How was school?
Did anything interesting happen today at school?
What was the best part?
This frustrating exchange might sound familiar to parents of school-age children, but it’s the wrong way to talk to them if you want to prevent bullying at school, said psychologist Milene Jeffirs.
The key to preventing bullying is to learn the roles that your children and others play at school. How much power does a child believe they have in school, and what makes the child believe that?
"Instead of asking your son, ’How was your day today?’ which is what everybody does, ask your child to see what he sees happening, because children know everything. They know who’s being bullied and who’s doing the bullying. You ask your children their opinion of what is happening to them. You can begin a dialogue that will make your child feel like you are listening to them.”
Jeffirs, who moved from her native Brazil to Plymouth two years ago, was the featured speaker Thursday, May 15, at the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce Women’s Council’s monthly luncheon series at Hubbard Hill Estates Retirement Community. Jeffirs titled her talk, “The Empowerment of Bullying: Balances of Power.”
Bullies believe they have more power than anyone else, and they learn how to use their power to put others down, Jeffirs said. They also learn how to isolate victims, which helps to make the victim feel they have no power.
Asking children detailed questions about what they see at school can help prevent bullying of others, even if your child is merely a bystander.
"Usually bullies have that power to make others join them."
To illustrate how victims continue to be bullied, Jeffirs drew an analogy to an iceberg. Only the tip of the iceberg, which is a very small part of it, is visible. That represents what a person shows to the world, while the much larger part underwater represents the emotions a person keeps covered up.
”Imagine that person that has to face so many challenges every day. Parents are divorced, mom lost her job, or you lose someone in your family, or children lose a pet, and then every day they have to face someone who puts them down constantly. They don’t show it and they just take it in silence, until one day they snap. There is so much that we as human beings can take.”
Such individuals will either become sad and lonely, possibly ultimately committing suicide, or they become angry and can lash out.
Jeffirs is in her second year of running a bullying prevention program she calls “Connect” in Plymouth schools at all age levels. She would like to bring the program to Elkhart schools.
“I want people to connect. I want them to look each other in the eye and get beyond the image that we have. It addresses fitting in, the power, the labels. They get to know each other and what happens is, ’Huh, we’re all the same.’ We all have the same dreams and wishes, and want to get along."
Jeffirs said bullying won’t stop until parents “engage.” They also should be careful about how they treat their own children.
“Role model the positive behavior,” she said, “knowing that when you put your child down, that’s what he’s learning to do to other people.”