Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
Dear Dr. Debbie,
My 8-year-old will be starting at a new school in a few weeks and “Eddie” has never been very good at making friends. I hear so much about bullying at schools that I’m getting concerned. Suggestions?
Nice Guy’s Mom
Click here to read Dr. Debbie’s advice for parents with toddlers in training.
Dear Nice Guy’s Mom,
Now is the time to start prepping Eddie for a new social world. Have you met neighbors? Take walks around the block at different times of the day and week, and even if you don’t spot a child (too bad air conditioning keeps them inside so much!) chat up anyone you encounter to see if know of any boys near Eddie’s age. Some communities have a community association – with meetings, newsletter and events, and perhaps even a Facebook page to help connect neighbors to each other. It would be ideal to find a child who will be in the same grade if not the same class at school. A child who has trouble making friends will need your help to make the introductions and to help new friends get started with an activity together.
After school clubs are a great way to find and cement a friendship around a common interest. See what the school offers (so there is more likely to be a classmate in the group) or check the Parks and Recreation listings for your area. In addition, there are countless private and non-profit entities that provide ongoing after-school activities, so scope out something to fit your schedule, price range, and your son’s interests. Likely Eddie only needs one or two regular playmates. The organized activity can serve to help him make contact. After that, the friends can get together whenever possible and do things on their own.
Volunteer at the school, especially while he’s just getting to know his way around, and you will be able to get a read on the social climate there. Assuming he has some trepidation, Eddie may be less anxious knowing you are somewhere in the building at certain times. Make your own friends among other parents because they can keep tabs on Eddie when they are volunteering which is less embarrassing than Mom shadowing him directly.
Having at least one buddy at school is the best way to prevent victimization because a bully needs to dominate and therefor targets a child who is without allies. See if his new school has any bully-prevention practices in place. For example, in some schools you must go to the bathroom with a classmate. They may have lessons in which bullying is defined and children are trained to report it to the adults. There may be daily class meetings for sharing – who is having a birthday, who lost a tooth, who is going on a trip – through which the teacher or guidance counselor uses group management skills to help children be considerate of one another. Bullies have a better chance of intimidating victims when no attention is given to treating one another with respect. The adults play a big part in setting a tone of civility at a school.
Kids at Hope is a model of beliefs and practices which has been shown to have a positive impact on the social climate of a school. Starting in Phoenix, Arizona, it has spread across the United States and into Canada. In Anne Arundel County there is a growing list of schools that start the day with the Kids at Hope pledge. Every child affirms that he or she is “talented, smart, and capable of success.” The adults have a pledge of their own in which they assert their commitment to “search for the talents, skills, and intelligences that exist in all children and youth.” Superiority and inferiority are not part of this culture. When a school community shares a belief in everyone’s capacity for success, bullying behavior is deterred. If the staff at Eddie’s school is interested in taking the four-hour introductory training, they should call Carlesa Finney at the Office of Equity Assurance of AACPS at 410-222-5354 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at email@example.com