by Amy Mullen
There are few children who go through school and graduate without encountering a bully of some sort. Even if they themselves are not bullied, they see it or even become the bully. When you have children, you worry from the days of their first steps about how they will work through the trials of life. One of the first to come is the schoolyard bully. You will see them through it, but it will be different for each child. That means learning how to handle it all over again with each of your children. Luckily, you will know what to do if you teach both self-preservation and kindness.
A month ago, I got a call from my son’s school. My son had been kicked on the playground, but he was fine. At first, that call was simply a heads-up from the school and seemed like no big deal. As parents, we all know how our hearts drop when the school’s phone number shows up on our caller ID. This call was a courtesy call and the incident was minor. That was how I felt until I spoke with my son later in the day.
My son is not as verbal as my daughter. She will talk your ear off until you beg for mercy. With my son, you have to ask the right questions in the right way. He might never had said a word about what happened at recess if I had not pushed the issue a little. I asked him who the boy was who kicked him, and what had happened before the kicking ensued. I wanted to know if my son was behaving badly as well, so I could correct it right away. I would be surprised if he had egged the boy on, as my son is not an instigator, but I asked anyway. Children can surprise you, and first graders are still learning to deal with anger and frustration. Sometimes they push or kick.
He didn’t say much to me until we got home. I was curious because my son’s zippered hood was hanging half on and half off of his coat as if someone had yanked on it. When I asked him directly about the hood, the entire story poured out. The recess monitors had missed most of what had really happened. It started with this boy calling my son names and then he chased him across the playground. The other boy then grabbed my son by his hood and slammed him to the ground and pulled, choking my son. Once my son got up, the boy then proceeded to chase him again and kick him. The kicking part was the only part an adult saw.
I was horrified. I asked my son if he had told the boy to stop. He looked at me rather serenely and said, “Mom, I was crying and I yelled stop, like you told me, and he wouldn’t stop.” My heart broke. My son is a good boy. He plays with anyone and everyone. He loves Transformers and Star Wars, but will allow his best friend, the girl next door, to be Elsa from Frozen as long as he can be Optimus Prime. He’s good at compromise and inclusion. He has his moments, but he’s a decent human being. I’m proud of him.
This little bully didn’t know my son. The kid has been in trouble many times before he came after my son. For some reason, he targeted him that day for perhaps standing too close or for making the mistake of running past him too quickly. I didn’t know, but I did have to get things right with the school. Those recess monitors failed my son. I called. My son’s teacher was still in her classroom. She listened and hung up quickly. She called me back an hour later. She stayed late to review the video tape with the school principal. They found the episode on the tape. It had happened exactly as my son had said it did.
What surprised me the most was that my son was not all that upset about it. He wanted the boy to leave him alone, but he seemed to shrug it off. It might have been he did not want to talk about it anymore, but I can’t be sure. My son’s friend, however, had a different idea. She planned to ‘get him back’ and said the boy was always mean and no way was she going to be nice.
Even though my son had been hurt and bullied, I had to stop them from being mean to him. This boy was the same age as my son. They are both in first grade. This is not a bad kid because he’s a bad kid. I would guess his issues sprout from something going on at home or something that has happened to him. I’d put money on it. That does not excuse what he did, but it does not mean he should be labeled a bad kid forever. I needed to tell my son he did not deserve that treatment, but at the same time, how he should not, in turn, become the bully himself.
“Treat him with kindness,” I said. My son and his friend both stared at me, both looking rather surprised. I knew they were confused. I would have been at their age. I told them the bully needed kindness. It is probably a lack of kindness somewhere else in his life which caused his behavior.
“You be kind. Be nice.”
I did not stop there. I went on, explaining that though they should be kind, they also have to stand up for themselves and anyone else being bullied. Kindness does not mean being a victim. I did not want them giving the bully the same treatment he gave my son. That would make them bullies too. We talked about finding an adult and discussed self-defense. We spoke about rising above and concentrating on what really matters.
Bullies are everywhere. This won’t be the last one my son meets. However, next time, I hope he will remember what I said. Be kind. If that does not work, find an adult. If no adult is around, stick up for yourself. My son said he did not hit back because that was against school rules. I said my rules come first. He is only to fight if he needs to. He will not be the bully, but I will not let him be bullied either.
It’s a fine line to walk. For a child of seven, it is hard to understand. He spoke with the principal the next day and proudly told him that his mother said he can hit someone if they hit him first and no adult is around to help him. I hope he learns to avoid things going that far in the future, but if they do, I will not stand for him believing he cannot stick up for himself. After he told his principal what I said, the man apparently chuckled and said he most certainly could stick up for himself because his mom said so.
My son was bullied and that stinks. My son also learned something about kindness and standing up for himself and his friends, and that is fantastic. I wish we lived in a world where this was not an issue, but I don’t think bullies are going to go away any time soon. We can make things better by teaching our children to be kind to everyone, even if we don’t feel like it. At the same time though, empower your children to stand up and be strong when they have to be.
In New York State, we have the Dignity for All Students Act. This act protects children in a school setting. It ensures all children feel safe at school so they can concentrate on their education. This acts protects students from discrimination, bullying, taunting, harassment, and intimidation. This also covers cyber-bullying. Check for similar acts or laws in your own state so you know your child’s rights should they encounter bullying.