In our modern view of the schoolyard, bullying gets a large bit of the air time because it is seemingly universal. In fact, we would be hard pressed to find anyone who does not have their own childhood bullying story. You can probably tell me stories about your bully even a decade or two out. It’s everywhere. Every school, perhaps even every classroom, seems to have its Biff Tannen and to our society’s credit, a great number of folks have lent their collective voices to the anti-bullying cause.
Nothing prepares you for the depth of pain that erupts when your child gets bullied. Buried deep in the heart of every good dad is a deal he wishes he could make with the world and deal is that “you can inflict as much pain and suffering on me as you want, just leave my little ones alone”. But reality brings us face to tear stained face with our children who are sometimes mistreated. And while the overt and sometimes violent brand of bullying exists, the more pervasive and arguably more powerful form of bullying is far more subtle and far more accepted. Marginalization. Within the social dynamic of each setting, whether it is school, or church, or whatever, some kids will get pushed to the social outskirts and virtually ignored by their peers. While the rest of the kids within the social setting probably never purposefully marginalize others or even recognize it is happening, the effect on the kid who has been pushed out is identical to being beat up day after day by the physically overdeveloped jerk.
So, how does a parent protect against their child being involved in marginalization on either side? Here’s the thing: it is not enough to talk with our kids about bullying. Telling our little ones “You should do this” or “You should not act like that” is insufficient and frankly, it’s a little lazy. For kids, this is the first time they have done life. They have never been in these situations before. One of the best gifts a dad can give his kid is to equip her with practical situational guidance. I have a challenge for you that we practice in our little family.
Specific Awareness Training. (#SAT) Every morning, there are things we repeat with the She-Gables. We walk through our core value for that month and then we act out specific situations they may face during the day that will allow them a chance to show kindness.
- -AG – “Girls, I want you to picture something in your mind and let`s act it out. OK?”
- -She-Gables – “Yes, father. We obey everything you say without question!”
- -AG – “Good. Let’s think about what happens when we are at school and it is time to go outside to play. Picture yourself going outside and starting play time. Got it?”
- -She-Gables – “Got it!”
- -AG – “Now. Picture this. As you are playing outside, and everyone in your class is playing different games with friends, you look over and see another little girl all by herself. Not playing, just sitting off to the side. What would you do?”
- -Goldilocks (My middle child) – “Maybe go over and talk to her?”
- -AG – “Good. What else?”
- -Goldilocks – “I could ask if she wants to play with me.”
- -AG – “Excellent. So, if you were the girl sitting by herself, what would you want someone to say to you? Tell me something that would make you happy to hear.”
- -COP (My oldest) – “Hey, do you want to play some basketball?”
- -AG – “Great stuff, kiddo. Then what?”
- -Goldilocks – “Then, we would play for a little while and then go get some water from the water fountain.”
- -AG – “Very good, girls. All day today, I want you to be looking around you. When you find someone by themselves today, I want you to immediately go over and sit by them or play with them. Do you understand?”
- -She-Gables – “Yes sir.”
- -AG – “Alright, when I see you at dinner, I’m going to ask you who you saw today by themselves and exactly what you did.”
This is a simple example where we visualized a specific situation, brainstormed specific responses, and defined specific action. In their minds, I not only communicated my expectations of them, but I gave them a script and direction. Now, when the situation arises, they will be equipped to take action because, in their minds, they have already experienced this situation. Specific Awareness Training can be molded to any situation they face, whether it is bullying or any of a hundred other things, so it is an effective and versatile parenting tool.
Here’s the challenge. I want you to do this with your kids every morning for a month. Be creative. Devise situations for them to visualize and act your way through them together. Make it part of your morning routine.