By Lizann Lightfoot
My military kids know what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land. They have lived in a foreign country where the local kids didn’t speak English.
Sadly, when we returned to America, my kids endured even more ridicule and bullying from their American classmates. They have been teased for being unfamiliar with local food and never going to Chuck E. Cheese. (These didn’t exist in the country where my military kids grew up!) Our family has been called “stupid” because we don’t let my children–who are all younger than nine–watch rated-R movies.
Sometimes the teasing is regular kid-stuff. Other times, it crosses the line into bullying. When my kids come home from school crying or upset, it breaks my heart.
Military kids face enough challenges every time they enter a new school. They shouldn’t have to deal with bullying, too. Unfortunately, bullying is a problem at schools across the county, whether they are private, public, or on a military base. Sooner or later, your kid will come home from school complaining about someone. As a parent, how should you react? You don’t want anyone hurting your kids, but you don’t want to fight all their battles for them either. Your response should both protect and strengthen your military child.
How to handle physical bullying at school
Most elementary schools have a zero tolerance policy for bullying. For the school to get involved, the bullying must happen between students on school property. At most schools, no physical altercations are allowed. This includes pushing, shoving, hitting, slapping, punching, biting, or throwing something at another student.
If this type of behavior happens, your child should go immediately to an adult to report the incident. It can be a teacher, staff member, or playground volunteer, but it is important to have an adult witness. Talk to your child about this whenever they start at a new school. Children often don’t speak up so they won’t be labeled a tattletale. Once an adult has been informed, you or your child can fill out an incident report at the school office. This will list the names of students involved, as well as a description of the incident. This report will go to the principal or the staff member who handles discipline. If they deem it necessary, the school will call the other child’s parents.
What about verbal or cyber bullying?
These types of incidents can be harder to report, especially if there is no evidence. It’s normal for children to tease each other and leave another student out of a game. However, it is not normal for any student to be continuously ridiculed, mocked, put down, or embarrassed. This is painful enough if it happens on the playground. It is even worse when it happens online or through the student’s phone. At times, the school will not follow up or get involved if the incidents do not occur on school property. Verbal or cyber bullying should always be taken seriously because in some cases it has led to suicide.
To reduce the likelihood your child will be bullied:
- Maintain open communication with your child. Let them know that they can talk to you about anything–good or bad–and you won’t overreact or yell.
- If your child is old enough to have their own phone or use social media, monitor their accounts. Don’t make any public comments on their pages, but let them know that you will log in and check who is talking to them. Have your child agree to random phone checks for their own safety.
- If the bullying is by another student at school, follow up with the teacher or principal. If they will not react, then approach the other child’s parents in a non-aggressive way.
Teach your military child how to handle bullies
At some point, every military child goes through the experience of being the new kid. Adjusting to a new state (or country) and making new friends takes time. When they encounter bullying behavior, remind your kids:
- Bullying is never okay. If someone hurts you or insults you, you have a right to speak up and defend yourself.
- Practice appropriate responses. It is usually not wise for a child to hit back or return a verbal insult. Tell them that they have choices– talk to the person, walk away, find an adult. Be the bigger person in the situation.
- Empathy is an important lesson. My children are not angels, and they sometimes bully their own siblings. When they are upset about being mistreated, I ask them to remember how hurt they feel and think about that next time they want to tease someone.
- Coach your child on ways to diffuse verbal bullying. They can either ignore the comments, say something funny, or make a casual remark to demonstrate that the insults are no big deal. If things do not escalate, bullies usually get bored and leave you alone.
- Every family is different. We show respect to everyone, even when they do things differently from us. A true friend will respect you too.
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.