Zero Tolerance: It doesn’t work. It just doesn’t. It has come to be meaningless and represents thoughtless, mindless consequence. It is completely out of line with every valuable child raising tool that we know works. This idea robs our children of opportunities to learn problems solving skills and to understand appropriate behavior. In the upper grades, it leads student to look at administrators as idiots.

Teach ’em Martial Arts: I have nothing against martial arts or any activity that promotes self-esteem, self-worth and confidence in one’s ability. I’d be an idiot if I did. But c’mon, really? What happens if the child experiencing bully actions has too much empathy to hurt someone else? And what happens if the child can’t learn enough skill fast enough for adequate protection? You’ve given them a solution and they’ve failed at it. Pile another one on. In any case, even if a child loves martial arts, and it helps them, they still need time and training before they can effectively hurt or intimidate someone with it. What happens in the meantime?

Tell Someone: Yes. It is awesome advice. And it works exactly until children realize that it doesn’t work very well at all. We are telling our kids to TELL someone. But we aren’t helping that SOMEONE out. So they tell. And nothing changes, or maybe it even gets worse. Worst of all, maybe the SOMEONE is so overwhelmed by the information that they can’t even HEAR it properly. Bottom line: Most people give the wrong advice about to kids about dealing with bully actions. Elementary students are far more likely to tell someone than middle or high schools students. Why is that? Because they’ve learned that the adults don’t make it better anyway.

“Victims” and “Bullies”: I’d like to see both words eliminated. They are unhelpful, and they encourage us to spend wasted time trying to define who is who. You know what? We’ve all been both. And by our choices, we can learn to be something else. Assertive. No one has to use victim responses. No one has to use bully actions. We can learn to be different. We can learn to be better, and more aware. Why are we shaping a five year old into believing he’s a bully. Why are we telling a four year old that he is a victim? Would we tell a child in a wheelchair that he is a cripple? Would we tell a child with asthma that he’s a bad breather? These are circumstances and learning opportunities. There is no need to label. Labeling is just your opinion of what is happening. It doesn’t move anyone forward. It doesn’t describe what CAN be.

“They have to be punished.”: Maybe so. Maybe they do. Often they do. But I’d like people to remember something. The kids we’re labeling as bullies, they are someone’s children as well. KIDS. In grade 7, I beat up a boy in the boy’s bathroom. If Trevor had killed himself, my life would be destroyed. Did that thought cross my mind? Nope. not at all. In grade 9, I don’t think I was very nice to Charmaine at all. Not at all. I didn’t keep her from being teased…and I very well could have, I was still the tough girl. I didn’t lead, but I’m pretty sure that I did join in. I was a kid. A child. Someone’s child. Orville and Shirley’s child.

Going to the school: Yes. Sometimes it has to happen. If you are approaching the school, help them not to be your enemy. You need to be on the same side…even if it takes them some time to get there. It doesn’t have to happen every time. Let’s not take away our children’s opportunities to learn. As a concerned adult, if you don’t have great conflict resolution and communication skills, then it’s time to learn them. So you can teach them to the children. Role play their problems. Help them figure out their own solutions. Life is about learning, not about learning to do what people tell you to do.

Eliminating what won’t work. That’s the first step, everyone. Teaching our children things like how to balance their thinking, how to check their assumptions, how to be a great friend, how to show and feel empathy, how to say NO, how to assess when it is time to tell, how to stay safe, how to stay happy. How to stay alive.

The second step is making sure your home and school are safe. I have three children. I can remember when they were all somewhere between the ages of 9 and 12…which, incidentally, is developmentally called the age of anger. We were doing dishes. No one was happy about it. The kids were arguing. My son picked up a butcher knife and pointed it at my daughter. I picked up the phone. “What are you doing?” Phoning the police. “Why?” Because you are engaged in a crime right now. They need to know. And they need to know when they are young. BEFORE it becomes necessary for them to have dire consequences.

We can’t leave it all up to them. There are so many programs that can be inexpensively implemented. Buddy systems, parental supervision of bully active areas, peer mediation, peer support… so many.