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June 29, 2021

What To Do About a School Bully

What To Do About a School Bully

Is a school bully causing your child problems at school? Learn what to do if your kid is being teased or picked on.

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In this episode I’ll discuss how my daughter was called a fat pig at preschool. Has your child ever been fat shamed? Were you ever bullied as a child because of the way you looked? If you were, do you remember how truly awful that felt?  Hello. Welcome to the Parenting Over 40 Podcast. My name is Frank Sasso. I’m a licensed psychotherapist out of Chicago, IL. This is an RIE. A rapid information episode.

Certainly, finding out that your child has been physically or verbally bulled by another kid is one of the worst experiences a parent can imagine. And after a while, verbal bullying can lead to the child believing the nasty things the bully says about them. And this can lead to developing low self-confidence, a change in personality, and in some cases, a complete lack of desire to play with other children. It’s a tough world out there mom’s and dads, and bullying goes on with our kids a lot more often than we realize. Recently, my 4 1/2-year-old daughter was body shamed by a classmate at her pre-school and my family is still dealing with the fall out nearly 4 months later.

You see, earlier this year, during the midst of the pandemic, I was fortunate enough to get my daughter enrolled into daycare because I’m considered what they call an essential worker. We had pulled my daughter out of her old Montessori school, for reasons I won’t discuss right now, and found a reputable pre-school that allowed for a little bit more group interaction.  I mean look, I love my kid, but watching over her with my wife 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week during the height of the Corona Virus was just not sustainable for our family

So anyhow, about two months into her new school, my daughter seemed to be adjusting quite well. She was engaging in fun activities and making all kinds of new little friends.

Fat Shaming Children

That all changed one day, when I received a call on my personal phone from a teacher at my daughter’s daycare. The female voice on the other end said to me, Mr. Sasso, can you please come pick your daughter for the day, there’s been an incident in her classroom. And as her Dad, upon hearing this, I naturally became worried and yes, a little frantic. So I ask into the phone “Hey is my kid okay? “What in the world happened?

The teacher calmly responded, oh yes, she’s fine, but she really wants to go home and she’s asking for her mommy and daddy. I could tell by inflection of the teacher’s voice that things weren’t fine at all, and that she didn’t want to worry me over the phone.

So I had my receptionist cancel all my appointments for the day and jumped into my car. Have you ever seen Captain Kirk tell Scotty to put the enterprise into warp speed on Star Trek?  Well, that’s how fast I got to her school. In fact, if I could have tele-ported there trust me – I would have.

So, I pull into the daycare to find my wife waiting for me in the parking lot. We both exchange concerned looks and then dash to the front door of our daughter’s pre-school. When I open the door at the front of the building - my kid comes running up to me, and starts yelling at the top of her voice, “Daddy, I’m not a Fat Pig”. For a second, I sort of froze. What was my daughter talking about? I kneeled to the ground, scooped my baby into my arms and held her as she continuously cried into my shoulders. That’s when the alarm bells went off – my daughter had been a victim of fat shamming which is course an indication of bullying.  Upon watching this, my wife started to become emotional too. I’d learn later that this incident triggered memories from her own childhood.

You know you hear about other kids being bulled in the media all the time, but when it happens to your own child.

It’s weird though right, we hear about bullying all the time in the news, but when this kind of thing happens to your own kid - it really, really hits home. Needless, to say I had a strong conversation with the director of my daughter’s pre-school and told her in no uncertain terms that if this kind of thing continues to happen, I will immediately take my kid out of that school. And folks, I realize that taking a kid out of their school and away from their friends can have it’s own emotional consequences, but in the moment, that’s what I said to the school director.

My daughter is still at her day care and we haven’t seen any further problems. But because this matter is highly confidential, I can tell you that I’m still working with the pre-school to make sure this problem has been completely resolved. And yeah – I took the initiative to talk directly to the parents of the little boy who called my kid a fat pig. Other parents might have handled it a different way, but that’s what I did with my kid.

And I have to tell you, the emotional consequences from that incident still have an effect on my daughter today. For example, she used to love playing with her little piggy stuffed animals and now she won’t even pick them up. Every time I try engage with playtime with my daughter and the piggy stuffed animals, she screams, No I don’t like those anymore.

What’s really concerning is there are times when she asks her mother, “Mommy do I look fat today”? I mean wow, my daughter is only 4.5 years old, that’s young for her to be so self-conscious about her body.  Now recognizing that her bully had the potential of creating long term trauma – I called upon my experiences as a clinical psychotherapist and used my psychological training to help improve her self-confidence and to build a healthy perception of her own appearance. Part of that was enrolling my daughter into a martial art called Krav Maga – a kind of martial art that focuses on improving self-confidence and defending yourself against an attacker.

As a parent, you might be wondering how to know if you’re child is being bullied at school. Well, I did some research and came across some really great information from a website called Stomp Out Bulling. I’ll leave a link in the episode notes:

Here are some signs of bullying that you will want to think about.

Has your child lost an interest in going to school or even seems afraid to go to school? I know in our family this was a big one.

Does your kid seem sad, moody or kind of depressive when you bring them home from school?

Is your kid having trouble sleeping or experiencing bad dreams?

Are you noticing your child has developed low self-esteem?

According to the experts on this website, you don’t want to just directly ask your child if they have been bullied because they may just shut down. They suggest taking a more indirect approach to the matter by asking your kid the following types of questions:

Questions like: Are there any mean kids at school who are teasing you? Or even asking, “Are there any mean kids at school who are picking on your or bullying you?

And here is a question that’s not on the list but I think should be included and that is to ask, “ Is there anyone at school who is teasing you about your body or the way you look?

So, you might be wondering, what do you do if you find out your child has been body shamed or bullied?

Well first, you want to stay calms as much as possible. I know this is hard because you’re going to be feeling rage inside. The reason to stay calm is so that you can tell your child you love them, and that they can feel comfortable coming to you about anything.

The next step is to quickly get a hold of your kids’ school and make some appointments to speak to their teachers. Since they are with your child most of the day, they will have a better picture of the situation and know what’s really going on. And parents, don’t be shy about this. You want to cut this kind of behavior off as soon as possible because the risk of long-term emotional damage to your child is just too high. Here are just a few of the short term and long term consequences of bulling according to the Stop Bullying Website:

Short term, they can experience poor grades, a loss of interest in school, and sudden withdrawal from friends.

Long term consequences can include developing depression, and low self-esteem. Although they don’t mention it on their website, bullying in the form of body shaming has the potential to develop into all kinds of eating disorders. It’s just bad news all around.

Before I close this bonus episode, I just want to say that child bullying can take many forms. It can happen on social media with cyberbullying and it can happen in the classroom, like it did with my daughter. As a parent, you want to make sure to keep an eye out for this sort of potential problem in your kids life – and act fast if you suspect something has happened.

I’m Frank Sasso, and this has been another episode of the Parenting Over 40 Podcast.