My daughter, a new teacher and first year coach, just shared an incident brought on by an angry parent. It included threats, yelling and bullying. She related that she was frightened and didn’t know how to respond to this father’s demands. It got me thinking about bullying, both as it relates to our children and how it might relate to us parents as possible bullies, ourselves.
K is an amazing young woman. She is kind and compassionate, always thinking of other people’s feelings. As a very small child growing up, she dealt with learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). She also dealt with bullies on a regular basis. Those experiences have stayed with her, making her less trusting.
This is K’s first year as a volleyball coach. Her first duty was to have try-outs. The team was supposed to include 12 girls. Sixteen girls came for try-outs. When it came time to cut 4 girls from the team, she just couldn’t do it. So, she decided to rotate the team, allowing all the girls to play, with 4 girls sitting out each game. I thought it was a reasonable solution. It gives all the girls an opportunity to get playing time, while allowing the extra girls valuable learning and playing time.
What she didn’t count on was an angry dad. Right before the first game, a dad said he needed to talk with her. He started yelling at her, telling her that his kid had worked too hard to have to sit out during a game. He went on to say he would go to the principal if his daughter didn’t get to play. She felt so threatened that she changed the roster for that day. The ironic thing was, his daughter is one of the girls who would have been cut from the team if K had not decided on a rotating schedule.
We spoke after the event. K was still shaken and scared. She found out that her principal would have backed her up. I told her she couldn’t give in to bullies, and that I was proud of her for trying to include all the girls on her team. I hope she’ll have more confidence the next time she runs into a bully, whether a student, parent, or other professional.
You may be asking why I’m writing about a bullying situation that is about adults. My daughter’s experience reminded me that I need to constantly be aware of bullying, whether watching out for those who need me to defend them, or watching how I handle stressful situations. Can I stop a bully without becoming a bully myself? Can I be assertive when dealing with unpleasant situations? Can I remember to treat that difficult person the way I want to be treated?
Bullying is not going to go away soon. Each of us must stay vigilant, looking out for each other’s safety. Each of us must monitor ourselves, reigning in our emotions, to not become bullies ourselves. Each of us must be responsible to make our world a better place.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.