So your child was harassed at school. Here's what you can do next.
You may have had the experience of your child coming home and sharing ( perhaps rather reluctantly) they’d been the victim of some sort of harassment, whether physical or verbal. I absolutely experienced different types of harassment at different times in my life and sometimes reported it, sometimes stood up for myself as needed, and sometimes ignored it because it felt like too much effort and stress to deal with it, so I changed what I did, what I wore, where I went and when in order to prevent it from happening again.
The thing is, I didn’t do anything wrong and I ( or any person,) shouldn’t have to change where they walk, what they wear or when they go places to avoid being harassed.
“ Research states that one in three women is a survivor of sexual assault and harassment. In fact, the actual numbers are considered to be much higher, as harassment and assault are grossly under-reported.” Molly Gilbraith, Girls Gone Strong
This knowledge coupled with my own experiences and knowing the experiences of so many women throughout my life has led me to be vigilant in talking with my own children and providing them with skills to help navigate these types of situation should they ever arise, and recently one did, so this is what we did. My hope is in sharing it, someone will have a better plan of what is needed to empower their own children and possibly themselves in these situations.
THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED
“ Mom, I've told him to stop and he won't listen. “
” What did he do? “
“ He poked me in the private area while we were partners.”
“ What did you do?”
“I asked him to stop and he didn’t stop, so I raised my hand to tell the teacher and she said, just a moment, but then forgot and so I put my hand down.”
“ Why didn’t you hit him or push him away, like we’ve talked about before?”
She starts crying and says “ I didn’t want the teacher to get mad at me or my friends in class.”
“ Sweetheart, people who poke you or touch your body after you’ve asked them to stop are not good friends. And the kids who’d get mad at you for saying no, or standing up for yourself are not good friends either. It’s ok if those people don’t like you or get mad at you. “
This is a real conversation I had with my daughter ( who's 6) after a boy in her class who was her partner at the time poked her in the private area. She was/is scared to advocate for herself because she doesn't want to get in trouble from her teacher or be disliked by her friends and peers.
WHAT I CAN DO AS A PARENT
BELIEVE THEM and LISTEN - My daughter was specific in what she told me about what happened and when it happened and when she cried, I hugged her and told her she didn’t do anything wrong. It’s important for kids to know they don’t bring these things on themselves and it’s not something they have to fix.
KEEP A RECORD
The next thing I did was write down what she told me and I spoke to the teacher about it. Many times, teachers may not be aware ( as in this case) as they have lots of students to keep track of and manage and having been a teacher, I get it. Teachers are mandated reporters which means if they become aware of a abuse or assault of some kind they must report it but also HAVE EVIDENCE of it to substantiate it. In this case, there is no evidence other than my daughters word, so the teacher cannot even speak to the boy involved unless she sees this happen. This is why it’s important to keep a record.
TALK ABOUT CONSENT
The next thing I did was speak to my daughter about what to do differently next time and really listen to why she didn’t feel safe or comfortable disrupting class to advocate for herself. While I think part of this is gender socialization ( girls are taught to be pleasing, not rock the boat, not take up too much space physically or verbally) and part of figuring out how to interact in a community like school and navigate peer relationships, it’s an opportunity to really show her that it’s ok if someone doesn’t like you because you are advocating for yourself. I showed her and all my kids this video below on consent for kids and we talked about the words in it they didn’t understand ( bribery, autonomy) and what they learned.
Consent for kids video here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3nhM9UlJjc
BUILD SELF-ADVOCACY and RESILIENCE SKILLS
One of the concepts I’ve hit hardest with my children is the idea that bodies are not up for public scrutiny, commentary or judgement.
We talk about and read books about their bodies, what saying no means and looks like, language on how to do that with kids their own age and how to do it with adults or people you may not know as well. Some recent books I’ve come across that are great resources for this are below:
I said NO! A kid to kid guide for keeping private parts private.
My Body Belongs to Me by Jill Starishevsky
Your body belongs to you by Cornelia Spelman
A lot of great resources can be found by following Kristin B. Hodson on Instagram or clicking on her link below.
ROLE PLAY WHAT TO SAY
For a lot of kids the idea of talking to an adult about something that’s happened and made them uncomfortable is SCARY. The fear of getting in trouble with the teacher, losing friends, or in some way disrupting the harmony or culture of the class and school itself is very real. Practicing what to say to an adult or offering to go with your child while they share what happened with their teacher can help ease those concerns and teach them to flex those self-advocacy voices and skills. Both my husband and I practiced with our daughter what she could say and I listened by her side as she told the teacher herself what happened in class that made her uncomfortable.
ESTABLISH AND MAINTAIN A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TEACHER/SCHOOL
I really like on a personal and professional level all my children’s teachers. They have been and continue to be incredibly nurturing and supportive and I believe they have their best interests at heart. I also understand they are bound by the school policies and procedures, even if they are not ones I agree with in all aspects. I instruct my children to follow school policy and procedure UNLESS her physical safety is being threatened or someone is touching them and doesn’t respect when they stop the first time.
KEEP PERSPECTIVE but BE AWARE
I’m in no way after the little boy or the little boy’s parents in this situation. I understand that he’s probably learning boundaries as most kids are at a young age ( kindergarten) and maybe thinking this is a game, but that doesn’t MAKE IT O.K. Boys and girls need to be taught and made to understand no means no. It doesn’t mean keep going until the person says yes. It doesn’t mean keep going because I’m having a good time and this is fun for me.
IT MEANS NO and stop immediately and one of the ways you can teach kids this is by modeling it at home yourself, and emphasizing it or calling it out when you see your kids doing it.
No one wants to experience or have their children experience instances like this but they are opportunities to help them understand and practice important skills that will serve them in navigating other challenging situations in life. I consider this an opportunity for learning, conversation, increasing awareness and empowerment for my children and I hope it doesn’t take something happening to you or your child for you to begin instilling and practicing these skills in them and yourself as well.