LISA: I’m Lisa Birnbach for howdini.com, and our guest today is Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out. Bullying is such a problem; what do you do as a parent when you find that your kid is being bullied?
RACHEL: It’s a great question; it’s the one thing that everybody worries about. First thing you want to do is really affirm your child’s experience. You don’t want to say, this is how all girls are, all girls are evil, it happens to everybody. You want to say, you know, I understand this is horrible, I understand this is so painful. Don’t tell her not to feel the way she feels. That’s first thing’s first. Next, you want to interview your daughter, find out what exactly happened; who was there, when did it happen, where did it happen? Get her to be as specific as you can. And try not to get super emotional about it because you don’t want your daughter to have the impression that you’re falling apart. You’ve got to be the rock, you don’t want to let her think –
LISA: Oh, that’s good.
RACHEL: Yeah, you don’t want to let her feel like, you don’t want to let her feel like she has to take care of you. You are there to take care of her because I think it’s really common and understandable that – particularly moms – get very overwhelmed by feeling when they see their daughter hurt, and not least because they have often been odd girls out themselves in that past. So, try to keep it together, interview your daughter, and also – be careful about this – but see if you can find out what contribution your daughter might’ve made to the situation. If she’s out-and-out bullied, the likelihood is she was probably doing nothing. But the truth of the matter is, a lot of the time, it takes two to tango. That doesn’t mean it’s her fault, there’s a difference. But what has she done? And it's good to know that if you go in and talk to the school, because you don’t want to go in and appear like that crazy parent who’s making demands and blaming everyone –
RACHEL: But has no fault yourself.
LISA: You’re the mother. You’ve interviewed your kid, you’ve, you’ve sort of followed the Rachel Simmons plan. Then what do you do?
RACHEL: Alright, so –
LISA: Who do you complain to? I always want to call the parents, but I know that’s the wrong thing to do.
RACHEL: Yeah. The impulse is to absolutely run up to the parent, strangle the parent, confront the child; you don’t want to do that, mostly because you’re really doing a disservice to your child. Empower your child to take the matter into her own hands as much as possible. Let it be a learning experience. This will mean that you’ve got to sit on your hands and bite your tongue. You want to fight the battle; you want to fix it for her. But ask her to pick three possible things that she could do to respond to what’s happening, before you even pick up the phone to call the school. What are three things she can do? And if she does each of those three things, what might happen? So, for example, do you want to do nothing about it? And if you do nothing about it, what’s likely to happen? Will it continue, or do you think maybe it could stop? Then let her make the choice of what she wants to do. Maybe the choice is ‘I could tell the teacher’. Okay, let her tell the teacher. What will happen if you tell the teacher? There might be retaliation. But put the matter in her hands. Now if you’ve done that, and that doesn’t work, you’ve got to pick up the phone, you’ve go to talk to the teacher. You don’t go to the principal; if you go to the principal right away or the administrator, the teacher will be resentful because the teacher will feel the matter has been taken out of her or his hands. You talk to the teacher; you don’t accuse; you ask questions. You find out what’s going on, you see if you can corroborate the teacher’s point of view by talking to the school counselor, by talking to a coach or a gym teacher, but you don’t accuse and you’re not aggressive. Then you ask for what you need. If you need your daughter moved out of a class, ask for that. If you want consequences for the child, ask for that.
LISA: Okay. This is all really positive information. However, you may have a child who’s too young to make a judgment here. Your daughter or son may not be able to defend him or herself. Your kid may be so wounded that he or she may not even want to go back to school.
RACHEL: In that situation, I think if your, if your child is so young that they can’t decide for themselves, then obviously you’re going to have to act on their behalf. And if you have a really young child, I do think it can be safe to talk to another parent.
RACHEL: To the parent of the bully. If you do decide to call the parent of the bully, keep the following things in mind: number one, there could be potential retaliation against your child. The parent of that bully could tell the bully, guess who called me?
RACHEL: Then the bully comes to school the next day and hurts your child, so you’ve got to keep that in mind. Number two, when you talk to that parent, make it a point to say you only have one side of the story. If you go in gangbusters to that conversation, I guarantee you it’s not going to end well. Lot of parents take critique of their parenting as a critique of who they are as human beings.
RACHEL: And that’s understandable: it’s the biggest job they’re doing in their whole lives, and a lot for them is tied up in it, just as it’s tied up for you, as a parent. So I think that’s important to remember.
LISA: Finally, is there a way to make bullying stop?
RACHEL: There’s not a way to make bullying stop. Aggression is a fact of life, in children, in human beings. We would not have evolved and survived as a species if we didn’t have anger and didn’t lash out and didn’t use it to get what we need. So we’re not going to get rid of bullies. What we are going to be able to do is create better policies that protect kids against different kinds of bullying.
LISA: Thank you Rachel Simmons. For howdini.com, I’m Lisa Birnbach.