger is not productive. On the other hand, many times we will try to keep ourselves our our sibling from becoming angry by excusing the perpetrator, but we can try to understand a person without excusing their bad behavior. Avoid saying anything that might lead your sibling to believe he deserved to be bullied, or that what the perpetrator did to them was o.k. under the circumstances. No matter what the reasons were behind the behavior, if someone stepped on your foot, they would need to get off. The goal here is to deal with what happened and help prevent it from happening again.
3) Avoid Labeling. We all know that the practice of labeling so commonplace in our society is harmful, and nowhere less so than in the special education departments of our schools. I bullied a child once while I was in school, but I didn’t know that’s what I was doing until my teacher disciplined me for it. If I had been labeled a “bully,” I would have been horrified! I learned from http://www.stopbullyingnow.com that we should avoid labeling the perpetrator as a bully or the child as a victim. The perpetrator is a child of God, and as such is capable of learning better with help. Your sibling is also a child of God, and as such is capable of learning how to be the right kind of strong, and how to protect herself from and deal with negative influences in his life.
4) Help your sibling identify what they are feeling. Anger often masks others emotions, most often sadness, disappointment, frustration, helplessness, and fear. Talking together until you get to her underlying concerns. Listen as he shares, validating his feelings (e.g. “That must have been scary,” “I can see why that would worry you.”) at every opportunity. Then ask questions to help you understand (eg “So what you’re saying is…”) and get more information (e.g. “How did it make you feel when…,” and, “What are some things you’ve thought about doing in the future?” Above all, listen attentively and do not judge the his feelings – there are should’s and shouldn’ts with actions, but not with feelings. This will help you determine how to proceed, (what words to teach him, how seriously he is taking it). When I talked to my son about an incident, I found that helping him identify his feelings helped me identify mine as well, and helped keep me from overreacting. I am glad I was able to keep my cool, because I didn’t want to make the problem seem bigger and scarier to him it already did. I also found that sharing my feelings about what happened help him feel like his feelings were important, and this evidence of my love helped him feel safe sharing more. Sometimes parents have a hard time knowing what to say. http://kidshealth.org/kid/feeling/thought/talk_feelings.html is a great resource to help you get started.
5) Don’t blame yourself – or your child. If your sibling has been mistreated, it doesn’t mean they’re bad – or even weak. The same is true for you. Remember that any time a person opens his or her eyes to the dangers to children in the world is the right time.
6) Choose to be proactive. When I searched online for information about how to prevent bullying, I was disappointed to find a site that listed promoting policy change in schools first in its list of effective preventions. You would probably not be surprised to learn that the most effective way to prevent and deal with the negative effects of bullying is for families to spend time together. Do what works – spend family time together! Eat dinner together. Go outside and listen for birds. Take a walk as a family. Do what your family enjoys, and keep it real. Another strategy that often works is to befriend the bully.
7) Work with your sibling to find solutions. It’s easy to want to rush to action when someone is hurting someone we love. In the case of cyber-bullying, parents often confiscate offending phones or computers, which may feel like a punishment to the child. There are a variety of ways to protect a person from bullying, and there’s a good chance your sibling has some ideas of her own. Even if confiscation is ultimately determined to be the best solution, if you arrive at that solution together, it’s more likely to stick – and work.
8) Tell your sibling you love him. Remind your sibling regularly how much you love him and want to hear about everything in his life, good and bad. You can also write a letter to him that he can treasure for years to come.
9) Monitor everything you can online. Get whatever access you can to your sibling’s accounts, friend her, and check in on her regularly. Cyberbullying is real, and though your sibling may ask for online privacy, there is no such thing, which makes it extra important for you to be part of her online activities.
10) Familiarize yourself with resources available. Here are a few for starters:
What do you recommend adding to the list? What has worked for your and your sibling? Please add comment with your thoughts!
Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world. Eleanor Roosevelt (http://quotationsbook.com/quote/45532/#sthash.qfO0yGFO.csBuuROK.dpuf)