Weigh in on how she handled her son being bullied

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  April 16, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara:

How I handled my son being bullied:

My son and his friend in preschool both were handed postcards at school from several girls telling them that the girls didn't like them.  The teachers sat the kids down at a table, talked about feelings, and  created a list of games they could play together (the incident apparently stemmed from a feud between boys and girls about what types of games to play).  My son, frankly, was fairly unfazed by the incident, so after some gentle probing, I let it lie with him.  I asked the teachers to next time first talk to me before handling it - unless it was something that was an emergency. I hadn't yet had the opportunity to talk to my son about it, having found the note after dropping him off at school. I also refuted his teachers' suggestion that bullying is a sign of low self esteem.

From: Rachel, Newton

 

Dear Rachel,

I think this teacher handled the incident beautifully and she deserves your thank you rather than the backhanded reprimand that she should have contacted you first.

There's a ton of scholarly research supporting a connection between bullying and low self-esteem. There's also plenty of evidence that learning early how to respect each other's feelings helps defuse bullying at older ages. When my son was in elementary school, his school was among the early users of the Open Circle curriculum. As a 5-year-old, he would come home talking about how it's OK to have feelings that you don't like someone, but it's not OK to say those feelings to the person. I was grateful for the lessons and for the openings it gave me at home to reinforce the messages of tolerance for all kinds of differences, including something as simple as having different ways of playing. Bullying behavior looks very different in girls than it does in boys, by the way. Boys tend to be very out in the open with it and somewhat physical, girls tend to use words and secrecy.

Do other parents agree with me?

PS. Does anybody else wonder where 5-year-old girls got postcards?

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.


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16 comments so far...
  1. I don't wonder where 5 year olds get postcards - most preschool classrooms I've seen have writing centers with all sorts of stuff to write on. My daughter made 'postcards' all the time.

    I agree with Barbara that the school handled it well. We need to teach children from an early age to resolve conflicts and express feelings appropriately (ie, it's ok to be angry and feel like you hate someone, it's fine to tell them you're angry at them, it's not fine to say 'I hate you and want to kill you'). I had my 8 year old daughter and her friend in the car the other day, and the 'friend' told my daughter that another girl, C, doesn't like my daughter. My daughter insisted that she and C were friends because C asks her to play at recess, and the other girl kept insisting that C told her that she doesn't like my daughter. I let them go on for a minute or so, and then told the friend that it wasn't nice to talk about who doesn't like whom, and they needed to change the subject. I can only imagine how much worse it will get when they are a little older.

    Posted by akmom April 16, 10 07:10 AM
  1. I wouldn't exactly call this bullying, especially at that age. A five year old telling another five year old that they don't like each other seems like totally typical behavior. I think the teacher handled it fine but I also think, at that age, even if she completely ignored it (which would be wrong of course) the kids probably would have forgotten about it in a day or two. I also don't think that it is necessary for the teacher to check with the parents before handling a similar situation in the future - that is her job!

    Posted by Dad April 16, 10 07:39 AM
  1. Dad, my thoughts exactly. I would NOT call this bullying either. An argument about what games they play or don't and whether the girls like the boys is NOT bullying The teacher did handle it like she should have. . THIS is kids being kids. I bet the girls wrote another postcard the next day telling your son how cute they think he is.

    Posted by jd April 16, 10 08:38 AM
  1. i think the teacher handled it great. its her job to handle disagreements and discuss how to handle them with the children. the fact that mom thinks she should have called to discuss is crazy. i think mom needs to get a clue!

    Posted by babyblue April 16, 10 09:19 AM
  1. Wouldn't call this bullying, Maybe the teacher made a bigger deal out of it than she needed, but you might not know all the circumstances. Maybe the girls have been doing it to other kids so she needed to deal with it in a different way.

    I wouldn't get into the habit of second-guessing your kid's teachers over little stuff. It sends a message of doubt that your son will pick up on.

    Posted by Patricia April 16, 10 09:19 AM
  1. Yes, not bullying -- but simply young kids needing to learn how to handle social situations.

    I am curious about the LW: she expects the teacher to contact her first before the teacher handles classroom management issues? Seriously? LW, the teacher handled the situation when it arose, which is when, with young kids, it needs to be handled -- or it won't have nearly the same effectiveness. And the teacher simply cannot answer to every parent about every classroom issue that comes up. The teacher handled this one very well. I have no idea what grand solution you would have come up with, but I doubt it would have been better than the teacher's. And since you "refute" the idea that bullying has anything to do with low self-esteem, I'm not sure you're really qualified to handle classroom issues anyway.

