parenting Q&A: Bully continues to harass 11-year-old son, even after intervention by teachers
My 11-year-old son is often bullied by another boy at school. His teachers always sit them down and get them to talk through the incident. But nothing changes. The other kid continues to harass my boy, and I’m not sure how to help him stand up for himself.
It is always painful to see your child being victimized and frustrating to feel that he can’t keep himself safe. Both kids will be harmed by these aggressive interactions, so you’re right to be concerned and want to make a change. Although schools usually now have anti-bullying policies, they aren’t always effective, and teachers often don’t get ongoing support to implement them fully.
It’s best for children and for the community if parents and teachers can work as a team. Your boy needs you to advocate for him by joining his teachers in making their interventions more effective. It’s a good first step in conflict resolution to have the boys sit down and talk through their dispute. Unfortunately, though, people tend to think that should change things, but it’s only the first step, and there are three more steps needed to make a lasting difference.
The next step is to work with your son to address his self-confidence. You may need to think about whether you have really given him the space to speak up, as well as appropriate limits and responsibilities to balance his wishes and reality.
He needs your help to validate asserting himself, so that he feels that grownups will truly back him when he sticks up for himself. He will also need your help to develop the emotional muscle of scaling his feelings and reactions to the size of the problem. If his self-esteem has dipped too low, he may need professional help to add to what you can give him.
Another possibility is that he is contributing to the problem by provoking in some way. Often kids don’t realize that they have gotten into a pattern of involvement with a bully where they play a role in prolonging the bad interaction — for instance, younger kids who let themselves be chased, rather than refusing point blank to start that game and seeking out an adult for help.
Reconstructing the events in detail may raise your son’s awareness of any part he may be playing. It isn’t blaming him to consider that he may have some responsibility or choice points along the way in the chain of events.
His teachers may need your support to follow up on their first conflict-resolution step. Their next step is to make a plan with the boys for how they will behave differently and how they will monitor results.
Your son may wish the other guy could be made to disappear, but the solutions have to be realistic and fair to both children. Kids and teachers will have to work together to track how well they are following the plan.
And, if they don’t follow the plan, there have to be further consequences. Each school decides what those should be, but parents can offer their ideas.
Perhaps the boys will have to work together under a teacher’s supervision to help the third-graders in the playground, or read to the first-graders and help them write their book reports. Both boys can be appreciated for the strength and maturity they show in setting an example to the younger kids.
When children get self-esteem from authentic achievements and skills, they won’t need to feel good by putting someone else down or getting attention by being a victim. They might even discover that they admire some qualities in each other!
Kerry Kelly Novick is a local child, adolescent and adult psychoanalyst, and author, with Jack Novick, of “Emotional Muscle: Strong Parents, Strong Children,” available at amazon.com or through http://www.buildemotionalmuscle.com. She welcomes your email with comments and questions for future columns at email@example.com.