On a lovely fall day while visiting a Pumpkin Patch, my sister and I snapped pictures of my kids and nephew terrorizing … I mean … petting the animals. I looked up at a sign on the cows’ pen that said ‘Animals May Bite’. It occurred to me that primary schools should have their own warning sign in the front entrance that says:
KIDS MAY BE CRUEL
On a recent ride home from school, my daughter told me that she was bullied at recess. I asked her what happened. She said that while she was playing with three other girls, some boys around their age started chasing them. I asked her if she told one of the supervisors on the playground what happen and she retold the conversation one of her friends had with the supervisor. My daughter’s friend explained that they were being chased by some boys to which the Supervisor replied: (I’m paraphrasing) “You are safe with each other”. Really, safety in numbers? It’s great to see that my tax dollars are hard at work. This supervisor never went to talk to the boys or in any way address the girls’ fear.
Last year, another male student in my kids 1st grade class spent the better part of that school year chasing my daughter around until she confided in me that she considered him to be her so called ‘arch enemy’. This kid had been harassing her to the point that she avoided the play area he occupied during recess and lunch so he wouldn’t ‘get her’. I asked her 1st grade teacher to deal with the problem. If I did it, I might find myself in jail. Fortunately she handled the situation. The teacher talked to the whole class about proper behavior and that boy stopped bothering my daughter. A year later, that same kid recently pushed my son while they were attending an after-school program.
How much involvement in our kids’ school safety is too much? I’ve debated whether or not to talk to their principal. At what age do you let your kids fight their own battles? Since I had all of my children at once, it means that I have no experience parenting an older child to draw from in this situation. Am I being a helicopter mom if I charge down to the school and complain to the principal about her staff’s lack of responsiveness to students’ requests for help? Shouldn’t students expect their school supervisors to protect them whenever they feel unsafe or harassed?
Ultimately I made an appointment to talk to the principal. I asked her what directives she gave her staff with regard to supervising the students during their various breaks. She made the commitment to provide clarity to the staff of teachers and supervisors about how best to monitor the students’ behavior. We talked at length about the need for the student body to feel safe at school. We also agreed that it is important to address behavioral issues early, in light of the school violence we have seen reported all too often by the media.
In the meantime, my husband and I had a long talk with our kids. One advantage of being triplets is that they will always go to school together. We are teaching them to join forces in self-protection while on campus. I instructed our daughter to run and find her brothers the next time she is being bullied or bothered in any way by another student. I let her know that in this family we are loyal to each other and that her brothers will look out for her.
My husband engaged in some verbal and physical roll play with our sons to demonstrate how to use their bodies as a wall to protect their sister. He told them to hold their arms out with the palms of their hands facing the bully and tell him or her to stop bothering their sister. Although we expect the school to handle matters of behavior, we realize that there will be times when our kids may have to defend themselves. My husband and I are teaching our kids to stick together when they are out in the world as a triad of defense. One of our sons expressed concern that he may get in trouble for fighting if he stands up to a bully. We let him know that although he is never allowed to start a fight, we will always defend his right to protect himself or his siblings. In other words, some kid may start the fight, but you finish it. As our kids get older the lessons will intensify and include martial arts classes. Our hope is that the bullies at school will not want to harass any one of our kids if it means taking on ‘The Beck Triplets’. This is an ongoing discussion for sure.
How should parents delineate between harmless child’s play and bullying? When do you decide to step in? Welcome back to school!