Before this year I had never written about bullying from a parent’s perspective. There was never any need.
Before this year I had never had to take on the role of THAT parent. The one we all dread being. The one that wonders after every interaction how others took what they said, what they wrote, what they shared.
Before this year I had never had to tell my daughter that school was a safe place and not know whether it truly was for her.
Before this year.
But as they say life changes. And this year has been one of enormous highs and some very deep lows. Moments that I don’t wish on any parent, on any teacher either, and most of all not on any child.
And yet, as things seem to settle down a little for our oldest daughter from what has been a harrowing few months. As changes in her classroom roster, routines and even procedures for her fall into place, I can look back at the experience and perhaps release some of the breath we have seemingly been holding for the last few months, and hopefully, just hopefully, put something worthwhile into the world from this whole experience.
Because there are a few lessons that I have learned this year as a parent of a child who is bullied. There are a few things that I have learned that I wish I had already known before all of this. And so perhaps us, the adults, experiencing this awful situation can help others navigate through theirs a little bit easier. One can hope at least. So what do I wish I had known to do as my daughter was bullied?
I wish we would have known to raise our voice sooner.
For so many parents and caregivers we worry how we will be seen, how we will come across. The reputation we may get from repeatedly asking for support, for sending many emails, for calling as much as we need to. And so we wait and hope that within our waiting something will happen. I know now that that is often not the case and it is not from a lack of indifference from the school but simply because schools are overwhelmed, teachers are overwhelmed, the administration is overwhelmed. So if something is happening to your child don’t wait, bring it up right away. The bullying of our daughter started in September and we did not have a plan in place until December; four months of hurt and harm happened before we could get it to stop.
From an educator’s experience, I have learned that while something may not seem like bullying to us as adults, it may be bullying to a child. Especially when it is a repeated small maneuver that is persistent. Something like always taking someone’s pencil may not seem like a big deal, but when it is done day in and day out it leaves a mark. I wish I would have known to ask deeper questions in the past when students had reported transgressions like these.
I wish we would have known to be louder.
Going back to being worried about how we came across, we waited a long time between emails or phone calls. We were somewhat direct but not forceful. We were nice, in the worst kind of ways, when we should have been yelling. When we should have continued to reach out until we got the response we needed, rather than wait days and sometimes weeks before we heard anything.
From an educator’s perspective, I am reminded of how vital it is to partner with those at home. That even if we have a completely different perspective on a situation the least we can do is make contact back. I think every educator whether in the classroom or not should follow the 48-hour rule, even if it is just to say that you are looking into things.
I wish we would have known to involve others sooner.
We didn’t get much of a plan set in place until we went up to the district level. Again, not because of lack of care, but because the school itself had so many things they needed to solve that not a lot of priority was given to our situation. After waiting a long time, it was at the gentle encouragement of a friend and colleague that we went higher in the chain and the results were immediate. This is when things started to change and at a rapid pace. Had we not done this, I wonder whether anything would have changed. This also goes for involving a lawyer or police if needed.
From an educator’s perspective, I am reminded that we are not alone in all of this and even if we think we have a situation solved or under control that involving others that can help us is always a good thing. This is not a sign of being weak as an educator but of strength.
I wish we would have documented from the beginning.
You think that when your child is being bullied that you will remember every instance, every kick, push, taunt, shove or aggressive slight toward her, but the truth is; it overwhelms you as a parent, just as it overwhelms your child. You send off so many reports that it gets hard to keep the timeline and names straight. I wish we had written things down from the start, or even just made a note about it. I know hindsight is twenty-twenty and we didn’t know that this would be repeated behavior, and yet, I would advise anyone to just jot something down when it happens just in case and then hope you never need it for anything.
From an educator’s perspective, I think I will now be jotting down things too to help those at home with a paper trail. It not only helps see patterns that we may otherwise be missing but may also help is realizing the seriousness of a situation sooner. We have to remember that it is never us versus those at home but that we are a partnership.
I wish we would have asked for counseling sooner.
