As school begins and we wade through a sea of new crayons, pencils, paper, etc., we must also take time to remember to help bolster our children emotionally as well. Chances are your child will be involved in some kind of incident this year that involves bullying. We must work to help our children be strong and stand up for themselves as well as those who may not have courage or a voice.
I wanted the start of this school year to also be a start of a series here on Helping Hands for Hurting Hearts. I want to tell the stories of the many children who have been through bullying. I will look at each situation from both the child’s perspective as well as the adults. In light of working to have a voice, I have talked to my son, who is the reason I started this in the first place, and he is willing to share his memories, thoughts, and feelings. As you read this, if you think you know anyone who would be willing to do the same, please let me know. We need to see the faces of these children and hear their stories. It seems the only time we really see a face with a bullying story is when it is too late and we see those faces on the news.
When I talked to my son about the years when he was being bullied, his initial reaction was that he really didn’t want to think about it. Revisiting those years was tough, but I am proud of him for doing it. It takes courage to talk about the tough times he has been through. He was 7 and 8 years old and there aren’t even a lot of memories from then to begin with. However, some of the memories of what happened are crystal clear.
When recalling what he remembered about his years as a target, it interested me that he could remember specific incidents with quite a bit of clarity. When my son would try to defend himself, he remembers that it often made the situation worse. For example, when the bully would tell my son he was “gay”, my son would respond, “Yes, I am very happy,” in an effort to defuse the comments. The bully would laugh at him and go to his friends and tell him what an idiot my son was. My son told me that during these words did define him and he felt like he was weird and believed that he was an idiot.
He remembers some of the physical bullying as well. During recess, he said he remembers being pushed into other children by the bully and then the bully would try to say that my son was the one tackling the person into which he was just pushed. One time, my son forgot his snow clothes after a snowy night and the bully pushed him into the snow.
I think the thing that saddens me the most is that he remembers how little people in authority would help him. He remembers feeling helpless and alone. There seemed to be no one who would believe him when he would try to get help. Toward the end of the year, his teacher did sit down with my son and the bully and helped facilitate a conversation between the two. My son told the bully he wanted to be left alone. The bully was trying to convince the teacher that they were friends and he treated all of his friends the same way. This incident is the only time that he feels like someone even tried to intervene.
At home, he remembers being angry a lot. He said that he remembers fighting with us at homework time. When I asked him why, he said he didn’t really know why he fought it. He said that he sees now how he took his anger out on all of us at home and he doesn’t like remembering those times. When recollecting all of this, he says that he remembers how much he wished that my husband or I could just go to school with him.
After the decision was made to leave the school and pursue a private education, he felt relief. He was relieved that he wouldn’t have to be afraid of going to school anymore. He did have some friends at the school but the anxiety was so strong that it colored his days. He feels like he would be a more confident person than he is now if someone had stepped in and helped. Those scars are still with him, but since being away for 3 years he is healing.
I asked him two last questions. First, I asked what he would say to other kids being bullied. He said, “Tell kids to stand up and tell authority. Find someone to help figure out how to stand up for themselves.” Second, I asked him what he would say if he could talk to a kid who was being a bully, his reply, “Knock it off!” He also would want them to know that they have no right to pick on someone else for any reason.
As a parent, I feel that I did several things well. I did keep in contact with the school. I was not afraid to pick up the phone and call or write e-mails. I did not like the responses they gave me. Many times, in an effort to appease me, they wanted to help my son deal with this better. I think they thought they were helping, but we really needed them to step up and deal with the bully.
Looking back on it now, I feel that the school was afraid of the bully’s parents. They were from a wealthy home and did help to bring money into the school. I think they were worried about straining that relationship. However, they damaged the spirit of an 8-year-old by making the choice to choose to not rock the boat instead of keeping a young child safe.
A piece of advice that I would give to anyone currently going through a tough time with their child is to document, document, and document. I wish I had done more recording and writing things down. I wish I would have put down dates, incidents, and what the school told me. I think the school would have worked harder to make a change if I showed evidence of a paper trail.
The thing that I think that my husband and I did well was to have a listening ear. We spent many nights rubbing his back while he cried and talked about how he was feeling and the many things that were bothering him. We also did invest in counseling for him and he had a professional by our side as we worked through this low period with him.
At this point, life is easier. A couple of months into the school year at the new school, our family and friends made many comments about what a different kid he was. He was more relaxed and was happier and it showed. This was a tough and lonely time as a parent and I don’t wish it on anyone. That is why I want to reach out and share with others who may be having trouble as well. I want our world to see that these are real kids who just want to be accepted and not put down or scorned.