    Posted by jlen April 16, 10 09:28 AM
  1. To the LW: While your son was unfazed, perhaps the other boys involved were not. I'm not even sure why you wrote this letter for publication - was it to show how great a mother you are that your child was unfazed or was it to share your opinion on bullying?

    The incident happened in a teacher's classroom and it sounds like it involved a majority of the children under her tutelage. The girls engaged in what is certainly negative behavior and the teacher addressed it with all of her students to help them understand what is and isn't OK, and to teach them a little lesson in conflict resolution which is, BTW, a skill that too few new graduates have as they enter the "real world" and the workforce. It is, however, a skill that should be taught at every opportunity, no matter how young.

    So, bully for you that your son handled it well - but it is a shame that you didn't follow his example. I can't help but wonder what you would have done had he not handled it well and the teacher didn't take the steps that she did though. Somehow, I think that the tone of this letter would be very different. You sound like the sort who cannot be pleased and would have called for the teacher's head either way.

    Parents like you make me feel for teachers in general - and make me grateful that teaching was NOT my calling.

    Posted by Phe April 16, 10 09:58 AM
  1. Sounds like Rachel was feeling guilty for not having found out about postcard incident the night it happened, and then was mad that teachers dealt with it the next day without consulting her. Most likely the parent of the other boy complained and that's how teachers knew to address the issue.

    Also, where's the question? Doesn't sound like this Mom needs any help--she knows it all after all. I don't appreciate this post. If the LW isn't looking for help, why waste the column space?

    Posted by mom of two April 16, 10 10:26 AM
  1. I agree with the others. This is a classroom issue that the teacher needed to address. In no way did the mother need to be involved first. Even if her son wasn't phased, he could have been, and either way, they all needed to learn that it wasn't an appropriate way for the little girls to express their feelings. It had nothing to do with the mother. Poor teacher!

    Posted by mom2boys April 16, 10 11:15 AM
  1. I think the teacher did a great job handling this situation. She talked about feelings with the kids, and what games boys and girls could play together. I was a pre-school teacher so I used to like when the parents would allow us to handle tough situations on our own. You don't want to be a helicopter parent. When my son was in preschool I always said to him to be careful with words you say to people because if they are mean it can be like hitting someone. I think also the teacher should make sure all the girls parents knew about the postcards, so they can reinforce what is kind and unkind behavior at home.

    Posted by Jill April 16, 10 11:49 AM
  1. Regarding this letter being a declaration rather than looking for advice, perhaps Rachel was responding to Barbara's request for comments at the end of this column:

    http://www.boston.com/community/moms/blogs/child_caring/2010/02/when_your_child_1.html

    Also as a father of a 6yo girl, I agree that the teacher sounded like she reacted to the situation very well.

    Posted by dartster April 16, 10 01:14 PM
  1. So what was the LW's question? But as to Barbara's question, yes, I agree with you. The teachers handled it well, and by handling it right then during the "teachable moment" probably had a positive impact on all the kids, whether they were bothered by the postcards or not. A little heads up to the parents at the end of the day about what happened, so that they don't hear it first (and probably incompletely) from the children could go a long way as well. Although maybe not, if the parent was just going to be confrontational about the teachers doing their job without consulting the parent first.

    Posted by 12bucklshoe April 16, 10 01:43 PM
  1. This teacher did exactly the right thing. Children at this age need to have things dealt with immediately and if it waited they would not have had as successful of a response from the children. This is the only way to avoid peer abuse/bullying. We need to catch it at the onset and prevent it through education.
    Kudos to the teacher.
    http://www.parentsadvocatingforsafeschools.webs.com

    Posted by Monica Thomas April 16, 10 07:30 PM
  1. I'd take it one step further, and say that not only did this teacher handle it well, her actions should be a model of how bullying (or, as in this case, the actions that could lead up to bullying) should be handled. A teacher's inaction in the face of organized unkindness is akin to allowing graffiti on the walls or broken windows in the neighborhood: It sends the signal that there is no one in charge who'll stop it, and indirectly encourages it. This teacher responded VERY well, and my hat's off to her.

