(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)
Q: Another kid calls my son names and pokes him in school. I told his fourth-grade teacher about the bullying. She said she would watch for this behavior, but suggested a website so I could teach him tips to defend himself. Isn't that the teacher's job?
A: Preventing bullying is everyone's job. That includes parents. The nation's schools make it a top priority through explicit policies, awareness campaigns, staff development, and parent and community outreach.
In most schools, teachers, students and school staff, from bus drivers to custodians, receive annual training in ways to handle bullying on the spot and reduce and deter future incidents.
Despite these laudable efforts, bullying is still very much with us, says Stephen Gray Wallace, the founder and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE).
"Studies make it clear that parents have an important role in helping their children deal effectively with bullies," he explains. "Your son's teacher wasn't passing the buck. She was offering tools to help him assert himself."
Wallace says kids bully in various ways: "It can be repeated aggressive behavior such as making threats, physical attacks or spreading rumors; attacking or excluding someone from a group on purpose. With kids' access to digital tools, we see bullying online, too, through texting, email and social media, so parents need to monitor those channels too."
Kidpower, a nonprofit organization that helps kids take charge of their own safety, offers these tips to help kids learn to deflect bullies:
-- Teach your son to walk, sit and act with awareness, calm, respect and positive confidence. This means walking with back straight, looking around, projecting a peaceful face and body, and moving away from people who might cause trouble.
-- Teach him to leave a threatening situation in a powerful, positive way. Coach your son to avoid being a target by assertively moving away with confidence from a bully's earshot or reach. Stepping out of a line, crossing the hallway or changing seats is often the safest choice. Sometimes saying, "See you later!" or "Have a nice day!" in a neutral, normal tone can diffuse a situation.
-- Coach him to turn, stand up tall, put his hands up in front of the body like a fence, elbows bent to be close to the body, palms out and open, and say loudly, "Stop!" and walk away.
-- Set boundaries about disrespectful or unsafe behavior. Remind kids that being cruel or hurtful is wrong, whether it happens in person, via social media, texting, online or in any other way. Set a good example by addressing any hurtful or prejudiced language or remarks. Speak up about disrespectful language by saying, "That didn't sound kind," or, "That sounds prejudiced."
-- Be persistent in getting help from busy adults. Kids who are bullied need to be able to tell teachers, parents, club leaders and other adults in charge what is happening in the moment. They need to be able to report clearly and calmly. Teach them how to report a situation using precise, polite, firm words and tone of voice -- even under pressure.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Find useful resources to raise awareness and guide your son at kidpower.org, stopbullying.gov and the Search Institute (search-institute.org).