Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t let kids in my office speak in certain ways, much less bully another in front of me. My rules are simple. Kids can express whatever feelings they want, but they can’t swear, be mean or rude, and they can’t wreck my stuff. Other than that, they have quite a bit of latitude.

It worked for my own kids and for 26 years, it’s worked with my patients (well, most of them.) I have made kids leave my exam room for being rude to me or their parents. I have kicked them out of my practice and once (with a mother’s permission) I spanked a youngster. Yup. He spit on me, and his mother did nothing. So I did.

I realize that schools aren’t private offices like mine, but I do believe that there is an increasing tone of disrespect in and around schools. And not just toward other students, but against the faculty as well. It’s not just the troubled kids who mouth off at teachers, either. Often it’s the kids whose parents are involved, highly motivated, and privileged. Many kids are taught that they have the right to “challenge” teachers at every turn.

Most teachers can handle kids who give them a hard time; but what about those who have less training, who are disadvantaged, or younger—like Karen Klein, the grandmother who was recently bullied by some mean boys while riding a school bus? If you haven’t seen the video, watch it. (Note to reader: the video features some profanity.) It will break your heart. These boys should be suspended from school. Their behavior was outrageous.

So what are parents to do? If you are worried about your child being bullied at school, I encourage you to take a few preventative measures.

01. Help your child work on his assertiveness.

Nice, quiet, submissive kids get bullied because bullies know that they aren’t going to fight back. So the more assertive you can help your youngster be, the better.

02. You can role play with your child.

Run through a list of what bullies usually say. Then tell her how they say it and when. Let her become familiar with a bully’s behavior and then ask what she might say if a bully told her she was ugly, stupid, or fat. You can pretend to be the child and let her be the bully.

03. Most kids won’t tell their parents when they are  being bullied because the bully threatens retribution if he does.

So tell your child that under no circumstances should he stay quiet. He must always tell you. If you suspect bullying but your child won’t say anything, show up at school unannounced periodically and watch how he acts around other kids. Does he avoid kids? Does he eat alone at lunch? If you keep your eyes open, you’ll figure it out.

04. If you do find out that your child is being bullied, go to the teacher immediately.

If she shrugs her shoulders, go to the principal. If the principal refuses to act, call the bully’s parents. If this doesn’t work, you may need to show up at school frequently. If you can’t make any headway and your child is miserable, switch schools. There is no way your child can learn in an environment where she feels badly all day. This is dramatic, but your child needs to see that you are willing to fight for her.

05. Finally and most importantly, work hard to make sure that your kids act respectfully toward everyone—adults, grandparents and peers.

If they grow up believing that they are expected to adhere to a code of conduct, they will speak up when that is broken—particularly when it is broken against them.

By Meg Meeker, MD

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