There’s a Bully on the Playground

However else one may choose to label me, “Dad” is the one that matters most. I have been blessed with two absolutely amazing elementary-school age daughters. Every second I get to spend with them is an honor and a privilege. They are the center of my universe and the idea of anyone bullying either one of them keeps me up at night. So, I decided to write a book.

Bullying is a topic that has been in the news a lot lately. In some ways, nothing’s really changed since we were kids and desperately trying to dodge the bully on the playground. But some things are different, like cyberbullying – the use of technology to spread rumors and damage reputations in a matter of moments.

I’m not an expert on the topic. I’m just a dad trying to help his daughters get through another school year. What I think I’ve been able to accomplish in “There’s a Bully on the Playground” is gather valuable information from a ton of legitimate sources and arrange it in a way that makes sense.

“There’s a Bully on the Playground” is written from the perspective of Dad (with hints of child counselor seeping out every now and then), but is certainly suitable for moms or teachers or anyone else who cares about children. I hope readers use it as a resource. Tuck it away and pull it out as needed. I also hope that it spurs conversation and provides framework and context whenever some child important hints around about the bully on the playground.

“There’s a bully on the playground.”

Every dad dreads hearing those words from his son or daughter.

Whether or not your child has uttered those words to you, chances are there IS a bully on the playground. So, dads, this is as good a time as any to get a game plan in place. Maybe even be proactive and initiate the conversation.

Unfortunately, bullying is widespread in playgrounds across the country, as well as in the cafeteria, on the bus, and even in the hallways and classrooms; at times it blatantly occurs for all to see and at times it goes sneakily undetected right under the nose of the teacher.

Bullying certainly is not new. But the topic of bullying has received a tremendous amount of attention in the media during the past few years because of some of the tragic consequences resulting from it, including successful suicide attempts among children as young as 11 years old. The Internet has created a new wave of bullying behaviors that require us to revisit our anti-bullying strategies. Even tech-savvy parents may have difficulty understanding what it’s like for kids to go through childhood with social media looming as such a large presence in their lives. This new terrain can be pretty scary for dads to navigate.

Bullying, in the myriad ways it rears its ugly head, is very real, and it’s not a subject about which we dads have the luxury of burying our heads in the sandbox.

The good news about bullying is that you and I are not the only ones thinking about the topic today. As of this writing, 49 of 50 states have enacted anti-bullying laws (Montana, you’ll have to answer for yourself.) Many schools have personnel dedicated to creating anti-bullying policies and handling complaints. In some schools, administrators and teachers work to change the culture for our children through anti-bullying programs that are emphasized and repeated in the classroom every day. But even if your child’s school is ahead of the curve when it comes to bullying prevention, it’s still an issue that needs to be addressed at home, too. There’s no good reason to avoid it.

“There’s a bully on the playground, Dad.”

So, what do you do when your child comes home with this announcement?

Well, start by being thankful! The fact that your child is sharing this info with you means two things. First, she trusts that you’re not going to freak out. Second, she’s asking YOU for help instead of someone else. Don’t blow it by over-reacting to the situation. Or by minimizing it. Remember:

Every time your child approaches you with an issue that’s important to her, it presents a test for you. Pass the test and she’ll be more likely to continue to come to you as issues arise; fail the test and she’ll be more likely to bypass you and rely on the advice of her peers instead.

The key is to gain your child’s trust when she is conflicted and unsure what to do, whom to turn to. This is especially difficult during adolescence when she’s more inclined to shut you out anyway and turn to her friends – just as she’s dealing with more sophisticated issues and she needs your guidance most.

Like most issues our kids are sure to encounter during the turbulence of childhood, most of us dealt with some variation of bullying when we were younger. Your own experiences with bullying as a child will color your instinctive reaction to the topic when approached by your son or daughter. It’s sometimes difficult as a parent to separate our own experiences from our children’s experiences.

If you still have pent up anger over Cindy Little–the bully on the playground in third grade who dared the boys to make fun of her name and had half the school hiding atop the tallest trees at recess–you might be inclined to overreact and head straight to the school to give a certain little somebody a piece of your mind. Note: nothing is more embarrassing to a child than his parent causing a ruckus at school. Bad move.

On the other hand, if you look back at school through rose-colored nostalgic glasses and consider bullying to be just another charming part of the good old days, you might be inclined to ignore it. “Hey, kids will be kids, they’ll work it out. I got bullied when I was a kid, and I made it out just fine.” That may be true, but it’s a different era. The tactics bullies use these days go beyond suggesting their playground nemesis has cooties and an occasional skirmish under the monkey bars. Left unattended, the results of bullying can wreak havoc on your child’s still-developing and fragile psyche and sense of self-worth and demonstrate to your child that you just don’t understand what she’s going through. If you’re just going to dismiss it, why bother telling you anything in the future?

Dads risk embarrassing their children if they storm to school and they risk alienating their children if they don’t take bullying seriously. It’s complicated. The answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Of course, no dad has all the right answers; certainly, that includes me. It’s a tricky balance to strike, for sure. Your raging Papa Bear instincts may ignite when you learn your little cub is being picked on, but it’s important that you remain calm and think clearly. How do you teach your child to stand up for himself without putting him in harm’s way? How do you teach him to turn the other cheek without reinforcing the bully and unwittingly increase the likelihood that the bullying will continue? What about if it’s your child who’s doing the bullying? Did I mention that it’s tricky?

What’s critically important is for your child to understand that you’re on his side and that you are here for him, that you take this issue seriously and that, with your help and the help of other important adults in his life, he’ll get through this situation just fine. And don’t go to the playground and start yelling at Cindy Little.

To order the book, visit There’s a Bully on the Playground

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