As we learn more about how trauma shapes our brain, you would think that as a teacher, I would recognize the way my own daughter’s brain was being shaped by these experiences. And yet, when you are in an active bullying experience, it is hard to think about the later when all you are worried about is the now. Yet, now that we have cautiously crossed into the later, we see the ways this experience has changed our daughter. Yes, she is resilient and strong, but she is also wary of others and often assumes the worst rather than the best. She worries that the situation will happen again, that it is not truly over, she is not sure that school will ever be a safe place for her again. Do you know how hard it is to hear this from a kid who we have tried so hard to get to believe in school? She now has a trusted adult who checks in with every morning but that should have happened much sooner. We should have demanded it, but we didn’t think that far ahead. I have learned that just because your child is no longer being bullied that the damage is done. It is there. And it is up to us to work through it.
From an educator’s perspective, I am reminded of just how powerful it is to have one trusted adult. An adult that hears you, that is not too busy, that will listen and help as needed. There were times my daughter did not feel that anyone was listening even if they were, this made her feel even more unsafe.
I wish we would have known to teach our child to deal with indifference.
Yes, there were two girls who viciously targeted our daughter, but there were also many who idly stood by. Who didn’t see it or didn’t stop it. Who probably felt powerless or weren’t interested in getting involved. And I think, my kids would react in the same manner, even if I am trying to raise them to speak out. For how long has our bullying instruction been focused on standing up, when it is perhaps not just that we need, but instead we need for other kids to care and to show that they care. When I speak to my students about why they don’t stand up to bullies, they say it is because they are scared and I get that. So how about we also teach them to care about the victim? To make sure that the victim feels included at lunch? At birthday parties? On the bus and in class? How about we tell our kids that it is not just about being nice on the surface but taking an interest in others, especially those viewed as outcasts or who are victims of another child’s wrath that will make the most significance to a victim of bullying.
Just this weekend I found a note that my daughter had kept from a friend. It said that the friend was sorry one of the girls had called her ugly and that she wanted her to know she was beautiful both on the inside and on the outside. My daughter kept that note because it meant more than anything we could have said. Just like having the one friend will make the biggest difference to a child who is a victim of bullying. I think indifference from others can hurt more in the long run than hatred, that has been a tough lesson to learn.
And so our job as parents is to raise our children to care more. To go out of their way to include others. To not tell them it is okay to just be nice but not be friends. Instead show them by example what it means to include others, to make friends, to stand up for others, after all, we are our children’s greatest teachers.
From an educator’s perspective, this is something we have been working on every year. Lessons where we use picture books about loneliness, reflecting with students on loneliness and whether they feel seen or not, and also asking them to reflect on who they are as human beings and how they treat those who they do not view as friends are part of what we do. It is not enough, but it is a start.
I wish we would have found a way to keep our daughter safe.
Every day, my husband and I wondered what else we could do. What else was there to do for her to keep her safe at school? How else could we protect her, and yet, our answers were so limited. That is one of the hardest parts of being a parent of a bullied child; how little you can actually do. How much you place your trust in the school that they go to. How much you hope that today is the day that the bullying stops. That today is the day that the plan starts to work. And yet, we felt powerless because in many ways we were and that needs to change, not just for us but for the many parents and caregivers that feel equally powerless. How can we, as educators in our schools, help the parents and the victims actually trust us again. I don’t have the answer yet but I hope that one day I do.
We never thought we would be the parents of a child who was bullied. After all, when we look at our daughter we see light. We see passion. We see creativity, joy, happiness and a little bit of sass. We never saw those things that other kids decided to see and we never will. We thought we knew how to protect her, how to navigate the system if we ever needed to and now we know that perhaps because of how we knew the system we did not do enough early on. We know that Thea will be okay, she is one of the lucky ones, but we also know that we have a long road ahead. That there are many words and actions she will never forget no matter how many great memories she has instead. The tears still come for me, how can they not? And yet, all I have to do is look at my daughter, the child we tried to have for more than three years, to let me know that I , too, can be strong. Because that is what Thea is. Strong, powerful, and so determined to be something amazing. What she just doesn’t believe quite yet is that she already is. She is amazing, and no one will ever be allowed to try to take that away from her again.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.