    Posted by Susan April 16, 10 08:32 PM
  1. I'd like to add to the comment I submitted last night: Although it's correct that there is research supporting the theory that children bully because of low self esteem, more recent research refutes that, and Rachel was right to point that out to the teacher. Whether or not low self esteem is the cause, the self esteem that's at stake in bullying is the victim's, and the solution is not to ignore the actions, but to address them the way that the teacher did.

    Posted by Susan April 17, 10 07:48 AM
  1. I think what is most important in this case given the age of the children and the scope of the incident is that the teacher intervened and made sure the kids knew that their problem was recognized and judged by others. These kids will never remember what the teacher said exactly, but they will remember how they felt during the time they were working it out. This is what shapes the kids moving forward. The teacher did the right thing in addressing this situation, not so much for the moment but for the future... Great discussion on this.

    Posted by Gimmeedaball April 19, 10 09:01 AM
 
16 comments so far...
  1. I don't wonder where 5 year olds get postcards - most preschool classrooms I've seen have writing centers with all sorts of stuff to write on. My daughter made 'postcards' all the time.

    I agree with Barbara that the school handled it well. We need to teach children from an early age to resolve conflicts and express feelings appropriately (ie, it's ok to be angry and feel like you hate someone, it's fine to tell them you're angry at them, it's not fine to say 'I hate you and want to kill you'). I had my 8 year old daughter and her friend in the car the other day, and the 'friend' told my daughter that another girl, C, doesn't like my daughter. My daughter insisted that she and C were friends because C asks her to play at recess, and the other girl kept insisting that C told her that she doesn't like my daughter. I let them go on for a minute or so, and then told the friend that it wasn't nice to talk about who doesn't like whom, and they needed to change the subject. I can only imagine how much worse it will get when they are a little older.

    Posted by akmom April 16, 10 07:10 AM
  1. I wouldn't exactly call this bullying, especially at that age. A five year old telling another five year old that they don't like each other seems like totally typical behavior. I think the teacher handled it fine but I also think, at that age, even if she completely ignored it (which would be wrong of course) the kids probably would have forgotten about it in a day or two. I also don't think that it is necessary for the teacher to check with the parents before handling a similar situation in the future - that is her job!

    Posted by Dad April 16, 10 07:39 AM
  1. Dad, my thoughts exactly. I would NOT call this bullying either. An argument about what games they play or don't and whether the girls like the boys is NOT bullying The teacher did handle it like she should have. . THIS is kids being kids. I bet the girls wrote another postcard the next day telling your son how cute they think he is.

    Posted by jd April 16, 10 08:38 AM
  1. i think the teacher handled it great. its her job to handle disagreements and discuss how to handle them with the children. the fact that mom thinks she should have called to discuss is crazy. i think mom needs to get a clue!

    Posted by babyblue April 16, 10 09:19 AM
  1. Wouldn't call this bullying, Maybe the teacher made a bigger deal out of it than she needed, but you might not know all the circumstances. Maybe the girls have been doing it to other kids so she needed to deal with it in a different way.

    I wouldn't get into the habit of second-guessing your kid's teachers over little stuff. It sends a message of doubt that your son will pick up on.

    Posted by Patricia April 16, 10 09:19 AM
  1. Yes, not bullying -- but simply young kids needing to learn how to handle social situations.

    I am curious about the LW: she expects the teacher to contact her first before the teacher handles classroom management issues? Seriously? LW, the teacher handled the situation when it arose, which is when, with young kids, it needs to be handled -- or it won't have nearly the same effectiveness. And the teacher simply cannot answer to every parent about every classroom issue that comes up. The teacher handled this one very well. I have no idea what grand solution you would have come up with, but I doubt it would have been better than the teacher's. And since you "refute" the idea that bullying has anything to do with low self-esteem, I'm not sure you're really qualified to handle classroom issues anyway.

    Posted by jlen April 16, 10 09:28 AM
  1. To the LW: While your son was unfazed, perhaps the other boys involved were not. I'm not even sure why you wrote this letter for publication - was it to show how great a mother you are that your child was unfazed or was it to share your opinion on bullying?

    The incident happened in a teacher's classroom and it sounds like it involved a majority of the children under her tutelage. The girls engaged in what is certainly negative behavior and the teacher addressed it with all of her students to help them understand what is and isn't OK, and to teach them a little lesson in conflict resolution which is, BTW, a skill that too few new graduates have as they enter the "real world" and the workforce. It is, however, a skill that should be taught at every opportunity, no matter how young.

