Your child starting kindergarten is scary. You have heard all the horror stories about mean children. Children as young as nine have committed suicide and children as young as kindergarten were expelled at some schools. How do you protect your child and make sure they do not become the bully at the same time?
I wish I had known so many things that I know now when my children were in kindergarten. I want to share with you what I learned from trial and error and from studying other’s recommendations. First do not panic! There are still some good children and good parents. The best way to find them is to volunteer as much as possible, but a word of warning, the parents of the bullies volunteer too.
How do you recognize the good children and the good parents at this age?
This is not always easy, but one thing I learned is that children act more like their true selves’ in two places at school. The two places are on the play ground and in the lunch room. This is when the teacher’s eyes are not as focused on them and they let their guard down more.
Therefore, volunteer to help at recess or in the lunch room one day a week if you can or even one day a month if this is your only option. Figure out which children need some guidance regarding how to treat others and which ones will not listen no matter what you say. There is hope for the ones who just need some guidance or who have trouble focusing, but if you observe a child being blatantly mean or disrespectful to you, talk to the teacher about them. Maybe there is a reason or maybe they are the future bullies.
Do not discount the child who is very polite to you and the teachers. Observe them from afar when they are unaware you are there. Are they polite to the other children or are they telling another child, “Go away! You can’t sit here!” and laughing at them? Believe me I have seen this happen. Sometimes these are the children of the heads of parent committees. They have learned to put their best foot forward in front of adults by watching their parents.
Do not assume their parents will listen if you tell them about their child.
Some will and some will not. The parents who never believe their child does anything wrong or who tell your child to just tell their child to knock it off are the very parents you need to avoid. They are either totally clueless or they are master manipulators themselves. If they are just clueless there is hope for them. The manipulators are a bigger problem that will take more than you to resolve. Use their behavior as a teaching tool for your children of how not to act and enlist the help of school officials.
Invite children to your house to play so you can see how they behave away from school. Get-togethers outside of school are also a good way to really get to know the other parents. If your child has sensory issues and gets overloaded easily, invite only one child and limit the time of the play dates. You can also limit the time spent at birthday parties without totally avoiding them. R.S.V.P. for part of the party explaining that there is a family event that the child must attend, so they will not be able to stay for the whole party. That way your child does not look so different, but does not have to stay longer than they can tolerate.
Realize that if your child avoids birthday parties, they may have more trouble maintaining friendships at school. Believe me you want your child to have at least two other children they can call their friends. This will help protect them as they move into the tween and middle school years. Help them develop and nurture these friendships now while they are young enough for you to be in charge.
By third to fourth grade children may already start to form cliques.
I know this seems young, but this was the age they started forming at both of my children’s schools. Try to encourage your child to remain friends with children outside of the clique, but realize that the clique may try to force them to stop being friends with others. This is especially true of the girls.
This may also be the age girls and boys get cellular phones and start really wanting to e-mail their friends. Some will even want to text or instant message. My children did both receive phones at age ten, but they were not permitted to text at that age and their initial e-mail accounts had to be open to my monitoring. They were taught not to answer calls from numbers they did not know. All important family numbers were programmed into their phones so they knew when it was one of us. They knew that if the rules were not followed they would lose phone privileges. They did not have camera phones at this age either.
They are older now, but there are still rules. So many others have written information about cyberbullying, but the biggest rule is teach your children that phone numbers can be traced and that there are laws that protect people’s privacy and using technology to say mean things to others is illegal. Teach them to be kind in all areas of their life and this will help prevent problems on their end. Also, make them aware of laws that protect them from others who try to use technology to bully them or to harm them in anyway.
Middle School and Beyond
Middle school is the age children with high functioning forms of autism may find themselves excluded from a group for not conforming to the rules. There are books that suggest teaching them to conform, but I do not recommend this. Instead, I suggest you help your child to maintain those two best friendships from kindergarten and hope they will protect your child from the abuse.
Girl Scouts and other organized clubs may also help, but if she joins these be sure to volunteer to help, so you can be sure she is not being excluded by any of the girls in the troop or other group she joins. Scouting is supposed to be about all the troop members supporting each other, but again it depends on the troop leader and other volunteers. Know the adults that help the troop.
Boys might also join Boy Scouts or similar organizations. Again make sure you know the adults helping the troop and volunteer as much as possible.
Some boys and girls may also try sports. It is best to let them try at age five or six if they show an interest as at that age everyone is fairly equal and your child is more likely to feel accepted. Once they advance to the higher levels in sports many children on the spectrum lose interest because of the noise of parents shouting at the children and because their teammates become very competitive and they may not feel they can compete at that level especially with the added noise levels.
Middle school may also be the time your child can join orchestra which can be an excellent place for those on the spectrum to find kindred spirits. Drama is another option. Specialty clubs may also be available or your child might be able to start their own club. Certainly by high school any of these options can help our children to find friends that accept them for who they are.
Having friends helps protect our children. Children who are alone are more likely to be victims of bullying, but what if you have done everything right and your child is still a victim of bullying? That will be my next blog.