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My Child is Being Bullied - He's Four - My Heart Hurts

By Megan Stanish - 14th February 2011

Bullying has been hitting a little too close to home for me for the last year or so, and I’d like to share a few experiences and thoughts.

My Bear is 4-1/2 years old, and he is a sweet, bookish child who makes a point of sharing and complimenting and thanking. Every time he is given something – a lollipop at the doctor or a piece of candy at swimming lessons or a toy – he insists on getting something for his little sister, too.  And for 2 years now, he has been the target for aggressive kids. I hate labeling it “bullying.”  Whenever I do refer to what happens to him as bullying, the whole thing seems so harsh, so huge … my heart hurts too much. Because he’s 4-1/2 years old.

Think back to when you were that age. Think about how you saw the world and how dramatically things impacted you. Small children go apoplectic about not getting to watch a TV show or fall to the ground in distress when a friend won’t share. Do you remember trying to sort out how you’re supposed to behave in new situations and being just filled with joy from praise?

Now think about being the kid who doesn’t necessarily fit in entirely, the one who tries to play with other kids but who gets tongue-tied or who is a little clumsy or who’s just not as rough-and-tumble. Even little kids can feel awkward. They’re not oblivious as so many people seem to want to believe. And to then have those other kids you want to play with call you names and make fun of your awkwardness and tell you you’re not included and push you down and hit you when the teacher’s not looking and refuse to play with you and ostracise you … Try to think about how that feels to a 4 year old who is just forming an image of his place in the world and his ability to be accepted and loved.

Here’s the kicker, people.  From my experience,  the victim is the one who deals with all the consequences.  That’s right.  Not the bully.  The victim.

Let me give you a few highlights.  When Bear was not quite 3, a child in his class (at our former preschool) took to hitting Bear every chance he got.  I was never told by a teacher, but I started seeing bruises, and Bear acted differently about going to school.  When I spoke to the Administrator, she acknowledged the hitting (WTH?) and explained that the other child had developmental challenges.  And she left it at “we’ll try to keep the boys apart.”  What?  Excuse me?  I’m sorry that the other child has challenges, I truly am, but please tell me what will you be doing to help and correct that child with those challenges aside from just trying to act as a barrier?  Because I’ll tell you, acting as a barrier didn’t work. The bruises kept coming. The consequences were ours alone to bear – Bear’s fear of going to school, Bear’s retreat into himself, Bear’s reluctance to play with other kids, and our ultimate decision to go to another school.

There have been more instances in the year and a half since, even though Bear is at a different school. Like I said, he’s a sweet, gentle and awkward kid, and aggressive children see an easy mark in him. Most recently, a boy has been taunting Bear and calling him names almost every day, much of which I witnessed directly. It never fails to knock me over seeing such small children act so mean. When I brought it up with the head of the school I was informed that the boy in question is the youngest of three boys, so he’s just acting out. I was told the teacher would try to encourage this boy to be more empathetic. Super. So, because he’s belittled by his brothers, it’s understandable and sort of okay for him to take out his frustration on Bear? I appreciate the effort to try to redirect this child’s thinking, I truly do, but are his parents being told that their child is being mean to another child? Are they expected to help him learn to behave in a more appropriate way? Are there consequences for them if this behaviour continues?  

Let me give you a final perspective. This has been happening on and off for a while, and since I recognize that Bear’s gentle and awkward demeanor may be at play here, I’ve asked the teachers to help him approach other kids and teach him ways to interact with them, things I’m working on at home, too. To be fair, the teachers are trying, and I appreciate their efforts. However, when we talk about how it’s going, the teachers fall back on the fact that Bear isolates himself, and they seem to see this as the reason these efforts aren’t working, like the isolation is the cause of all of this. I see things differently - perhaps this is a learned behaviour brought on by all of this cruelty?  Perhaps what Bear has learned is that by isolating himself, he protects himself – even temporarily – from the hurt. Perhaps his decision to isolate himself shows that more work needs to be done to reassure him that the other children are learning new ways to interact and that the onus isn’t entirely on Bear to change.

Because in every case, we’ve been given information on what we need to change and what Bear needs to change. Not the other child. Not the bully. Nope. Bear. The victim.

