Q. I’m afraid my child is being harassed on his walk home from school.  What can I do to keep him safe from bullies until he gets home?

A. When I was young I walked to and from my elementary school with one or both of my brothers.  Our school was a closed campus; we were not allowed to leave the building until school let out for the day.  This was for our own safety, and for the most part I felt safe at St. Joseph’s while school was in session.

Two boys and two girls walking to school with backpacksThe walk home, however, was a veritable “no man’s land,” a lawless road where we were on our own until we made it home safe.  I was lucky because I had at least one older brother to walk with me and protect me most of the time.  There were those rare days when, for whatever reason, I had to walk home alone without the luxury of a body guard.  I can still recall those awful feelings of dread to this day.

The walk home was beyond the jurisdiction of our schoolteachers, our omnipotent protectors.  As I said, the road home was a free-for-all, everyone for themselves with no grown-ups around to get involved.  My brothers and I quickly formed a routine for our walk home.

First, we always walked on the other side of the street from the public school we passed on our way to avoid kids from another school picking on us, which they liked to do.

Second, we walked fast.  If no one could catch up to us to harass us we’d be safe, we reasoned.  To this day people tell me I’m a natural speed-walker, but I’m pretty sure I developed the habit on the walk home from elementary school in Chicago.

Third, we knew not to get sidetracked or stopped on the way.  As soon as a bully engaged another child and got him to stop walking the fighting was on.  So anyone who approached me had to try to talk to me as I kept walking, or even running away if necessary.  Back then we had the blessing of “corner stores” we could always duck into until bullies gave up on us.

These days not much has changed on the walk home, except that some things things are more dangerous.  Have your child follow these simple rules to arrive safely at home without incident:

  • Walk home with a friend when possible; there is strength in numbers.
  • Avoid contact with unfriendly students by taking a different route home or walking on the other side of the street.
  • Walk swiftly and directly home.
  • Do not stop until s/he is home, even if bullies get in his/her path.  Look them straight in the eye and keep walking. If they engage your child in conversation, teach them my “panhandler strategy,” which always worked for me.   Whenever someone tried to ask me for money or anything on the way home I would answer “no thanks” while I kept walking. I learned to walk and talk at the same time instead of stopping.

Remember, a moving target is a hard target.  As long as your child keeps his goal in mind –to get home safely – he will.