Should an eight year old need to hide who he is in order to stop being bullied? Of course not! In this day and age, it boggles my mind that someone would even suggest such a thing. However, this is exactly what someone close to me suggested we do when my son came back in tears from day camp last week. The issue – eating differently from the other kids.
Triggered by Bullies
The teasing arose every time the lunch boxes came out. A group of four or five boys would take turns making fun of what he ate. Usually, my son is a very self confident kid that knows right from wrong – he speaks up for himself and is not afraid of speaking his mind in defence of animals when given the chance. Sadly, having a few boys gang up on him was more than a eight year old could bear… and this time he was the underdog. Of course, when a parent learns his child is being bullied it brings one’s protective instinct to the surface. I chose to compose myself and approach the camp director the next morning. She was very receptive to my comments and told me she would take care of the issue. When I picked up the kids at day camp that night the bullying had stopped… not only had it stopped but my son was freely talking about veganism and even drawing and writing about it at camp.
I was very proud of him, and since then I have received many more notes and drawings depicting his love of veganism, animals and the planet. He truly understands how important it is to protect and speak up for those who can’t rise and speak for themselves.
We were lucky the problem did not escalate but it dawned on me – this incident could very well pop its ugly head back up in the future. I took to Facebook and asked around to find out what kind of discrimination vegan adults suffered at the hands of friends, colleagues and even family. The messages started pouring in and some accounts were truly heartbreaking. It became evident to me that in our quest to help animals and the environment we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves and each other. Bullying, isolation, constant ridicule and heckling can be very taxing. Some of us deal with this better than others but it will always drain you in one way shape or form – especially if you chose to openly advocate for animals.
Unlike adults, children don’t always understand why they are being singled out by their peers. They can be confused, withdraw and the scars can last a lifetime. When you suspect your child is being bullied decisiveness is paramount. First and foremost you have to recognize the signs of bullying. On the Character.org website I came across this list of warning signs.
Nineteen things to look for
1. Unexplained physical marks, cuts, bruises and scrapes
2. Unexplained loss of toys, school supplies, clothing, lunches, or money
3. Clothes, toys, books, electronic items are damaged or missing or child reports mysteriously “losing” possessions
4. Doesn’t want to go to school or other activities with peers
5. Afraid of riding the school bus
6. Afraid to be left alone: wants you there at dismissal, suddenly clingy
7. Suddenly sullen, withdrawn, evasive; remarks about feeling lonely
8. Marked change in typical behavior or personality
9. Appears sad, moody, angry, anxious or depressed and that mood lasts with no known cause
10. Physical complaints; headaches, stomachaches, frequent visits the school nurse’s office
11. Difficulty sleeping, nightmares, cries self to sleep, bed wetting
12. Change in eating habits
13. Begins bullying siblings or younger kids. (Bullied children can sometimes flip their role and become the bully.)
14. Waits to get home to use the bathroom. (School and park bathrooms, because they are often not adult-supervised, can be hot spots for bullying).
15. Suddenly has fewer friends or doesn’t want to be with the “regular group”
16. Ravenous when he comes home. (Bullies can use extortion stealing a victim’s lunch money or lunch.)
17. Sudden and significant drop in grades. (Bullying can cause a child to have difficulty focusing and concentrating.)
18. Blames self for problems; feels “not good enough”
19. Talks about feeling helpless or about suicide; runs away.
But What Can I DO?
You should never ignore these signs. Some children will openly discuss their fears and concerns with you but for others you will have to probe and investigate. Once you determine your child is being bullied, there are a number of things you can do. You can find many resources on the internet but most schools, cities and community organisations have zero tolerance policies when it comes to bullying and offer their own resources. Openly speak to your child, they have to know you are there to protect them and that you will help them navigate through these difficult times. Helping your child develop self confidence is also a good idea.
Martial arts disciplines such as karate can be extremely valuable to the development of skills which will assist little ones through their formative years – having said that, sport activities in general can help children find their inner strength. In fact, any type of activity your child resonates with will help on this journey and will result in a more balanced and fulfilled adult.
Resources Are Available
As parents it is helpful to take an interest in your children’s activities – they will feel more connected to you. In another life, I use to assist with the B.R.A.V.E bully workshop in Brampton ON. The program is the brain child of one of the instructors at the Brampton Academy of Martial Arts. They have both an online presence and in-person workshop designed to assist children deal with bullying; it’s worth looking them up at www.bullybrave.com. The program is highly effective and has helped countless individuals throughout the years.
Communicating is key
Bullies tend to target individuals that are perceived as different or who are part of minority groups – vegan children fit both categories. This experience has given Meagan and I a true opportunity to talk to the kids about the choices we make as individuals and how sometimes others are not very receptive and can even be agressive towards our beliefs. By keeping the lines of communications open with our children we were able to reassure them that choosing to value all life was indeed a compassionate and beautiful way to live.
Our son finally understands that if the welfare of animals and the health of the planet are causes that are truly important to him, he will have to stand his ground and be patient in trying to inform or educate his peers about what veganism truly stands for. Ultimately, all forms of discrimination stem from lack of knowledge, ignorance and/or fear… and our son is the new teacher in town. There are a number of age appropriate children books about bullying out there. Since it is a sensitive issue it is a great way to initiate a conversation with your children. My daughter fell in love with the story of T.Veg the Carrot-Crunching Dinosaur.
<<If you are interested in vegan issues you might find it interesting to find out that animal products are more pervasive in your everyday life than you may have thought… Follow this link to find out more!>>