This piece was written by Alicia Beatrice Hicks, a member of the Contributors Circle at the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. The views expressed in this post do not represent those of the Hogg Foundation.
It’s almost back to school season again. This time of year always brings up mixed emotions for many kids such as disappointment that the summer’s over and excitement and anxiety about the new school year, new teachers, homework, and making new friends. As a parent, you may feel some pressure to prepare as much as possible through the hustle and bustle of back-to-school shopping and getting school supplies organized. And you probably teach your child to follow the rules at school, in their classroom, and to be kind to others. You more than likely don’t anticipate your child coming home upset that they experienced bullying by another kid at school. What do you do when all your good intentions and thorough preparation falls short in that area?
When my sons came home the first time and told me about their experiences with bullying, I was reminded of my fears of them facing discrimination and, rejection, and the effect that would have on their self esteem and well-being.
As a parent of two Black boys, I’ve reconciled these fears to protect them.
I choose courage rather than fear to channel this energy into something greater.
As a parent and purpose driven leader, I chose to channel my energy to help others. It is my hope that your child will never experience bullying. However, I hope that this essay helps you to have a better understanding of the issue and know what to do if it happens to your child.
Warning Signs & What to Look For
Although my sons both attended schools that were culturally diverse and predominately Black, what I found was there is no difference. Bullying occurs on some level in all demographic or geographic school settings. Without being blinded to the socioeconomic disparities that some students face, I assumed that every child was prepared to go to school to learn and grow. You and your child get acclimated to the school environment, schedules fall into place and adjustment happens. But then something happens and you start to notice your child is acting differently. That usual “everything was good” after you ask them about their day turns into silence or a low sigh of resignation. Then school doesn’t seem as interesting as before. “I don’t want to go to school today” or “I don’t feel good” become invitations for you as a parent to play detective and investigate if it is a true sickness warranting an absence from school or doctor’s visit, or anxiety manifested physically such as a headache or stomach pain. Indeed, take them seriously and don’t ignore what they are saying. Your love and compassion is the foundation for the support that they need during this time to feel safe and have someone they trust to talk to.
How can you advocate for your child?
The first thing I wanted to do when my sons told me about their bullying experiences was storm to the school right away and speak with the principal. Here’s what helped:
- Sleep on it and calm down before your visit.
- Prepare before visiting the principal and/or talking to the teacher.
- Read the school district’s zero tolerance policy for bullying.
- Make a list of what your child said happened, list the facts, consequences and your input on how the issue can be resolved.
- Send a courtesy email if you choose to schedule a meeting or visit first thing in the morning when the principal is likely in their office.
- Present your child’s issue to him/her and ask how this issue can be addressed.
- Who needs to get involved to ensure your child is safe? (ie. school counselor, teacher, on campus security or safety monitors, other kid involved in bullying and their parents, etc.)
- After the meeting, send a follow-up email summarizing what was discussed and what the plans are to address this issue.
- Monitor the plan.
- Follow up again if things aren’t going as planned.
Life Lessons From My Sons on How to Cope With School Bullying
Jerome Jr. is 11 years old and Isaac is 7 yrs old. In this video they share their perspectives on what helped them to cope with bullying.
“Welcome to Positive Self-Talk with Jerome. Today you’re going to be learning a life lesson. When someone is bullying you that means they are deflecting their feelings onto you and you should not do it back. They may be experiencing something far more beyond our living. Do not bully others. It is not right. That’s all I have to say.”
I remember Jerome told me that other kids who bully may have issues going on at home too. Isaac likes to share music, beats and songs to express himself. It’s important for them to have creative outlets to express themselves so they stay open to their thoughts and feelings. They both feel relieved from the academic pressures to play and have fun when they get home from school. Home is the place where kids should feel safe, secure and be free to be themselves without fear of being judged. Also, my sons remind me that we can change and adapt to every situation we face.
I am very proud of their resilience, compassion and kindness towards themselves and others.
Parents: remember to take care of yourself.
Do what is helpful for you.
Here are some things that help me: sleep, journaling, prayer, meditation, stretching, walks, music, play, nature, and gratitude.
It’s okay to step away from social media, technology, the news, and take a break as needed.
Seek peace of mind.
Keep it simple and don’t overwhelm yourself.
Get support from loved ones.
Get help from a licensed mental health professional or therapist to work through your emotions.
We are all in this together, no lone islands or lone rangers.
Connect when you feel disconnected, discouraged, and disappointed.
You are worthy.
Your child matters.