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There's No Such Thing as a Bully: Words

The author shares her story and a few tips on communicating with kids.

The most powerful thing I learned while parenting a bullied child was the importance of keeping open communication with my kids. But as most parents know, that’s easier said than done. 

When we first found out that my son was being relentlessly bullied at school, we were shocked. It had been going on for weeks, but despite the fact that I spent endless hours with him, he’d told me nothing. And according to his teachers, he seemed his normal, happy self. But one day he looked up at me with tears in eyes and said, “Mom, they’re so mean to me. I can’t take it. I don’t even feel like living anymore.”

He was 7-years-old at the time.

I could only hug him. I didn’t have the words to respond.  

So I began to focus more intensely on our conversations, hoping to pull out more information about what he was going through so that I could take appropriate action. But questions like, “How was your day?” “Did you have fun?” and “Were people nice to you?” only garnered responses like, “Good.” “Yup.” And “Nope.”

Clearly, he didn't have the words either.

So I tried something new. I put my background in creative dramatics to work and developed activities that would initiate these conversations without so much effort. We drew, listened to music and wrote stories together. And using creative visualization, we imagined our futures. I also began following three simple rules that helped initiate some very enlightening conversations.

1. Stick to open-ended questions. Avoid any question that can be answered with “yes,” “no” or a shrug.

2. Instead of asking “who” is bullying, start with asking “where” the bullying is taking place. It’s just a start, but it makes children less likely to feel like a “tattler.”

3. Always end on a positive note. It can be really easy for the topic of bullying to take over the life of your family. After each conversation, my son and I tried to focus on something positive—a bright future, just to keep things in perspective. Side-by-side I’d sit with him and envision my most incredible dream life, in hopes of setting an example. At first, he resisted, but soon he began to think more seriously about his own future. He imagined himself in college, surrounded by people with similar interests, who respected him. Seeing himself like that made him understand that respect and kindness were exactly what he deserved.

Our conversations evolved. My questions got easier. His answers became clearer. And we both learned that neither one of us wanted bullying to have any part in our future. Communication was only the first step in solving his problems, but it was a big one.

He’s 13-years-old now. Surviving bullying behavior was a struggle, but now he has great friends and a positive outlook on the future. Best of all, we still sit down and talk every day. It's become a habit, something we both look forward to, and something we'll treasure forever.

Aunt Sandy April 06, 2012 at 02:09 AM
What do you think a school should do to handle a repeat bullier?
Mary April 06, 2012 at 09:33 AM
You're a great mom Taryn. You've taught your son how to handle difficult situations and that you're always there for him. When my son was in first grade there was a group of kids that always stuck together and wouldn't let my son be part of their "group". They said things to him that hurt him and when I spoke to the teacher about it I was told that my son was too sensitive. Thank goodness for that...he's a very caring person. We always told him to be a leader, not a follower. Knowing that you'll always be there for him and he can talk with you about anything and everything is going to make him an emotionally strong adult. While they can try to control bullying in the schools by regulations, there are people that carry that behavior into adulthood. Whatever happened to "sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt me"? My son is now 27 and he knows how to handle people in trying situations. Communication with your son is the key.
Happynewyorker April 06, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Aunt Sandy, it depends on the school code conduct policy. Yonkers public school after the parent calls 3 times the superintendent comes down to meet all, parents, children and principal, the child gets suspended and then the police get involved because it's considered a hate crime.
Happynewyorker April 06, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Yes, communication to your children is the key. But, so much bullying happening at school. What I've done to help my daughter is take her to group therapy so she learns with other children how to learn to help themselves in this situation. I found DVD from Travor Romain from the library. A cartoon video of bullying and ideas to make the problem go away. Also, suggest that maybe bully being bullied at home. I read up on different articles like psychology today and use the words to help my daughter deal with the suitation. She's 8 and has had problems at her school with a girl in her class.
Lisa April 06, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Bullying is a major issue within our schools and society. It saddens my heart whenever I hear of someone being bullied. Thank goodness my son is one of the kids that tends to stick up for the person being bullied. He thinks its disgusting that kids treat other kids so terribly. Why do children have to be so mean?!
Taryn Grimes-Herbert April 06, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Lisa, As a former parent of a bullied child, I'd like to thank you for raising your child to stick up for others who may need a little help. If we all made that a priority, our struggle with bullying would end much sooner.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert April 07, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Aunt Sandy, There are more than a few strategies out there when dealing with bullying. From my experience, repeat bulliers usually have more going on at home than meets the eye. There is a middle school principal in Nevada who chose to identify the repeat bulliers and then work with them to improve their lives and their outlook. Go here http://patch.com/A-g5VP for more details. It seems he had some great success.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert April 07, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Thanks, Mary. That means a great deal. :)
Taryn Grimes-Herbert April 07, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Great tips!
Diana April 07, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Sometimes they learn from their parents. Girls grow up and still they are bullies age has nothing to do with being a bully. They all need to be stopped! It is sick along with low self esteem.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert April 08, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Diana, It's also my experience that they learn from their parents. That is exactly why parents need to step up and teach their children to stand up for those who are being victimized.
Diana April 09, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Take them out of school and put them in a scared straight program. Why should these bullies continue to be terrorists while mental and emotionally hurting kids who go to school to learn. Find out what is behind this,visit there homes. Perhaps family counseling.Or communities need to set up Centers where these kids can go to talk,learn and do chores to redeem themselves!It is a terrible to see someone bullied either by other kids and worse when adults do it. Either way they must be called out on it.
Happynewyorker May 02, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Expel the child. Remove the child from the school. Have the child go to another school.
Happynewyorker May 02, 2012 at 11:53 PM
The child should be expelled from the school.
Happynewyorker May 02, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Another author that I feel has great books available for bullying. Trudy Ludwig.
Happynewyorker May 02, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Diana, I agree children learn from parents. We are the ones that are suppose to guide our children. Not always correct but we do.
Happynewyorker May 03, 2012 at 12:05 AM
As I mentioned previously that my daughter is being bullied at school. She attends a Yonkers public school. Well, they don't follow protcol, which is a shame. Today, I went to the school with a letter (letter can be powerful), I want this child removed from the school at this point. She's a bully this year to my daughter, last year to another child, aggressive and is a problem at this school. I will continue to follow my daughter's problems with her. But, not the principal has told my daughter any problems she has with this child, should be addressed to me and not her. WHAT KIND OF B.S. Is this?? A new state policy regarding bullying goes into effect July 1, 2012, regarding all public schools. http://www.nyclu.org/issues/lgbt-rights/dignity-all-students-act

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