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Toxic School Environments

Happy back to school week! Since school is the workplace for our kids, I wanted to talk about how we can help our kids respond to toxic school environments. These are my two top tips.

In general, I help women stop sexual harassment without losing their jobs. School is the workplace for our kids, and what our kids learn in school about how to respond to bullying and abusive behavior carries into the rest of their lives. Some of this is easier said than done, so if you find your kiddo having a hard time, send me a message. Teaching these skills to kids early can be a game changer.

The website reports that around 30% of kids experience bullying in schools. Other websites report much higher rates of bullying – more like 70-80%. Usually the reason for this discrepancy is related to the way we ask questions about bullying. For example, if you directly ask a child if she’s being bullied, she will likely say “no,” because she does not know what that means. If you ask her if other kids ever make fun of her at school about her body, or if she’s ever been hit or pushed in school, she might say “yes.”

Bullying is a huge issue in schools and in workplaces, and these are just a couple of tips for how to help your kiddo respond effectively.

First, help your child understand that if people are targeting her, it likely means she stands out as someone special and brave. People who bully and abuse want to tear down other people they identify as having strength. Often, when we experience bullying ourselves, though, we make it mean there is something wrong with us and that we have drawn the abuse to us by doing something wrong. We think that bullying shouldn’t happen, which sounds helpful. But, the reality is that it does happen. So, if we are struggling with the reality that it does happen, we often turn against ourselves and think there’s something wrong with us. That type of thinking can become dangerous because we start to withdraw and turn in on ourselves to avoid attention. That gives the bullies more space and basically rewards them for their abuse.

Someone else’s abusive behavior means nothing about us. Their abusive behavior comes from their thoughts about what is acceptable for them to do. But, when they start to target us, all that usually means is that we caught their attention. When we make that mean we are doing something wrong, we shut down. When we make it mean we are brave and strong, we shine brighter, respond from a place of strength, and don’t give up space to the bully.

Second, other people get to be wrong about us, and it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with us. Often great parents focus on teaching their kids to listen to teachers and follow their instruction. This is great. And also, sometimes other people, even teachers, are wrong about us. Teaching kids how to evaluate whether they have behaved respectfully, bravely, and kindly helps them develop an internal reference point for their behavior. That way they learn how to behave with integrity and stand up to people who are wrong, when necessary, instead of seeking approval from bullies and abusers.

If these things sound hard, again, reach out! They are easier said than done, but following through with them is so worth it.

Thanks for making the world a better place!


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