School Stories #9: I didn’t even know my child was being bullied,until…

You would have heard about the ex-RGS girl suing her alma mater for her suffering while studying there. Enough talk has been going around, but what surprised me was the narrow definition of bullying which the school adopted. The “school policy defines bullying as involving hurting, frightening or intimidating others using power of strength while cyber bullying includes the sending of hateful messages.”

I am glad that my daughter’s school held a broader definition of bullying and the teachers were vigilent in dealing with such cases.

When she was in P4, she was the victim of bullying but I didn’t recognize it. I associated bullying with being physically attacked or extorted from. Only after this incident did I learn that bullying can take on different forms, including verbal, emotional, sexual and cyber. Some of these can be just as, or more damaging to the victim, and usually harder to detect. I asked if she was ok with me sharing her story and she said yes.

In P4, she was streamed into a new class and started forming a close friendship with 3 other girls. Amongst them was a more domineering girl (let’s call her D) who became the ‘leader’. After a month or so, D started to ostracise her and the other 3 followed suit. They would gang up against her and talk behind her back. It got to an extent where D told the entire class not to let her join any of their groups, be it during PE or in class project work. She was treated like an outcast.

 
I listened to her tales and offered some suggestions on how to handle the situation. I guess none of them worked and it seemed D was adamant on making life miserable for her. I encouraged her to be strong and to be understanding. I explained to her that it was possible that her behaviour stemmed from her insecurities as D has a slight physical deformity. It dragged on for several weeks and she became more reticent. I thought it would blow over as it was common for girls to have such ‘friendship’ issues, but instead it got progressively worse.

 
Thankfully, I met her form teacher during the parents-teacher’s meeting and the topic happened to be raised. Her teacher was saying how quiet she was, and I mentioned that she doesn’t have anyone to talk to and the story unravelled. She got very alarmed and told me that it was a case of bullying and D was wrong to incite the entire class to alienate her.
 
Her teacher took it very seriously and dealt with it immediately. She had a talk with the 4 of them, with D individually, and with the class. She also told them that they were to welcome her into their groups. It was the boys who quickly included her and they couldn’t even recall how it came about that they joined in to exclude her.

I shudder to think how much damage could have been wrecked on her emotionally if the issue had failed to be recognised or resolved. Being the victim of bullying can lead children and teenagers into depression and even the contemplation of suicide.

As parents, we can help by having constant communication with our children and to take their concerns seriously. Some kids may not be willing to open up which makes it more difficult to address. We can only try and be on the look out for clues such as changes in their behaviour, frequent physical malaise like stomachaches / headaches, or a sudden reluctance to go to school. I am really thankful that her teacher handled the situation in a tactful, caring, and professional manner.

School Stories:

#1 – When your son gets into fights in school
#2 – My son the loan shark
#3 – So kids can’t play once they start school?

#11 – How #2 topped her level in English
#12 – DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 – Tuition – First line of attack?
#14 – Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 – First day mix up!
#16 – The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 – No more T-score. Now what?
#18 – Tackling the new school year
#19 – She did it, without tuition.
#20 – So who’s smarter?
#21 – Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

 

About MummyWee

Michelle Choy is an Occupational Therapist by day and mum of 6 by night. Besides the already very demanding job of managing 5 teenagers and one 7-turning-17 tween, she is also Founder of The Little Executive, a nurturing centre to develop children in areas like resilience and executive function, to survive today’s volatile world. She is also a parenting coach and has been featured on national TV, radio and print media.

 

~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Lesson #12: When your son gets into fights in school

As my first 4 kids are girls, problems in school usually revolve around friendships and ‘girl-type’ situations which I can handle and advice them on. However when #5 entered P1 last year, it was a shock for me as it was the first time that I received calls from his teacher telling me he was getting into fights. I know that boys fight all the time, but you are never ready to hear that such things involve your own son.

He got into 3 fights last year, and this year, he’s already gotten into 1 or 2 fights (I’m losing track of his fights). I’m sure he’s sounding like a big bully, but actually, he is really tiny. He’s the shortest in class and most of his friends are a good head taller than him. So what happened?

