Two years ago, we made the difficult decision to take our children out of a Christian school. Why? Because my oldest daughter was being bullied and the school did not "get it."

A child’s experience

My daughter regularly came home and begged to be home-schooled. She asked to be transferred. She began to develop somatic symptoms such as headaches, tummy aches and muscle tension. She grew increasingly irritable and had difficulty controlling emotions at home. She would talk to us for hours about the events of the day and the ways in which other children excluded her from play groups and belittled her in and out of class. If she succeeded at things, covertly they ridiculed her. Girls jealous of her friendships with other girls would exaggerate her faults and tell lies about things she had said. Her contributions to group discussions were often met with "Well, who cares what you think?" Some children who played with her outside of school refused to come to her defence, although they were well aware of how she was being treated, because they were intimidated by the "mean kids."

Eventually my daughter developed what the doctor called "school phobia." She would talk periodically about wishing she "could be gone." Thankfully, she never seriously contemplated taking her own life, but it crossed her mind. She was treated for anxiety and eventually, though we tried our best to help her cope with the cold hard realities of children’s cruelty, we felt that we had no other option but to move her out of that environment. The school gave us no assurance of their ability or commitment to protect children in her situation, or to call other children on these behaviours.

A parent’s experience

Both my husband and I are professional counsellors. We believed that by teaching our child better coping skills, by providing her a safe environment in which to air her fears and hurts, by coaching her on handling her own emotional responses more maturely and changing behaviours of hers that might be contributing to how she was being treated, that we could give her the tools she needed to get through this challenge. We wanted her to gain strength through dealing with adversity and emerge a more self-confident person as a result.

I tried to approach the school without being a "mother bear" which is what they expected. I acknowledged that my child had shortcomings of her own and that we were working with her on a few of her less-desirable characteristics. But it soon became clear to me that they blamed the victim instead of the perpetrators. When they did not see or hear what was happening, they assumed it was not going on or they would take the word of the child they thought was most "neutral," but who often had something to gain by protecting the bullies.

The take-away

Here is what we learned from this experience:

  1. It is our job as parents to protect and equip our children; if the environment they are in cannot/will not keep them safe, it is best to remove them;
  2. God works good even in tough situations; our daughter grew much closer to God through this experience as she learned to depend on Him more intimately as she went through this trial;
  3. We need to pay attention to our child’s whole person, not just their educational and physical needs but also their social, spiritual and emotional needs.

We took a step of faith transferring our daughters to public school, but our oldest thrived in a new environment. I asked her after the first term to tell me on a scale of 1 to 10, if this had been the best choice for her, and she rated it an "11." That was strong affirmation that, in spite of certain challenges that the public school presents, a school that has a clear policy on bullying can address the issue and make the difference for children.

I have reflected often on how sad it is that a public school would do this better than a Christian school (and I know that is not always the case). It is my hope and prayer that as Christians, we would lead the way in treating everyone as Jesus would – with love, compassion, friendship and kindness.

© 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.  

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