Happy Birthday Megan Taylor Meier! Today would have been Megan’s 29th birthday. In honor of Megan, we ask that you go out of your way to do something kind today and remember that #ChangeStartsWithMe pic.twitter.com/PtkQnj94C7
— MeganMeierFoundation (@MeganMeierFndn) November 6, 2021
When my son started preschool at the age of three, he was picked on.
He would come home and tell me about the two boys who were being unkind to him—he didn’t like it, and it made him feel sad.
The following year, these boys started in the same reception class, but now, aged four, they were becoming more tactical in their approach. Not surprisingly, my son no longer wanted to go to school, and he cried every day.
One afternoon, he returned home with a bump to the head. He explained how one of the two boys had instructed the other to hit his head into the wall of the playground. That boy did as he was asked.
He grabbed my son by the head and pushed him into a stone wall—in the playground—at school. They were four-years-old!
I still get upset now, as I picture what happened to my then smaller-than-average child, and imagine how he must have felt.
Their teacher thankfully listened and took my concerns seriously, but those boys continued to play a negative role in my son’s life, until we moved away.
The hardest part as a parent was not being able to protect my little boy, and not knowing how to help him handle this situation in an age appropriate manner.
When he was young, I simply listened to him, and challenged any of the negative words that he was being called. I suggested he tell the teacher when something upset him, or if he felt like someone might hurt him.
My mum encouraged him to respond to the bullies politely, but loudly, so that his classmates and hopefully an adult would hear him say, “Why did you just push me?” or, “Why did you just call me ‘stupid’?”
From my experience with other incidents of bullying as my children have grown, I have realised that there are two key factors at play in how a child responds to being targeted. The first is how they feel about themselves. A child who feels secure and who acknowledges their own self-worth will feel more confident in simply being and defending who they are. The second is whether they feel able to talk with an adult openly and honestly about their feelings, without fear of being shut down.
In recent years, there has been much written on the subject of bullying, as society has recognised that the emotional damage is long-lasting, and impacts children’s development and education. There are also some great videos available on YouTube that address the issue, three of which I would like to share here.
The first introduces a tactic for handling a bully that I believe can be adapted to any age of child. The speaker makes an important differentiation between verbal and physical bullying, though, and states that this tactic will only work in retaliation to verbal abuse. If it has already reached the point of being physical, it has progressed to assault, and that needs escalating to the appropriate authorities:
The second one is of a child and his mom speaking to children, and is probably aimed at those of middle school age:
The final one is heartbreaking. This mother seeks to educate families on the topic of cyberbullying, in an attempt to prevent them suffering the loss she has—her daughter chose to end her life after she became a target:
In the United Kingdom, it is thought that one in five children are currently being bullied. Whilst the majority of this takes place in school, the bullying can be continued online, offering pupils the feeling that they cannot escape it.
As responsible adults, if we realise that a young person’s mental health is suffering, we need to seek support for them, and reach out to professionals. But, first and foremost, we need to offer these children a safe place, and listen to them—really listen.