Previously published on Associated Content / Yahoo! Voices Sep 1, 2010
In their article, The Lunchbox Dilemma (which has apparently been removed since I first wrote this article back on September 1, 2010), Disney Family Fun advises parents to remember that lunchtime is also social time. But lunch time is not the only time children socialize. Throughout the day, children are given numerous opportunities to connect with other children - in the morning before school starts, during recess, at the playground when school is letting out, and on the bus.
Every school day, along with learning how to write their names, add numbers together, and read, children also learn how to relate to classmates, teachers, and others. With each new relationship, children learn more about who they are and who they want to become.
Peer Pressure and Pleasing Friends
As they learn how to relate to others, children gravitate toward people they want to emulate. They have a natural tendency to copy behaviors they find attractive. If they are confident and secure, they will nurture their own personal growth by adapting their behaviors in positive ways.
But if they lack confidence, they will feel they have to relinquish who they are in order for potential friends to like them. Afraid to voice their own opinions and not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, they become the person they think people want them to be instead of being who they really are.
Insecure children believe their opinions don't count, so they allow others to influence their decisions. Your child might like broccoli, for instance, but if his new best friend thinks broccoli is "disgusting," your son may decide he no longer likes broccoli. Afraid that his food preference will offend his new friend, he decides to imitate his new friend. He now hates broccoli because his friend hates broccoli.
Children need to learn that some people have tastes different from theirs, and that liking different things doesn't mean that what they like is wrong or that somebody won't like them because of their preferences.
To get children to better understand why they shouldn't like something just because somebody else does, try asking them to choose a food they despise. Then ask them, "If your friend insists you have to eat the food in order to be friends, would you start eating it?"
Children should know that their opinions matter, and that opinions are neither right nor wrong. And children who are confident in their abilities to think and choose are less likely to be picked on by bullies, because bullies like their opponents to be weak.
Why Some Kids Might Be Bullies
One place bullies find their victims is in the school cafeteria. Most children are fortunate in that they have caring parents who provide healthy meals for them. Some kids aren't as lucky, and they will manipulate your child into giving them whatever is in his or her lunch box.
Bullies often have parents who either don't care what they eat or don't have enough money to pack a nutritious lunch. And even if they eat lunches provided to them by the school, they may resent the fact that your child brings something they perceive to be better than what they have.
Parents of bullies are either absent, abusive, indifferent, or poor. Bullies feel they have to prove they are worthy of being in the same social class as your child, so some of them resort to bullying to get the foods they desire.
Meats, fruits, and vegetables are more expensive than peanut butter and jelly, so some kids bring PB&J sandwiches to school every day. Sadly, some kids pack sandwiches spread with only butter or mayonnaise and nothing else. Mom or Dad might not be able to afford lunch meats or vegetables, or maybe children prepare their own lunches.
How Sharing Lunches Could Fend Off Bullies
Unfortunately, some parents neglect their children and spend money on alcohol or drugs. In any event, it leaves the bully, whose parent is probably also a bully, without a nutritious lunch to eat.
To prevent your children from being bullied into giving away their lunches, provide some "sharing" food. Grapes, fruit snacks, or anything else you can imagine, can be "sharing foods" - foods to be shared IF your child wants to share.
Stress that the desire to share comes from your child; not from another child forcing your child to share. Children need to know that the choice to share is theirs and theirs alone.
Vulnerable Kids at Most Risk of Being Bullied
Behaviors sometimes change in different settings. Though we hope to raise assertive, self-assured children, some of them become victims of bullies in different environments. The bully's behavior shows up in the lunch room, at recess, or on the bus - anywhere they are most likely to avoid glances from adults while they engage in their bullying behavior.
Maybe these bullies come from homes where their parents brutalize them, and they don't know any other way to behave. Or maybe they're just seeking attention. But they have learned, probably at home, how to be a bully, and they know how to recognize weakness in others.
Bullies look for the most vulnerable children to antagonize. And they are finely tuned in to lapses in adult supervision. They will wait for teachers to avert their eyes during recess, for monitors to engage in conversation with other monitors at lunch, and for bus drivers to discipline other students when they employ their bullying techniques.
Teach Your Child How to Command Respect
NO CHILD has to play victim to a bully. Lunch time is social time. Recess is social time. After school and before school (on the bus) are times to socialize. Those periods do not have to be torturous for any child.
Eleanor Roosevelt's oft-quoted saying, "Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent," bears repeating. Remind your child, daily if you have to, that his actions will teach others how to treat him and that anybody who tries to intimidate him is NOT his friend.
Don't Expect Teachers or Bus Drivers to Monitor All Behaviors
While you might expect teachers, lunch room monitors, and bus drivers to be aware of everything going on around them in lunch rooms and on the bus, you have to realize that one bus driver cannot possibly pay attention to every single person on the bus AND pay attention to the road at the same time, nor can every monitor hear every conversation or pay attention to every single student at recess or in the lunch room.
Bullies are sneaky. They wait for teachers and bus drivers to engage in conversation or become involved with other students before they covertly terrify and threaten their vulnerable targets in such a way that teachers and monitors would never suspect the child is being bullied.
You CAN protect your child by teaching your child how to recognize bullies and to avoid bullies.
If you suspect your child is already being taunted by a bully, learn the signs that could identify your child as being a victim of bullying. Visit Stop Bullying (click the link) to discover the signs. If you detect any of those signs, talk to your child about bullying and discuss the negative effects bullying has on children.
Understanding Why Kids Bully
Bullies see bullying as providing them with a sense of power. Some bullies think that bullying gives them an automatic invitation to become part of the popular crowd. They don't realize that the people they manipulated into being their "friends" are not really their friends at all; friends may follow bullies, but only because they are afraid not to.
That pretense of power allows bullies to feel potent and invincible. Power is important to bullies - they enjoy watching their opponents weaken before them. In their need to control their environment, bullies have set up a defense mechanism that forces them to assault others before others assault them, regardless of whether or not the intended victim ever thought about attacking the bully.
Reporting Cases of Bullying
Whatever the reason for bullying, ignoring the bully does nothing to help an already bad situation. But having a child confront the bully may put the child in jeopardy, especially these days when guns and other weapons are so abundant.
Reporting the case to the parent of an offender might put you face to face with the bully's parent, who will probably be more threatening than the child. Bullies respond to confrontation with more bullying. Trying to reason with the parent of a bully can also be ineffective, because bullies often don't feel as if they are bullies and they will act as if you are picking on their child, thereby escalating their rage.
The best way to handle bullies is to report the incident to the school, encourage other parents and neighbors to stand up to the bully, and prepare your child with ways to deal with bullies.
Start by recognizing the signs and discussing with your child ways to deal with bullies.
We are all different. Teach your sons and daughters to appreciate differences and not to change their own preferences because they think somebody else expects them to be someone other than who they are.
Teaching your children how to stand up for themselves at lunch, at recess, or on the bus will prepare them for dealing with other areas of their lives where they will need to take a stand.
To read more about bullying, go to the Health Resources and Services Administration or read the article that offers excellent advice for Dealing With Bullies.
Health Resources and Resources Administration
Health Resources and Resources Administration
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