    So, bully for you that your son handled it well - but it is a shame that you didn't follow his example. I can't help but wonder what you would have done had he not handled it well and the teacher didn't take the steps that she did though. Somehow, I think that the tone of this letter would be very different. You sound like the sort who cannot be pleased and would have called for the teacher's head either way.

    Parents like you make me feel for teachers in general - and make me grateful that teaching was NOT my calling.

    Posted by Phe April 16, 10 09:58 AM
  1. Sounds like Rachel was feeling guilty for not having found out about postcard incident the night it happened, and then was mad that teachers dealt with it the next day without consulting her. Most likely the parent of the other boy complained and that's how teachers knew to address the issue.

    Also, where's the question? Doesn't sound like this Mom needs any help--she knows it all after all. I don't appreciate this post. If the LW isn't looking for help, why waste the column space?

    Posted by mom of two April 16, 10 10:26 AM
  1. I agree with the others. This is a classroom issue that the teacher needed to address. In no way did the mother need to be involved first. Even if her son wasn't phased, he could have been, and either way, they all needed to learn that it wasn't an appropriate way for the little girls to express their feelings. It had nothing to do with the mother. Poor teacher!

    Posted by mom2boys April 16, 10 11:15 AM
  1. I think the teacher did a great job handling this situation. She talked about feelings with the kids, and what games boys and girls could play together. I was a pre-school teacher so I used to like when the parents would allow us to handle tough situations on our own. You don't want to be a helicopter parent. When my son was in preschool I always said to him to be careful with words you say to people because if they are mean it can be like hitting someone. I think also the teacher should make sure all the girls parents knew about the postcards, so they can reinforce what is kind and unkind behavior at home.

    Posted by Jill April 16, 10 11:49 AM
  1. Regarding this letter being a declaration rather than looking for advice, perhaps Rachel was responding to Barbara's request for comments at the end of this column:

    http://www.boston.com/community/moms/blogs/child_caring/2010/02/when_your_child_1.html

    Also as a father of a 6yo girl, I agree that the teacher sounded like she reacted to the situation very well.

    Posted by dartster April 16, 10 01:14 PM
  1. So what was the LW's question? But as to Barbara's question, yes, I agree with you. The teachers handled it well, and by handling it right then during the "teachable moment" probably had a positive impact on all the kids, whether they were bothered by the postcards or not. A little heads up to the parents at the end of the day about what happened, so that they don't hear it first (and probably incompletely) from the children could go a long way as well. Although maybe not, if the parent was just going to be confrontational about the teachers doing their job without consulting the parent first.

    Posted by 12bucklshoe April 16, 10 01:43 PM
  1. This teacher did exactly the right thing. Children at this age need to have things dealt with immediately and if it waited they would not have had as successful of a response from the children. This is the only way to avoid peer abuse/bullying. We need to catch it at the onset and prevent it through education.
    Kudos to the teacher.
    http://www.parentsadvocatingforsafeschools.webs.com

    Posted by Monica Thomas April 16, 10 07:30 PM
  1. I'd take it one step further, and say that not only did this teacher handle it well, her actions should be a model of how bullying (or, as in this case, the actions that could lead up to bullying) should be handled. A teacher's inaction in the face of organized unkindness is akin to allowing graffiti on the walls or broken windows in the neighborhood: It sends the signal that there is no one in charge who'll stop it, and indirectly encourages it. This teacher responded VERY well, and my hat's off to her.

    Posted by Susan April 16, 10 08:32 PM
  1. I'd like to add to the comment I submitted last night: Although it's correct that there is research supporting the theory that children bully because of low self esteem, more recent research refutes that, and Rachel was right to point that out to the teacher. Whether or not low self esteem is the cause, the self esteem that's at stake in bullying is the victim's, and the solution is not to ignore the actions, but to address them the way that the teacher did.

    Posted by Susan April 17, 10 07:48 AM
  1. I think what is most important in this case given the age of the children and the scope of the incident is that the teacher intervened and made sure the kids knew that their problem was recognized and judged by others. These kids will never remember what the teacher said exactly, but they will remember how they felt during the time they were working it out. This is what shapes the kids moving forward. The teacher did the right thing in addressing this situation, not so much for the moment but for the future... Great discussion on this.

    Posted by Gimmeedaball April 19, 10 09:01 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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