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Childhood Bullying from Mothers Perspective

I am watching my 5-year-old son bright eyed and excited at his final tumbling show at school.  I have the camera ready and can’t wait to watch him show off his stuff.  The show starts off with a bang, hula hoops circling, balloons in the air, and children somersaulting to today’s hottest hits.  When it’s time to line up, I notice another little boy push his way in front of my son.  The pushing and cutting puts an immediate frown on my son’s once smiling face.  I see him work to let it go, he takes a breath and moves on.  Phew. I’m thinking that could have ruined his whole finale!

Two minutes later the same boy cuts in front of my son, giving a little shove and hand gesture of disrespect. Again, the smile turns upside down on my sweet boy’s face, doom is clearly in his future for today’s performance.  I turn uncomfortably in my seat knowing that the parents of the perpetrator are sitting right next to me.  I gaze sideways at them to see if they have any reaction to their bullying son. They remain poker face.

As the other kids dance around showing off their cartwheels, round-offs and other assorted tumbling tricks, I see the boy once again cut off my son, with another hand gesture of pride for taking his place and victory.  At that point my little guy is done. Covering his face in defeat, he continues the show with his hands in front of his face.

Mother bear awakens.  I calmly walk over to my son, remove him from the show and we have a talk on the side.  I ask him what is making him sad and that I noticed the other boy’s behavior.  He admits that the boy is the culprit of his demise from the show and says to me that he feels sad and hurt because not only did the boy push, shove and cut, but also told my son he was the “dumbest” in the room.

That was it.  I told my son to take deep breaths, breath in his own strength and goodness and breath out the boys mean behavior towards him.  I told him to feel proud that he does not behave this way towards others and walk away from those who behave with such disrespect.  This seemed to help. 

He walked back timidly to the show and finished as best he could. 

Mama bear is now in full swing.  At the completion of the show I ask my son if he would like to speak directly to the boy about how he made him feel in front of the boy’s parents and me.  He responded affirmatively.  My husband, who is also in full Papa bear mode, says to the father, “would you mind if my son has a word with your son?”

Our son proceeded to speak up about the actions he didn’t like, and his resulting hurt feelings.  I beamed with pride. The parent’s of the boy barely were able to muster out an apology from their son.  But an apology came begrudgingly. 

The parents did not show any remorse for their child’s behavior nor did they have a conversation with him about the behaviors and why they are not appropriate or kind. Mother bear in me felt this was a missed opportunity to council a future bully.  So my next step was to go to the teacher.  My husband had to leave at this point, but was in full validation to be sure our son had full closure.

Again, my son wanted to explain to her what happened and how it made him feel.  After another 20 minutes of expression, I could see my son feeling better that a teacher was listening and understanding his feelings.  We discussed how proud we were of his reaction to the situation and ideas for how to remove himself from it in the future.  In this case, the best I could do was validate my son, let him be heard and give some tools to handle the situation next time.

No parent has the authority or power to change another child’s behavior. But what we do have is our ability to make our children feel safe and heard in their own family bubble.  We can encourage teachers to hear our children and give our children tools to face these unpleasant situations.  Life is full of hills and valleys, and I learned on this particular day during one of my son’s valleys, that I as a parent have the power to make him feel safe, understood and validated, even when the world around him may not always be fair. 

I didn’t make any groundbreaking shifts that day and I certainly did not change another boy’s misbehavior toward my son.  But that night, my son looked at my husband and me and said, “I have the best parents in the whole world, thank you for being such a great mom and dad.  I love you.”

And that my fellow parents is the very best outcome we can wish for.  For some parents a class might also help in learning how to approach this delicate topic effectively.

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