My son is the epitome of cool at least he & I think so. He does his best to have "style" and the perfect outfit and haircut. I thought this was simply a part of him growing up. I figured third grade meant he was solidifying his likes and "coolness" was just something he embraced like every pre-teen!
Turns out being cool meant more than just high-top sneakers and the perfect cargo shorts, my little one was trying desperately to fit in. He was copying two other boys hoping they'd finally approve. He wanted to be liked and one boy in particular hounded him everyday about how he was better than my son.
I didn't know any of this. But like most parents I had a feeling. I slowed down and looked at all the signs. The first sign came before picture day when my kiddo wanted to get the "perfect" haircut. His hair looked great but he was suddenly crying while still sitting in the barber's chair dreading the next day at school.
After some digging through lots of questions (every parent needs to ask questions, instead of making statements or demands) I got to the root of his feelings. My son liked his hair, but he was terrified of the opinion of two certain kids. After two days of questioning the angst in his eyes and stress in his tone, my son revealed that "everyday" two boys picked on him. Both boys had been making my little guy's world so difficult and all because they were claiming to be "better than my kid!" When really, no one is better than anyone. Kids were being kids and sometimes kids are mean. Sometimes kids are bullies.
In this situation, my kid was the target of the bullying and my heart broke for him. He hugged me so tight when he finally admitted these kids put him down a lot. As he spoke I felt as though relief began to blanket over him.
I handled this reality in the best way I knew how. First, I asked him to seek out new friends. Sounded like he was trying to fit in with kids who didn't make him feel good. Real friends accept us as we are, they do not put us down and make us feel as if was have to change. We processed the feelings that came with the concept of fitting in and talked about all the other kids he's known through the years - kids he can play with in class or at recess that enjoy his company and vise versa.
Next, we talked about him standing up against bullying by fully ignoring the taunts (while also NOT believing them), speaking up against taunts, or point blank asking the boys to stop and defending himself. All of the above can be hard for a third grader, or anyone really, but all are needed.
The hubby also chimed in with you need to defend yourself and be strong! The husband came to the conversation with a firm approach as I treaded gently. I thought it was well balanced and together we felt we had prepared our son to face picture day with a new haircuts as his "bullies" awaited him at school.
My son was cautious, emotional and clearly worried about heading to school. I reassured him and poured all the love I could over him, but I didn't rescue him. I wasn't going to be one of those parents that called the school or headed over demanding answers. I wanted him to face this on his own (though we did offer a little with our help). I asked his teacher to keep an eye on this issue via email and she was so very supportive! She really said all the right things.
Finally, I ran into my son's amazing school counselor the very morning my son was dreading school. She offered up great straightforward advice. Our son would need to seek out new friends, talk to her if he was continuing to struggle and practice assertiveness. She directed us to have him practice being assertive in the mirror (such a great tip!).
Even better, her words seemed to mirror how we had handled our son's revelation of being bullied, so we as parents, felt we were on track and should continue as we began advising our son. We needed to continue showing love, listening actively, encouraging he express himself and defend himself, too.
Picture day was over and I rushed to pick up my little dude. I remember saying a prayer to myself as I drove over. I hoped his day had been good and that his haircut worries were a thing of the past and it didn't make him a further target of bullying as he worried it would. I arrived and what's the first thing out of his mouth… "Mom, no one picked on me and no one made fun of my hair today!"
The day was won! Not everyday is won, but we celebrate when we do get the win. Bullying is a very real part of growing up and my hope is to navigate this with all of our children through constant communication, modeling kindness and practicing assertiveness!
Do you know a child who was bullied?
How are you handling this very delicate issue with the kids you love?!?