After years of drying tears after her kids were kicked around by bullies, Vickie Smith says her breaking point came when she witnessed her youngest son slinging mean words at a peer.
"I never figured one of my kids would be the bully," says the Idaho mom of eight. "But one day, my son was sitting next to a boy in the library and said mean things right in front of me and the boy's mom. I took care of it and then the other mom revealed that my son had been picking on her boy for an extended period of time and she just hadn't figured out who the bully was, or who his mom was. "
Anna. N. a member of Circle of Moms' Moms With School Age Kids community, says there was no denying the guilt she felt when she found out her eight-year-old daughter got involved with the Mean Girl crowd: "She was hanging out with her usual mates at school but she started bullying one of her closest friends all because the other friends do," says Anna. "The other girl who is being bullied is afraid to come to school."
That's exactly why, on March 10th, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama brought together students, parents, teachers and community leaders from across the nation who have been affected by bullying and cyberbullying to take action through the White House Conference On Bullying Prevention. The Obamas' first-of-its-kind conference was streamed live at StopBullying.gov.
"This isn't an issue that makes headlines everyday, but it affects every single young person in our country, " President Obama said. An estimated 13 million students experience some form of bullying every year in American schools, he added. This adds up to one-third of all middle and high school students.
"It's something that we care about not only as President and First Lady, but as parents," says Michelle Obama. The website provides resources to help parents, teachers and kids end bullying in their schools.
Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family psychologist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, notes that bullying originates at home, and that the most effective way to end it is to break the cycle.
"I have observed that kids who are bullies hold a best-kept secret," says Walfish. "Someone at home in their family is 'bullying' or mistreating them."
When a child is harshly treated or abused, they are left with anger and rage that they typically can't express to the parent who mistreats them, says Walfish. "So they go to school and displace this anger by repeating the unacceptable mean behavior. I have also observed that in a family where one parent is mishandling a child, often the other parent is afraid to confront the abuser and takes a passive position."
Ending bulllying does indeed require strong action and tough love from parents, observes Circle of Moms member Peggy H. She counsels Anna N., the mom whose daughter got pulled into bullying beahvior by her freinds, to see her daughter's behavior as an opportunity to teach a valuable life lesson: "First your daughter needs to learn that being a bully is not ok. And the much more honorable thing to do would be for her to stick up for her friend against others who are bullying. What this will teach her in the long run is a great sense of self esteem. She is bullying because she is afraid of not fitting in, this is a crucial time for your little girl to realize that she is an individual."
Walfish points out though, that the underlying causes of a bully's behavior are geneally not readily solved. When a parent finds out that her child is mean and excluding others, she says, her response wlll vary "depending on how self-aware she is. She may feel humiliated. How could 'her' daughter do this and blow the family image in a public venue like school? She may feel guilt about a silent awareness of their family dynamic. She might feel helpless about what to do to fix the problem."
Below are Walfish's tips for parents who want to make effective change.
- Always be curious and open enough to look within and become more self-aware.
- Be kind and nice to your children.
- Sit down with your partner and talk about the problem, with your goal to get on the same page.
- Don't get caught in power-struggles with your child. Never engage in negotiations, bargaining, or deal-making.
- Balance being loving and nurturing with setting and holding boundaries. Each parent must be comfortable doing both. It's not good for one parent to nurture and the other to discipline.
- Listen to your children. Interpret both verbal and non-verbal cues.
- Encourage healthy, direct expression of anger.
- Encourage your child's unique and individual ideas, thoughts and opinions. Give each child special undivided time every day. Even 10-15 minutes is great if it is uninterrupted.
- Ask questions of others if you don't know what to do.
- Build self-esteem by using words that support and motivate with empathic attunement, rather than criticizing.
- Equip your child with coping skills to deal with disappointments. Parents cannot protect a child from or prevent life's disappointments. The best we can do is equip our children to deal with inevitable letdowns.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.