• When we hear the words bullying at school, we think of children threatening each other physically, taking lunch money, knocking down books – -stuff like that. There is another type of bullying, and it’s not new. However, awareness of it might be.

    Teachers have their hands full enough with focusing on the children’s academic status and keeping them physically safe. With younger grades, a teacher has to focus on keeping the boys and girls from physically harming themselves or each other during recess.

    So, who’s watching the sidelines? Who’s watching the kids who are left to play and fend for themselves? They get ignored for the most part, because they aren’t high-maintenance. At least, not outwardly. The teachers have so much to do and it isn’t their fault that they are spread so thinly. They too, need a mental recess break.

    When my daughter started kindergarten, an experienced mother told me: “The bad stuff usually happens on the playground.” She was right! The stories my daughter told me were all happening on the playground, away from her teacher’s watchful eye. Conversations that might seem benign to an onlooker, were loaded with hints of bullying. Kindergarten and bullying, you ask? Yes. It starts early with simple statements such as, “I didn’t say you could play with us,” or “Since I am the oldest one here, I get to say what we do.” And the herd follows the leader. As the kids get older, the comments become more damaging.

    The emotional bullying that happens on and off the yard is a big problem in our schools. It affects their self esteem, which lasts a lifetime and even affects their academic performance. How can we stop it? Well, I’m not sure we can stop it entirely. But we can try by making ourselves more aware of emotional bullying by watching for clues. Is your child acting withdrawn? Is s/he talking about clubs that happen at school? Does s/he need to have a certain pair of shoes and the need seems so severe that you might suspect something else is going on? Perhaps they need those shoes so that the other children will let them play with them in their special ‘shoe’ club. When kids start forming non-sanctioned clubs, the exclusion of other children begins.

    The younger your child, the more likely they are willing to tell you about these clubs and what is going on at school, because they don’t yet understand, in totality, exactly what is happening. This is when it is important to keep the lines of communication open with them — without judgment. When your child does start talking, let them talk. Don’t interrupt with judgments about another child’s behavior. Instead, ask your child how it made them feel when a classmate did or said something. Let your child make the judgment so that they can brainstorm with or without your help, for a solution. Eventually, as your child gets older, they will want to share less and less with you if you are going to judge situations. Because the classmate you judge one day might just be the person that they want to befriend the next day.

    If your child doesn’t tell you about things happening at school, ask. Inquire about something specific that happened during their school day, such as “Who did you sit next to at lunch?” Any sort of leading question that will inspire them to share about a specific experience that happened around that time is helpful. A general, “How was your day?” won’t get you very far in obtaining the information you seek.

    By keeping the lines of communication open, you allow your child to feel safe in talking to you. I am not promoting your child treating you as a friend. You are still the parent and need to act accordingly when given information that requires you to do so. However, just listening without comment will help keep the conversation flowing. At least until puberty, that is…