Ending school violence starts in the home

March 15, 2001

Ending school violence starts in the home

Teaching your child | By Lisa Tedrick Prejean

As a parent, do you wonder what role you should take to prevent violence in your child's school?

There's a lot you can do, and it starts at home.

Children must know that their feelings matter.

"What we hear from students - kids don't feel respected, connected," says Ann Marie Lenhardt, professor of counseling in the School of Education and Human Services at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y.

Parents get busy and lose track of where a child is emotionally, says Lenhardt, who has researched school violence through focus groups of students, parents and educators.

As the mother of three teenagers, Lenhardt says she knows how hard it is to stay on top of the influences that affect a child's life.


But parents must make active listening a priority.

When your child talks to you, stop what you're doing, look him in the eye and restate what you've heard, Lenhardt says.

"Fill up your child with anchors. Make them feel respected, loved. Give them a sense of belonging. Make them optimistic about the future."

Children must learn how to care.

Teach your child to be sensitive to the needs of others.

Make comments such as, "I wonder how so-and-so felt when that happened," says Kate Cohen-Posey, author of "How to Handle Bullies, Teasers and Other Meanies."

Embrace differences and preach acceptance. We don't all think alike, and that's what makes life interesting.

Children must know that bullying will not be tolerated.

As adults, it's not enough to prevent violence; we should also work to assure that children have peace of mind, says Phil Burns, author of "Multiple Victims, Multiple Causes: How to Recognize, Understand and Stop the Disease of Violence Within our Homes, Schools and Workplace."

Burns says children should be taught to stand up for someone who's being wronged. If more kids would do this, bullies would see that their behavior is socially unacceptable, he says.

Here are issues to think about from Cohen-Posey, Burns and Lenhardt:

Is your child a bully?

Bullies pick on others to receive attention. They often exhibit a lack of empathy for others, cruelty to animals and a high sense of frustration.

Bullying is learned. Think about why your child exhibits this behavior. Has he been the target of a bully?

Express concern, but not anger.

Ask your child to tell you what's happening at school, on the bus or at the playing field. Ask him to explain his behavior.

Is your child being teased?

Don't tell your child to retaliate for or to ignore teasing. And don't belittle your child's feelings.

A child who is picked on by his peers will feel embarrassed and humiliated. He has lost face in front of his friends.

Assure your child that a bully's comments are not a reflection of reality.

Don't approach the bully's parents. Contact the school and encourage action to be taken by administrators, teachers or coaches.

Since most bullies favor verbal abuse, teach your child coping skills to diffuse the situation, Cohen-Posey says.

Act like the insult was a compliment or turn it into a compliment for the bully.

Example: A bully notices a kid's acne and calls him "pizza face."

Reply: "Oh, thank you," or "And you just love pizza, don't you?" or "My skin's pretty bad, but yours is great. What do you use?"

Example: A bully makes a comment about the size of a child's nose.

Reply: "Yeah, the last time I measured, it was 4 centimeters long," or "All the better to smell you with," or "Do I get a prize for that?"

"It's very empowering for children," says Cohen-Posey, a therapist who has been in practice since 1973. It allows the teased child to regain a sense of control over the situation.

Ask a question.

"Are you having a bad day?" or "Are you upset with me about something?" turns the attention back to the bully.

Is your child an "observer?"

Kids who observe others being picked on can use the same tactics to confront the bully. This will prepare them for when they encounter bullies.

"They're not taking the fire on themselves. They're just diffusing it," says Cohen-Posey. "Every parent needs to teach kids how to diffuse it. It's easier to think when they're not under fire."

The diffuser should be matter-of-fact and be careful to not use a sarcastic tone or to get into a power struggle with the bully.

Observers should tell a teacher what was seen and heard.

And observers also should reaffirm their friendship with the person being picked on so that person doesn't feel alone.

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