Yesterday I did something that I will forever be proud of. And it wasn’t easy.
My 3rd grader has transitioned from homeschooling to school about 3 months ago. Everything went smoothly until he started coming home upset on some days. When we questioned him about it he was hesitant to tell us. Only when night would come, and darkness fell on the house, he would approach me quietly and say: Mom, I have something that I want to share with you.
And the stories came out every few nights.
About how the boys are not letting him kick the ball when playing kickball during recess.
About how boys approach him during line-up and say: “No one trusts you”.
About how the boys call him “Little Boy” during recess time because he isn’t tall.
About how a couple of boys hid his water bottle during lunch time and he had to search for it everywhere. When he finally found it, they grabbed it from him and passed it from one to the other and didn’t let him reach it.
And my heart is slowly breaking as I hear this. And its breaking again as I write it here black pixels over white screen.
I emailed the teacher after each such encounter and she has been actively trying to deal with it. She is wonderful. But, she is only human. There are a lot of kids in the class and she can’t be there to help in every single situation before it occurs.
As my readers have come to know, when I need answers to conflicts I go out and read about it. I haven’t yet read about bullying in school and I was hoping this subject is not one which I will have to deal with. But, alas, my boy is that boy you read about in the news who is currently picked on and we as parents have to figure out how to stop it.
Last night, after our son shared with us the horrible bottle incident in the lunchroom, I emailed his teacher a concerned letter. Later on, when tidying the house, I bumped into a booklet that was sent from school with all of the contact info for every single student in school. I lifted the booklet, thought for a second, walked over to Guy who was cooking something in the kitchen and asked: Do you think I should call the parents of the child who took our son’s bottle at lunch? Guy thought for a second. There was quiet in the kitchen while we both tried to figure out whether this unconventional step is appropriate. Then he said: Do it. (You are *such* a great dad!).
I opened the booklet and found the number. The following is how I introduced the subject on the phone to my fellow mom:
“Hi, My name is Sigal and I am my 3rd grader’s mom. Do you have a few minutes? Great. I am calling today because I wanted to share with you something I am concerned about that happened in school. I will give you all the info as I have heard it and I would like to ask for your help in resolving this and putting a stop to these incidents.”
She listened. Quietly.
It wasn’t easy for her. I was gentle but this isn’t an easy experience for a mom to hear about.
It wasn’t easy for me. I am angry inside in my heart yet I have to be gentle and respectful to the mom of someone who has hurt my son’s feelings.
One phone line.
She promised to speak with her son. We exchanged email addresses and said we will keep in touch and update each other about future situations. I offered for her to come to a play date in our house with her son and that way see if we can connect the boys in a good way without the influence of other peers. She said that sounds nice.
I want to thank her for this talk. I will remember it always.
I will forever be proud of making this call. Why? Because I stood up for my son. I am not sweeping these incidents under the carpet and hoping things will get better. Sometimes things don’t get better. Just check out this story to see that these situations end tragically many many times. My son is *not* going to be a statistic. Period. I will defend you, my boy, as much as I can. You are *not* alone and Mom and Dad are there for you always. We may not be perfect parents, but we will be there 100% of the time if someone hurts you.
As soon as I hung up the phone, I came to the kitchen again and told Guy: I am really proud of myself. I did the right thing. We did the right thing.
What to do if your child is picked on at school by other kids:
1. Listen and reassure: Always listen to your child and take every single complaint very seriously. Make sure he knows you are listening and encourage him/her to share with you *every time* someone makes him feel bad. Nighttime is truly a good time to talk. Something about the darkness outside and dim lighting inside and quiet in the house gets the kids to open up. Check in with them nightly.
2. Contact Teacher: Contact your child’s teacher and keep her updated via email or phone about every incident. If the teacher is not active, contact the principal. Don’t worry about being a pest (I did) – this is your child and you are his #1 advocate. Stay on top of the situation until it is fully and completely resolved. No if’s, and’s or but’s. Did I say FULLY resolved? I meant it. Fully resolved. Its a matter of teamwork.
3. Make the call: Consider seriously the option of contacting the mom of the child who is picking on your child. I was told it is not conventional to do that in the United States. Well, you know what? I am not a conventional mom. And I feel that the power of a mom-to-mom connection can move mountains. Speak to her with respect and stay sensitive but firm. You want this resolved and you need her help. The two of you are a team and you can resolve this together. You have to at least try this route.
4. Practice, practice, practice: Practice with your child nightly how he can respond to someone’s mean remarks. I recall Guy taking our son nightly to the privacy of the basement and literally spending a half hour each night practicing what he can say when someone belittles him. They did role playing. It started with our 3rd grader answering with a quiet voice something that wasn’t very clear or powerful and as time passed I started hearing his voice nice, assertive and loud saying to Guy sentences like: “You don’t know me so don’t say such mean things about me!!” or “Be quiet!! Who do you think you are??!!!” and “Stop trying to make me feel bad or I will make you feel bad!” or “You are not acting like a friend! that is just a mean thing to say!”. I sat there on the stairs of the basement and listened and smiled a sad smile. My child is training to stand up for himself by the best teacher ever: his dad. Empower your child.
5. Create Play dates: Invite the kids that your child *doesn’t* get along with to a play date at home or a get together in a park. Always ask your child for permission to do that. If your child doesn’t feel comfortable then you have to wait with this. I feel that by inviting children from my child’s class for a play date, I am helping him form one-on-one bonds that he can take with him when he goes back to the classroom. Create tea parties and invite kids from the classroom. Throw an arts and crafts get together and invite specific kids. Do a baking play date with children that you would like your son to connect with. What ends up happening is that the kids leave the play date saying: Wow, what a great family this boy has. We baked and we did crafts and I can’t wait to go back. And – by the way – they come back and we love having them come back.
Some children need our help in navigating the rough waters of social interaction in the class and during recess. Be there for your child! He/she needs you! Put away everything you are doing and really truly listen. Don’t panic when you hear terrible stories from your kids. Take a deep breath. Tell him that everything he is feeling is perfectly right. He is right to be angry and he is right to be hurt and Mom and Dad will help and that this will come to stop. Because we must. Because this is our baby. Because sometimes it is too late and you don’t to be that story in the newspaper.
Have a great week, Parents. Continue doing your important work at the job that no one prepared us for. We are doing good, you know? One day at a time, we get better and better. And always – always always always – learning.
Stay well. Oh, and as always, I am happy to read your thoughts about and experiences with – bullying.