The first time I got a call, it was because he was playing with a friend and his friend was accidentally hit by him. While waiting at the pick-up point after school, they have about 15 minutes before parents are allowed in. Bored boys, 15 minutes and ‘weapons’ can only mean trouble waiting to happen. The boy started sparring with him using their calligraphy scroll case, and soon enough #5 accidentally hit him on the ear and it bled! The boy’s mum only found out when she was showering him and noticed the wound, so she called the teacher to inform her. I was worried about the boy and asked if his mum wanted to speak to me. The teacher said she did not, as no one was at fault (although they shouldn’t have been playing with the scroll cases) and it happened accidentally. 

Shortly after that incident, his teacher called me again. This time, he had shoved a boy and he fell and scrapped his knee and again, there was blood. Apparently, the boy kept taunting him and called him names like ‘baby’ and ‘shortie’ until he lost it and pushed him. I had taught him time and again never to start a fight, but he said that the boy started the fight using words. I explained to him that using words and using hands was different. If he used words, you can only use words to tell him to stop. And if he were to continue, then learn to walk away instead of retaliating. 

The third time his teacher called me, I could tell that she was getting exasperated at the fights which were occurring with more regularity, and that it always involved #5. This time, some boys were playing ball, and the ball rolled to #5’s feet. In trying to retrieve the ball, the boy somehow shoved him. He probably assumed the boy did it on purpose (as it was probably from behind) and he shoved back. Somehow, it turned into a fight, and 3 boys started to restrain #5. In trying to free himself, he wrestled his arm away and it accidentally hit a boy square on the nose, and again, it started bleeding. So as the teacher put it, “Your son keeps getting into fights.” I felt so sorry for the poor boys, and every time, I asked if the parents wanted to speak to me, but they didn’t. 

All the hubs and I could do was to again explain to him that no matter under what circumstances, it is wrong to get into a fight, unless of course the other person is going overboard and there are no teachers or adults in sight and you have to defend yourself. We think that because of his tiny size, he uses all his might in a fight to try and prove himself. We tried using both the carrots and sticks method, by stating our punishments if he were to get into another fight, and also telling him his reward if he doesn’t get into anymore fights. It seemed to work, and he didn’t get into anymore fights last year.

However, this year he got into a fight. He fought with 4 boys and ended up scratching one of them quite badly. The strange thing was that after the fight during recess, they all returned to class and everything was back to normal. The boys were still best friends and when questioned by the teacher, nobody said that #5 started it and nobody even admitted that they were hurt in anyway. It was the girls who informed the teachers that 5 boys were fighting during recess, and that #5 started it. Apparently, they were all playing with a plastic bottle and one of the boys called him a cheater and said he was not following the rules. Somehow, that ended up in a fight. A friend who has 2 boys tell me that that’s how boys solve their problems. Have a problem? Fight it out there and then and then it’s settled. No hard feelings.

His teacher called me to inform me about it as per protocol. I told her honestly, the hubs and I don’t know how else to handle this. I asked her if there was a school counsellor and I would like him to see the counsellor. I would be more than happy to work with him and enforce any skills and strategies at home. She said there is and will arrange for it.

Sometime after that, I bumped into his VP in the corridors and I took the opportunity to speak to her as he was sent to her after the fights. She was grateful that I touched base with her and told me that I was doing the right thing. She had seen many boys in secondary school get into much worse trouble and by then, the boys are bigger, stronger and more defiant and it is extremely challenging to deal with them.

I think in Singapore, many people are still not comfortable with the idea of seeing counsellors or psychologists whether for ourselves or our children. I have spoken to many foreigners and they don’t see it as having any sort of stigma attached. They describe it as akin to taking our car for servicing, to make sure that everything is working properly and to deal with issues before they escalate. Sometimes, it is hard for us to see the problems and it helps for a professional to point it out and to work through the issues together.

#5 has just started seeing his school counsellor, so let’s see how that goes. And hopefully I won’t get anymore calls from his teacher.

Other Thursday lessons (which I’ve learnt the hard way):


~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~