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Family Matters Blog: Blogger Learns How to Handle a Bully

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2010 – My 8-year-old daughter came home in tears last month after just a few weeks at her new school.

After much cajoling, she told me what was wrong. Turns out another girl had been calling her not-so-nice names in the cafeteria. My daughter is somewhat timid, so she walked away rather than confront the situation.

And I was left with a conundrum. Do I tell my daughter to call her a name back? Have her go back and tell the teacher? Or do I call the teacher myself?

Long gone are the days of my youth, when bullying was seen as a rite of passage. I remember getting teased in middle school and coming home in tears to tell my mother. “She’s just jealous,” my mom said of my dreaded persecutor.

I wanted to beg to differ. The bully and I had nothing in common; she probably didn’t even know my name. But, it felt better to soak in the jealous theory rather than believe that someone saw me as weak enough to be picked on.

So, I laid low until the bully found another victim, which she did rather quickly. I never considered going to a teacher or the school counselor, and as for bully rehab, I can only hope my bully learned her lesson over time.

Although I can’t speak for other schools, bullying wasn’t talked about in mine. If you were unlucky enough to be tagged a victim, you just endured it or fought back.

Times sure have changed. The bullying issue has grabbed the nation’s attention in recent months, particularly after several high-profile cases hit the news. Sadly, several teens reportedly took their own lives rather than face continued torment from their persecutors.

The Internet too has created an entirely different realm for bullies. With cyberbullying, bullies potentially have a worldwide audience for their harassment.

In a national effort to stop bullying, the departments of Education, and Health and Human Services joined with four other departments, including the Defense Department, last year to create a federal task force on bullying. And in August, the task force held its first National Bullying Summit to bring to light the issue and to find a path to stop it for good.

Schools are doing their part as well. Defense Department schools have built bullying prevention into their curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade. And school officials are encouraging students to do their part to keep schools safe. Rather than stand by and watch someone being bullied, students are taught to either help the victim or turn the bully’s attention to other pursuits.

And if bullying does occur, students are taught how to handle it. I asked Patricia Cassiday, director of pupil personnel services for the Department of Defense Education Activity, to explain how the activity handles bullying. I think the information she passed on is helpful for students in any school.

The victim should first be assertive, she advised. “Right away, be clear you want them to stop. Say, ‘I don’t like it when you …’ then get out of the situation.”

If it continues, victims should let the bully know they are going to ask for help. A counselor will then talk with the bully and, if it still continues, disciplinary action will be taken.

All bets are off, however, when physical violence is involved, Cassiday said. In those cases, the bully will be disciplined immediately.

Parental involvement is key throughout this process. Parents should let school officials know if something is wrong in case they weren’t already aware – which brings me back to my conundrum.

Based on Cassiday’s advice, since my daughter was too timid to confront the girl, my best bet was to let my daughter’s teacher know what happened, which is exactly what I did.

The teacher talked with the student, and it hasn’t happened again. I feel very fortunate to have resolved this so easily. Many parents and children have persistent issues with bullying that aren’t so easily settled.

It will take a concerted, ongoing effort to tackle this pervasive problem, and maybe it can’t be eliminated entirely. But with the nation’s stepped-up prevention and education efforts, I see progress. And I definitely feel much better equipped to handle bullying than I did as a 15-year-old.

If you have some helpful bullying prevention tips or advice on how to handle a bully, please don’t hesitate to share. I’d particularly like to hear from our military families, whose children are so often the “new kids on the block” at school.

For more on bullying prevention, including some helpful resources, see my American Forces Press Service article “DOD Takes Steps to Stop Bullying."

To comment on this blog, visit the Family Matters website.


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