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Susanne Hiller: Bullying Part One

A lovely mom told me recently that her kindergarten daughter was being pushed around and picked on by another child in her east-end classroom in St. John's. It was getting to the point where my friend's five-year-old was having nightmares and was scared to go to school.

My friend set up a meeting with the teacher. The teacher said she would speak to the child's parents. A few days later, she went to pick up her daughter from school. In the parking lot, she was confronted by the other child's mother who hissed, "If you have a problem with my kid, you deal with me, not the school!"

There has been a lot of attention on the issue of bullying in this province lately, what with the Febreze debacle and other incidents making the news. Mount Pearl Mayor Randy Simms has called for uniformed security in the schools and St. John's Coun. Debbie Hanlon has even written a children's book on the topic.

It's been fodder for discussion in many parenting circles. The release of the lauded documentary Bully in Canadian theatres this weekend will no doubt further fuel the conversation.

But many moms I know don't want to see the film. The trailer looks grim and they don't need to watch children being terrorized on the big screen to know bullying is a problem. They see enough damage going on right here in our own schools and neighbourhoods - often at a very young age.

One friend transferred her daughter to another school after a boy broke her daughter's arm in the playground because she told him to wait his turn for the monkey bars. She was in Grade 2.  Another mom told a group of us sitting outside gymnastics class one day that she had to take her child off the kindergarten bus because a boy was calling her names and stealing (and stomping) on her Dora knapsack.  

"We have a kinder-bully in our class too," one dad commiserated. "But just wait, in a few years, it will be pure psychological warfare with Facebook and texting."

Honestly, it is enough to bring out the crazed mama bear in any parent. One story, in particular, made my heart stand still.  A friend confided that her 14-year-old son has been consistently bullied since he was in Grade 4.  He has been harassed both online and in the classroom - his sneakers thrown in the rafters. During the night of his 13th birthday party, their Torbay home was egged by seven kids. The police didn't take the complaint seriously and only one parent showed up with their child to apologize.

When the bullying first started, my friend and her husband spent a lot of time dealing with the bureaucracy of the school until they felt they were getting nowhere (the principal told her that it was her son who needed to mature) and they decided, instead, to focus on giving their son the tools he needs to navigate through this difficult period.

"Yes, his school has anti-bullying policies," she said. "Not to sound like a downer, but experience has taught me a lot, policy is all good on paper, but when it is needed to be implemented, you are then dealing with something different. There are so many limitations placed on teachers and administration as to how far they can go, especially when you have parents who refuse to believe their child could be a bully. You end up back at square one.

As parents, we have taken a different approach. We focus on our child and help him get through this. No administrator or teacher can do that. Our main focus is to make him believe that no matter what anyone else may tell him, he is special, unique, and worthy. We can't change what people think of him, just prepare him that, unfortunately, people are mean and some will not always like him and he has to keep his focus on those who do."

It's too much to think that my friend's family has to deal with this sort of harassment on an ongoing basis. It's just as unbelievable that the parents of these brats don't step up (seriously, where are they?). And it's heartbreaking that this little boy has to steel himself to face his tormentors every day.

Hiller will return with Bullying Part Two.

Susanne Hiller is a writer and a communications consultant based in St. John's, NL. She has three children under the age of seven.