Comments (9)

Bullying in pre-school

I feel for you Megan. My son was 4 when he was bullied last year in his first year of pre-school. The difference was he was bullied along with several other children by one particular child. In his favour he wasn't the only one being bullied, so complaints came from several parents. But this seemed to make the staff less concerned about it as an issue - 'he's not the only one' - and they also explained it away as being 'one of those things' that the boy with behavioural problems would hopefully grow out of. They implemented all the usual tactics of trying to teach the children to keep their hands to themselves, etc, and taking the boy out of play if it got too aggressive, but I was very upset with the way it was dealt with at my end. Due to privacy (I suppose) they were unable to give me much information about what they saw as the problem in relation to the other boy - they were only able to talk vaguely about my son and how he should be handling it - walk away, tell the teacher, etc. It is supremely frustrating and heartbreaking to send your child back into a supposedly safe environment when they are crying every morning and not wanting to go in case one particular child hurts them. My boy is very sensitive and it seemed to affect him worse than the other kids. He would say to me; "Other kids fight him and at least that gets the teachers' attention; I say stop and he ignores me and so do the teachers. I run away and the teachers think we're playing." At least he had the insight to eventually conclude "I think X is a bully because he wants friends and doesn't have any, but no one is going to be friends with him if he treats people like that."
I made the tough decision to send my son back to the same pre-school this year because other than that one issue he really enjoyed going there, and the boy in question went on to school. I was concerned that if I moved him he would have to deal with all the adjustment issues that comes with and potentially face a similar problem elsewhere, because as the teachers told me "there are bullies everywhere, he'll face this all his life, what's important is the values you teach him at home." While I find this frustrating, ultimately it is true and my son is gradually learning how to deal with people whose behaviour he doesn't like in ways other than crying/falling apart. I still think that there needs to be a more proactive stance taken with bullies in schools as it is doing the bullies no favours by allowing them to continue with their behaviour, and all kids should have a right to go to school/pre-school and feel safe. Good luck.

MeganStanish's picture

The Bears

Thank you very much for your comment, Margaret. Your Bear's story is reassuring.

Bullying

Funny. When my son (nicknamed "Bear"!) was four, he was also bookish and shied away from the roaming packs of boys in the schoolyard. He'd climb a tree and stay away from everybody. My husband and I worried ourselves sick about him because he had such a sweet nature and he would get picked on. He's 22 now! Here's what we know about him:
He's smart.
He picks his friends very carefully.
Just like when he was four, he has no desire to follow the crowd.
He's not a bully.
Hang in there. You can't do a thing about bullies. They've always been there and they always will be there. The best thing you can do is to teach your child how to handle this fact of life.

MeganStanish's picture

Interesting perspectives

Thank you very much, Jodie, RJ and Megan.

RJ - What a fascinating perspective you offer! I can't imagine how challenging it must have been for you, trying to manage the needs and behaviors and consequences for both boys, then to also learn that the schools -- theoretically people with expertise on dealing with children -- couldn't really offer much help. It's good to know that your aggressive son has learned empathy, which is the key step (from what I understand) to ending those behaviors. I wish you and both boys the best of luck in navigating the ongoing challenges, particularly for your son who is dealing with the psychological consequences.

There are so many excuses,

There are so many excuses, but those kids could do from being taught some life skills - people aren't doing them any favours by making these excuses for them. Clearly, they're not doing your little boy any good either, and it's so sad. It must be hard for you.

the bullying problem

My heart aches reading this post! I recently wrote about being a single mom to BOTH a bully and his target. My two sons. Not just your typical sibling rivalry, but real knock-down forever-consequences bullying. My bully son has gradually become gentle and empathic. My younger son has serious psychological problems and mental health issues, stemming in part I am sure from the bullying he received from not only cruel kids through his entire school experience, but also at home by his own brother. I emphatically agree that it should not be all put on the Target to adjust. The bully has GOT to be held accountable!

Sadly, as mom of a former bully, I can tell you that schools have no idea what to do. Administrators sit in offices far away from reality and create a policy of zero tolerance, but when bullying actually happens, teachers spout the same moronic "we just need to understand" rhetoric, and its the Target who gets left dealing with the far-reaching emotional damage.

I feel for you. I hope you find some help - it seems incredibly difficult to get someone's attention on this subject! But I firmly believe if you can get some action by the school, your son is young enough to heal and find a way to be free of the negative messages he's learned already. Sending you courage and hope!

~RJ

Thanks for Sharing

As a mum to three boys the eldest just about to start school this week this is my biggest fear, either they will be the victim or the bully, it seems like such a difficult situation to face.

Thanks for providing insight to such a situation.

MeganStanish's picture

Thank you

Anonymous, thank you for what you wrote. It's so reassuring to know others are out there who really get the full scope of the situation, how backwards it seems. I just wish this wouldn't happen to any child, anywhere. I believe as a society -- a global society -- we're better than that. Or we should be.

I hear you

I have witnessed the same Megan. Why are the parents of the bully and the bully not asked to do more? Why aren't they spending time with the school counsellor or sending their child to access help? why is the victim the one sitting in a child psychologist's office learning strategies to defend themselves? The zero tolerance policy in schools is a farce, just like the no nuts policy. If it was effectively enforced, there would be no incidents, would there?? Sending you and Bear good wishes to come at this problem with strength and resolve.

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