My journey down the bullying road began 5 years ago. My son was a first grader and eager to learn. In Kindergarten, my son had endured some harsh comments from other kindergarten students on the bus, but were resolved quickly. I had no idea that was the calm before the storm.
When my son started to go to school in first grade, things started off relatively quite. I did quite a bit of volunteering in the classroom and I knew that his class had a somewhat rowdy group of boys. About half way into the year, my son started reporting to my husband and me that there was a boy who was telling him he was “stupid” and a “baby“. This boy would also do things like take my son’s hat and throw it down the hall. I was unsure what to do or how to react. I told him just to ignore it. I had always read that if you ignore someone like that, it would go away.
I realize that the situation was escalating the day I got an e-mail from the first grade teacher. She had told me my son had gotten in a fight with this boy. My son had pushed the boy down and knocked him into another student. At that point, I called her and told her what had been going on. My son had his fill of being insulted and decided to do some knocking down of his own. The teacher and I talked for a while and she said she would talk to my son at school, and I would reinforced at home, that he needed to get an adult when the name calling started.
I got an e-mail from her the next day telling me that, sure enough, this boy had started name calling with my son again and my son had gotten help. She said that she would take care of it and she did. We had a few minor problems during the remainder of the year. In working with the first grade teacher, she assured me she would help arrange placement the following year so they would not be in the same class.
I was thankful in second grade when this boy was not in my son’s class. Of course, there were still issues to deal with at recess. There were arguments and comments about how my son was not nearly as athletic as the other boy. I could tell that my son was starting to lose confidence in himself. He started to wonder what was wrong with him and what made him so different that this boy chose to inflict himself on numerous occasions. We did the best we could to reassure my son that the problem was with the other boy. It was the next year, third grade, when things took a turn for the worse.
When we got the letter from the school saying which teacher my son had, the phone calls started flying. All the moms busied themselves at this time of year to find out who had which teacher. Through the course of this, we found out my son would be in the class with this boy who had been causing problems through the last couple of years. My husband and I rolled out eyes and figured we would deal with whatever came with this new year.
It wasn’t long into the year that the complaints began. This boy would walk by my son and say he was stupid. We had heard that one before. Then, we started getting questions like, “What does it mean if someone calls you a faggot?” “What does it mean if someone calls you a homo?” Of course, these were not words that were used in our house and we were not thrilled to be hearing them from our 8-year-old. He told us that this boy was saying those things to him. I did call the teacher and let her know. To my surprise, she told me I was the 4th parent who called her to tell her that. I asked her what was going to be done about it. She told me that she had plans to talk to the parent later that day. I did tell her that this boy had been a problem in the past and I was worried about them being in the same class. Thankfully, she was very receptive to helping me and told me she would keep them as far apart as possible. It was undeniable now. We were dealing with a bully and all we need was for the school to promise to keep my son safe.
The stories kept coming through the year. It seemed that each one got worse and worse. If my son liked a book, this boy would tell him that the author was dead and would never write a book again. When my son, who really is quite athletic, did well in gym class and the teacher would praise him, this boy would tell my son the teacher was lying and was wrong, that he didn’t do well. My son was put into the higher level math and this boy would tell him that he didn’t really belong there, he was too stupid to do that. It became a daily verbal assault for my son and it was slowly breaking him.
By Christmas time, we had noticed a couple of things. First, we knew that his self-confidence had been shot. This boy had effectively turned our son into someone who was starting to believe that he had no worth. We also realized that this was affecting him physically. He had some bowel issues prior to this, but now, even if he had to use the bathroom, he didn’t want to go at school. This turned into a condition known as encopresis. Essentially, his bowels were backed up into his large intestines. We started working with both a psychiatrist and a Gastroenterologist since we figured the two were related. As time went on, we were able to work with and fix the physical side-effects of his situation, the emotional side effects were not so easily repaired.
