Resources to support the bullied
April 23, 2016 10:08 AM   Subscribe

A child has shared several stories with me about her experiences at school that sound alarmingly like a pattern of persistent bullying. How can I support her through this?

Heads up: This can be an upsetting read to those sensitive to name calling and bullying.

At one if my work places,* in a large city of Canada, I see between 25 and 50 elementary-aged children daily. I'm not in charge of these children, but they do need to follow certain enforceable rules to be here. Think of it like a community center full of toys and books and games. I rarely meet any parents but can usually contact them if necessary.

An eight year old girl, Aisha,* has been staying at the center a little later than the main rush of children and chats with me as I clean up before we close at 5:30pm. She mentioned, seemingly in passing (we were not discussing other children or bullying or anything) that another child that sometimes comes to the center, Brendan (10 years old),* called her "ISIS" recently at school.

Since that conversation she has shared more stories (again unprompted), about the same boy telling her to go back to Syria* "and kill herself" and about the same boy encouraging another boy (6 years old) to call her names on the bus.

When I asked if she had any hobbies (hoping to hear that she has a friend to talk to while doing a thing she likes) she told me that she only likes chess* but that there is only one other girl at chess club and that that girl told her she wouldn't be her friend.

I can't imagine how awful it must be to feel this way in a place where you're supposed to feel safe and happy.

Here's what I've done so far:
- Reassured her that this behaviour is completely unacceptable and that she hasn't done anything wrong
- Tried my best to be available to listen, without probing
- Empathised verbally "that sounds really hurtful" and suggested that it might be helpful to write or draw about her frustrations and/ or find someone she trusts to talk with
- Asked if she was able to speak with a teacher (she did once, and he was made to apologise, but the name calling has continued)
- Spoken to a staff member at the center that is directly in charge of Brenden and asked them to keep an eye out for this behaviour (though, their paths rarely cross at the center - usually one comes then the other)

Is this enough? What else should I do? These are some possibilities that might help, but might totally overstep my boundaries :
- Speaking directly to Brenden about what he has done
- Speaking directly to Brenden about bullying in general (the center HAS already given an anti bullying workshop this year in January)
- Calling his mom, calling his teachers
- Calling her mom, calling her teachers
- Posting general anti bullying messages
- Inviting speakers to discuss an anti bullying message
- Something more?

Extra details: the center is in a low income area. At last count ~40% of the children lived at or below the poverty line. Some children are not getting healthy food at home ( the center provides a hot meal every day). There are many immigrants and language can be a barrier.

*Some details will be not-so-detailed and some details might be lightly changed in case a local child stumbles across the question. Feel free to memail me any questions.

What actions, if any, should I take next?
posted by eisforcool to Education (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Hi -

I was the target of persistent bullying when I was a kid. And I actually WISH that the adults I finally spoke to did as much as you're doing, so right away you can understand that you're ALREADY making a difference, and I thank you for it.

You say that the students who come to your center have to abide by certain rules to be allowed to come in - is it possible that you can bar Brenden from the center? (What I mean is, can you bar him based on his behavior OUTSIDE the facility, or are you only allowed to act on what is happening inside it?) If you can bar him, then maybe the speaking directly to Brenden about bullying, and telling him that his bullying has cost him access to this center, may help. If you do that, though - I would NOT tell him details about what kind of bullying you've heard about, or who complained, of course. Spin it like "we've heard that you have been mistreating other students and we want to make sure everyone in HERE feels safe, so we can't let you in until you can prove that you'll be fair to others".

If you can't bar him, though...I would maybe reach out to the principal of the school and say that you've gotten complaints, and ask if the school has any anti-bullying policy. Leave the girl's name out of it - and Brendan's too, at first - and ask if they have any policy about this kind of situation. Offer to come in and do a presentation at the school, if they think it would help.

Finally - the thing that really ended the bullying in my case was OTHER STUDENTS finally stepping in. I was getting regularly singled out in my gym class in junior high, but was TOTALLY unequipped to handle it and tried to cope with it on my own; but after about a month and a half finally three other girls in my class suddenly came over while we were choosing partners for whatever game we were playing and said "hey, come be on our team." And after we had a perfectly ordinary game of badminton or whatever, as we were walking back to the locker rooms, they all walked with me and said "you know, we keep seeing those other girls beating up on you, and we think it sucks. Why don't you talk to the principal?" and they talked me into finally going to an adult about it. They had been watching the whole thing go on all that time and sympathizing with me, and finally had decided to do something about it.

So that's why it is so encouraging that the anti-bullying programs are starting to reach out to kids about what to do if they are BYSTANDERS to bullying, and encouraging them to step in and help. It was the bystanders who finally did something to help me, and even before the adults stepped in, even just knowing that there were other kids who saw what was happening and also thought it was bad made me feel MUCH less alone and much more validated.

So maybe some kind of anti-bullying program that reaches out to the bystanders, and encouraging the school to do the same, would be a huge help.

But earning her trust and being a safe space, and VALIDATING THAT SHE DOES NOT DESERVE THAT, is already a big deal. Trust me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on April 23, 2016 [17 favorites]

I would call the principal of the child's school and ask how to proceed.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:29 AM on April 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

You don't have to start by saying who the child is. You could just describe the situation and ask what to do. If you feel comfortable, you can tell them more and then they have a duty to investigate.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:30 AM on April 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

A kid who tells other children to commit suicide is a kid who has thought about suicide way more than normal. I would contact his school counselor and, if possible, his caregiver, and let them know that he is at risk of killing himself. His behavior is not normal. At this point, I would say that he is in more danger than the little girl.

