Highly publicized incidents of school violence have heightened awareness of the need to deal with this complex problem. Such cases actually are quite rare, but schools commonly deal with smaller acts of “violence” all the time: students harming other students, whether it's the kindergarten bully or the junior high sexual harasser.
To put things in perspective, the National SAFE KIDS Campaign cites studies showing school-age children are nine times more likely to sustain an unintentional injury than to be the victim of an intentional injury while at school.
You can teach your child how to avoid becoming a victim. He can learn to be assertive without being aggressive. Help him learn to speak up confidently if he doesn't like something another student is saying or doing to him. Bullies are less likely to pick on children who don't back down easily. However, if he feels another student is about to harm him, it's better to walk away and seek the help of a teacher than get into a physical confrontation.
Many children are reluctant to tell on a bully for fear of retribution. But threatening situations can escalate, and adult intervention is usually the only way to stop the problem. Keep the lines of communication open so your child will be more likely to confide in you. Give him plenty of opportunities to discuss what's on his mind, especially if you sense he's worried about something at school. Then you'll be in a position to make school officials aware of problems, relieving your child of that burden.
For more tips on keeping your school safe, contact the National Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) at 800-307-4782 or visit its Web site at www.PTA.org. Other sources include the U.S. Department of Education, 800-USA-LEARN (800-872-5327), www.ed.gov, and the National School Safety Center, 805-373-9977, www.nssc1.org.
Lessons in Compassion
One of the most important things you can do is teach your child to be compassionate to others. Help her understand that teasing another child is a form of verbal abuse that can cause real harm. So is ignoring or snubbing a classmate who's different. Teach your child to stand up for others who are being tormented, too.
Take bullying seriously. When a first grader taunts a classmate, parents may be inclined to think that “it's just the way kids are.” But the values you impart at this age will affect how your child will treat others when he moves into higher grades.