Two developments added to the challenge of this whole situation. As luck would have it, this boy was on our bus route. Fortunately, he and my son would sit pretty far apart. Things would occur on the bus and I would let the school know. The incidents on the bus were not as common as they were in the classroom or at recess. Second, there were quite a few boys who were more than willing to do this boys bidding. He had developed quite a following. He had an undeniable sphere of power that was hard to break and boys were afraid to do anything to stand up to this boy.
Our psychiatrist was wonderful. He worked with my son and, to some extent, me. My son learned strategies to help him deal with a bully. When my son used them, it tended to only escalate the situation rather than abate it. The psychiatrist was surprised and said that he had encountered bullies such as this before, but usually at a much older age. He continued to work with my son and help him understand the reasons why a child may bully. He focused on helping my son to not think that this child targeting him was a weakness in my son. However, when my son was living the reality of being tormented daily, it was hard for him to believe that it wasn’t any doing of his own.
The administration at my son’s school was not nearly as helpful in their endeavor to keep my son safe. Unfortunately, their take on the situation was to help my son not be so sensitive and help him to deal with the situation better. In their view, bullying was just a part of growing up. We were desperate to help my son in any way we could. We finally pulled him off of the bus to avoid the anxiety of just being in the presence of this boy. I began to drive him to and from school. When I called the school to tell them that this was really getting out of hand and the effect it was having, I got as far as telling them that I had pulled him from the bus. Their response to that was to ask me, “Are you o.k. with that?” I told them that I was not o.k. with that, but they didn’t seem to want to help and I was left with little choice. They said they would be happy to have my son work with the social worker to help him deal with this better. I asked when they were going to stop helping my son to deal with it and put a behavior plan in place with the bully. The principal told me that they would not take one kids word over the other. The bully would say that he was not doing the things that we were saying he was doing. (The other interesting thing to note, is that I was not the only parent calling the school on a consistent basis about this particular boy.) I asked about at least making sure that these boys would not be in the same class the next year. They told me that they would try, but couldn’t guarantee anything. I was pretty certain at that point that something had to change and it had to come from my husband and I. The school had made it clear they were not interested in trying to fix the situation.
I still remember the day at the beginning on March that will haunt me for as long as I live. My son had hit his lowest low yet and told me that he did not want to have a 9th birthday party. He said he just didn’t even want to be around anyone from school. It was getting to a point that he didn’t know who were and weren’t his friends. Even kids who were my sons friends were afraid to stand up to this boy because they didn‘t want to be next on the bully‘s list.
From this time through almost the end of the year, our evening routine had become homework, playing, and then a round of crying and questions about why this was happening before bed. One of the last things I would do for him before he would go to bed is dry his tears, tell him I loved him, and I was doing what I could to get this to stop. I would often stay with him until he was almost asleep and then I would cry myself. I didn’t know what to do. My husband and I knew that we had to do something for him, but we didn’t know where we were going to find safety for our son.
We started investigating private schools in the area. Just looking at private schools was hard for me. My husband and I were, and still are, big proponents of public school, but that system had failed us. We were emotionally exhausted and just needed to know something different, something better, was in store for our son. We did find a school that we thought would meet his needs. It was a terribly difficult decision. We wondered if things really could change for him or if too much damage had already been done.
I am happy to report that 3 years after moving him out of the school that had become a prison to my son, we have a totally different child. It wasn’t long after we had moved him to the new school that even family started commenting on the change in his behavior. He was starting to smile more and started to become more confident in who he was.
To this day, he still has the scars of what he has been through and they do surface at times. But, we look at how far we have come and how much he has changed and been built up by his surroundings. This year he was eve elected to student council at the new school and he starts on the basketball team. It was just before Christmas this year when he was getting ready for bed and he told me that he really feels like he has friends. That has made every penny we spent for the school priceless!
I know that not every story has a happy ending. Bullying is something that is unacceptable and parents and schools need to send that message loud and clear. It is never o.k., it is not a part of life, and something that no one should tolerate. I am telling my story to in the hope that other parents will know they are not alone. Being a parent of someone who is being bullied is scary and exhausting. If I can help just one parent, my efforts will have been worth it.