Now, about the little girl, she needs friends. Could you teach her how to make bracelets that she could share with the other girls? Does she show interest in anything other than chess?
posted by myselfasme at 10:40 AM on April 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

You say there's a significant immigrant community in the area, so maybe either your resource center or the school has some special experience in the subject of culture-specific bullying (I assume the ISIS/Syria/etc. details you put in are standings for a specific religious, cultural, or ethnic background subject to a lot of abuse these days, so this might be approachable with resources beyond "generic bullying" and into response for the specific tenor of this abuse).

Also, does this girl's ethnic/religious/cultural group have any sort of organizational presence in the community which could serve as institutional support? That would also be a valuable group to bring onboard if so.
posted by jackbishop at 10:46 AM on April 23, 2016

As someone who has regular contact with groups of children, I am in the habit of watching kids closely to spot such behavior, and when I do, I make sure they know that I have seen and heard what they did, and that it's completely unacceptable behavior. I know it's difficult to do when you have a large number of kids doing all kinds of things, but if you try hard to focus a few times on watching them interact, you'll spot it.

Depending on the scenario, I might say, "Whoa! What I just heard/saw is completely unacceptable. Timeout with me over here, please." Then a quiet conversation with the offender about why what he said is out of bounds. Then tell him that this is his first warning, and he may find himself unable to come back to the center if you hear or see such things again.

Bullies are accustomed to adults "not seeing" what they're doing and treating them as if they're invisible. Calling it out is important, and the general reaction I get is denial mixed with surprise that I have seen anything. I meet denial with "Nope, I know exactly what I saw, thank you. It's not acceptable. Period." But then also creating a relationship with the bully so that he knows he's not just "bad" but that you perceive him as in need of guidance. How does he react? Then you might have more ideas of how to proceed. Catching him even once will throw him off his game.

If you don't ever see him doing it because he's sneaky or you just aren't in a position to see it, then you have be more general about creating a group conversation about bullying. Sometimes I do this as a sort of "let's stop everything and have a little talk as a group" because you're concerned about some behavior you've seen. (You don't have to actually have seen it, in this case, and you don't want to put a spotlight on Aisha. The goal is not to have him turn on her as a tattletale.) Ask kids about the kinds of bullying they have experienced or seen others do. They'll generally be more than happy to tell you about it. Tell them ahead of time not to use anyone's names. The goal is to empower the victims and empower others to stand up with them. The goal is to create a culture of group solidarity.

Basically, kids that age are kind of off the wall about whether you can "see them" or not. I try to make them feel like I definitely see them, complimenting them clearly and publicly when they are being nice to someone. But also letting them know very clearly when they do something mean that I saw it and I think it's not okay one bit.
posted by RedEmma at 11:05 AM on April 23, 2016 [13 favorites]

Do you have a boss or mentor at this place, or does it have someone who functions like a principal? If so it seems like talking to him/her would be a good place to start. There may be some kind of procedure to follow around who to contact in this type of situation.

If the workplace has an employee handbook or other training / guidance for this type of thing, that might be helpful as well. (Sometimes, in some of my jobs, you never know there's a policy until the situation occurs ... then it turns out that it's a thing).

I'm glad this girl has someone in her corner. Good for you.
posted by bunderful at 12:03 PM on April 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

You would not be out of bounds to speak to the teachers and/or principal at school. This is very serious! Ask the teachers to please speak to this girl do that she will feel more comfortable going to them if it happens again. Ask them to work with her to make a plan - what should she do and say? What consequence would the bully get?

I also think if you are going to do teaching at the center around this situation you should focus on islamophobia rather than bullying in general. It seems that this little boy has a lot to learn about his Muslim neighbors.
posted by mai at 12:46 PM on April 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

.let them know that he is at risk of killing himself

That is not a judgment that can be made from this amount of information and I would not attempt to hyperbolise this way. It would be worth describing what he's doing and letting someone else closer to him check on him, but it's not a good reason to not focus on Aisha being bullied.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:13 AM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thank you all! You've helped me with what to do moving forward.
posted by eisforcool at 8:41 PM on April 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

eisforcool, please post an update if/when you can.
posted by blueberry at 11:52 AM on April 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hi all, things are going well at the center. I invited a local organisation to speak with our staff and more senior children in a workshop called "Managing Difficult Behaviour" that was largely about minimizing challenging situations and understanding consent and respect. Some of the contributions from the children were eye-opening - many of them experience difficult situations frequently. We have a workshop scheduled in the fall about Islamophobia (facilitated by a Muslim organisation at our local university) and will hopefully lead to some more concrete things we can do.

Both Aisha and Brendan seem to be doing well. During the summer we have quite a few more children visit, and they spend quite a bit more time with us, so I've had less 1 on 1 time with either of them. Aisha has really been engaging in our programming, and she's even been connecting with another family that has been coming! I regularly see them out on the sidewalks and at the park together too, which is wonderful. We can not ask Brendan to not come back, he is one of the children that needs to have the provided food at the center. Aisha and Brendan very rarely visit at the same time though, so there's little worry of bullying happening (between them) at the center. I have been making an effort to connect more with Brendan and his interests so that I can have a conversation with him about bullying, if needed.

I've been looking into what a successful Anti-Bullying campaign would look like in our environment and will definitely be implementing one this school year. I will follow EmpressCallipygos' suggestions of focusing on the bystanders and how they can make a positive difference.

Thank you all again!
posted by eisforcool at 9:55 AM on July 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

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