Parenting challenges you in unexpected ways. Recently, my daughter confessed to me that a boy is bullying her at school for being vegan. This little kindergartener is a constant source of sorrow for the other kids, teasing and kicking other children at will. My daughter has mostly managed to escape his abuse, but not since he discovered she was vegan.
As a parent, how do I deal with this little bully? I can’t directly confront the child myself as I would if someone was teasing or kicking me, but I also cannot just let it go. Bullying is one of the most devastating things kids can go through in school, and it can have traumatizing effects if not dealt with properly. It does fall to parents to manage it and ensure that all the appropriate parties are aware they have a bully in their midst.
This leads to step number one; telling the teacher and/or daycare. Having open communication with the school and daycare teachers will help the problem. Most times, they simply aren’t aware that a child is being bullied in the first place. If the teacher seems dismissive of the problem, don’t be afraid to go to the principal. Your child matters and putting up a big stink about bullying is necessary to protect kids from harm.
If the bullying continues despite informing teachers or daycare instructors, the next logical thing to do would be contact the child’s parents. This can be difficult to do because parents want to think best of their children, and it is hard to admit when your child isn’t acting appropriately. At girl guides recently, another little girl tried to exclude my daughter from playing in a group of girls and luckily, my daughter held her own and played with another child. I could tell she was upset though and decided to step in after the fact. Being friends with the little girl’s mom, I decided to approach her about it. I made sure to not accuse or blame in any way, and having a friendly rapport with her helped a lot. It is important to build relationships with other parents, so that if there is a problem, it is much easier to speak to the other parent openly and honestly. If this isn’t possible or the parents aren’t receptive to being friendly, contacting them in the most polite and calm way possible is the best way to get the results you want.
Other suggestions include preparing your child against bullies through open communication. After both incidences, my daughter and I had a thorough discussion about how bullying is bad and is often a result of the ‘bully’ being insecure and sad. We also discuss how important it is to walk away from a bully, to be brave, and to tell the teacher. Practicing what to say in case a bully teases her helps her feel more prepared. Now, when someone teases her for being vegan, she knows and understands from our discussions that it is because she is different, but in a good way. Bullies often pick on kids that are vulnerable or different. I try to help her understand that being different is great and she should feel empowered for being known as the token vegan at school.
For younger kids, the book “Have you filled a bucket today? A guide to daily happiness for kids” is a great read that helps promote good behaviour towards others. The story explains that everyone has a bucket and filling other people’s buckets with love and kindness will make you happy. Alternatively, if you are mean and selfish, or you take from people’s buckets, then will be unhappy. It is very simple and helps kids relate better to the abstract explanations of emotions.
Bullying is a common problem that kids and parents are forced to deal with on a regular basis, and being prepared will help. Overall, I try to give my child as many compliments a day as I can to help boost her self-esteem. I try to not stick to compliments solely based on appearance, but compliment her intelligence and skills as well. A child that feels better about themselves can be better armed against bullies, and I want her to feel protected and loved.