Although the topic of bullying is all over the news and schools, many of us parents don’t believe it happens in elementary school. We call it other things… they are just being mean… they don’t know how to be a friend yet. Elementary age kids are new at being friends, creating peer relationships, and are typically driven by what they have experienced with siblings and in previous school settings.
Bullying happens in elementary schools. The challenge is realizing it’s happening. A child might simply say they don’t have any friends, when what they mean is they are being actively rejected and ignored by one or a few kids in their classroom. We don’t expect our kids to have steady, easy friendships when they are really young.. it is rare and most of us don’t give it a second thought when our child changes friends every two weeks. If they and we are lucky, they may have 1-2 kids they regularly play with in school and out. But an initial sign of trouble is when your child says I don’t have any friends.
A second sign is when your child says they wish they could go to a different school. It might take some investigating to figure out why.. don’t you like your teacher? He’s too strict! they reply. And we stop there, not thinking there’s more to the story.
A child that is victimized in elementary school will be a more likely target in middle and high school. If we follow up with additional questions, such as Who do you sit with at lunch? Who do you wish you could play with? Does he or she allow you to play when you try? Are they saying mean things to you? Are you playing by yourself alot?
Using concrete examples can help us in our conversations with our elementary aged children. If you discover or even suspect your child is being systematically ignored, excluded, and/or teased, contact the principal. It takes a team approach to help children, both those doing the bullying and those on the receiving end, start a new path. The principal and your child’s teacher should work together to find a solution for your child that will protect him/her and also help him or her make friends with others.
No child should experience the pain of systematic exclusion and derision, even if it’s being done by children too young to fully understand that what they are doing is bullying. The child that bullies and the child that is being bullied both need support and assistance in order to be confident, caring, and kind older kids and adults.