Bullying Can Start the First Day of School

As the school year comes into focus, parents are starting to think about how to make sure that their son or daughter does well in their new classroom with new classmates, new teachers and a more challenging curriculum. I am suggesting that parents plan to evaluate how the year is proceeding even if careful and serious consideration was given to school choice.

Promotional materials that private and public schools develop and use for marketing can be honest or deceptive. Always, there are personal and interpersonal relationships with classmates, teachers, administrators and other children’s parents that will not come alive until school starts.

Parents sometimes have a hard time believing that visiting the school of choice, reading its mission statement, attending school welcome events, and even talking to other parents who already send their children to the school is not enough to predict their child’s happiness and success. Well, I can tell you from my experiences with families and schools for over 30 years that promotional materials and first introductions are never enough. What one family values for their child may be very different than what another family values or expects. Differences in attitude, expectations and values alongside administrative policies determine the course of the school year and your child’s intellectual and emotional growth.  

Recently, I was at a promotional school event. Helen’s son Ryan got accepted into the primary grades last year at Royal Road School. Helen said that she noticed that her son seemed to be having fewer and fewer toys in his bedroom. She figured out, from talking to the other mothers, that Ryan was giving his toys away so the boys who were being bullies would leave him alone. Ryan was buying his way out of being teased. He was learning that giving away his good possessions was a way to fit in and make friends.

I was of course horrified and shocked that Helen was not up in arms with the teachers and administrators about the seriousness of this bullying problem. I said to her, “You must be enraged to be paying $30,000 a year for this type of educational community.” But Helen wanted to be a part of the high status Royal Road “family.” She turned a blind eye to the bullying issue. Helen was over-valuing the reputation of the school.

There are more stories that I could tell about the bullying that goes on at every school I have ever consulted with. Suffice it to say, bullying is a problem at all public and private schools because it is a part of how children, who learn from their parents’ examples, are socialized. How the issue is dealt with is in the hands of teachers, administrators and specialists. Keep this in mind as you think about how your child is doing at school. Having friends is certainly an issue for gifted children, who naturally prefer adults who understand them better than their same-aged peers. If your child is unhappy about something that is going on at school, it is safe to suspect bullying might be a part of the problem. If bullying is happening, talk about it with the school and your child. Don’t let the mean behavior of others erode your child’s love of learning and school. Confront the bullying issue with tact and persistence.

Here are some ways to detect bullying:

1.  Your child has considerable anxiety about going to school.
2.  Your child tells you, “No one plays with me.”
3.  Your child is reluctant to do their homework or other school-related projects.
4.  Your child is hyperactive or withdrawn at school.

What you can do:

1.  Talk to your child calmly about what is going on at school.
2.  If you are concerned, ask for a meeting with the teacher.
3.  Work on making playdates with kids at school, in the neighborhood, or at extracurricular activities.
4.  If the situation persists, ask for a meeting with the principal to find out school policy on handling bullying. All schools have outside resources. You can request a behavioral observation.
5.  If you are not satisfied with the results of the interventions for bullying, seek out the advice and help of a psychologist or educational consultant.