Your Kid is a Bully

Ugh.  This might get ugly.

Yesterday Kid D came off of the school bus on the brink of tears.  Again.  The same kid who has been picking on him off-and-on all school year was now telling him that he was going to beat him up.  This time another kid (who is supposed to be Kid D’s friend) joined in.  Kid D was really upset.  So am I.

There is no easy fix for this problem.

Most of my kids have always been tiny in stature, right up until about 5th grade.  Then they shoot up like magic beanstalks.  But until then they are tiny.  And tiny attracts bullies and harassers.  Kid A (a girl) got punched in the face by a boy in 2nd grade.  Kid B had a girl in her third grade class who just would not leave her alone… petting her hair and constantly poking her to get her attention, calling our house nine or ten times in a row and asking if she had gotten home from school yet.  Kid C endured two bullies last year  – one boy then one girl.  The girl was actually much worse.

Fortunately my kids came to me and let me know what was going on from the start.  Even though I instinctively want to fix things for them I know it is important that they learn to handle stuff on their own, so I always start by reminding them of a few things.

Bullies are not born.  They are created.  Usually by other bullies.  Have a little compassion, but not too much.  People – even kids – are responsible for their actions.

Stand up for yourself.  Most bullies will back down if you challenge them. (Except the boy who punched Kid A in the face.  He was just a jerk.  What kind of boy hits a girl?)  Look them in the eye, say their name and tell them exactly what you want them to stop doing.  Right now.

If they don’t stop, tell a grown up.  Now, this is where I kind of straddle the fence.  I don’t think that parents or teachers need to get involved right away, but I do think it is important that they be informed and aware so that they can keep an eye on the situation.  And somebody needs to get involved if the bullying continues.  I really think that kids need to be empowered and learn to stand up for themselves when they are being wronged.  If they don’t assert themselves then they could suffer from confidence issues, anxiety, irrational fears and end up letting people walk all over them later in life.  Nobody wants that.  But nobody wants their kid to be picked on either, so sometimes it is necessary for an adult to become involved and to guide them through.

In the past I have tried to have the kids handle the situation on their own.  Sometimes this works, but sometimes it doesn’t.  A few times I have called the teacher and/ or the bullies’ parents.  It is uncomfortable for everyone, but I felt it was necessary in each circumstance.  One parent was extremely helpful and compassionate, got involved and the bullying stopped right away.  Another parent was completely defensive, even though the teacher had observed her child harassing mine on several occasions.  Not such a great outcome that time, but the teacher put an end to it quickly.

I don’t know yet how I’m going to proceed with the current situation.  Kid D just came off the bus again and said that the bullying continues.  The second kid didn’t join in this time, but one is all it takes.  I don’t want to watch my confident, vibrant son turn into someone who is scared of his own shadow.  I don’t want to watch him be the victim.  But I also do not want him getting into a fist fight at six years old.  This is not “kids just being kids.”  It is wrong and I want to do something about it.

If you see me at the grocery store or the bus stop, don’t bother asking as I will not tell you who this bully is.  What I will say is that every one of our school-aged children has now experienced different forms of bullying and it is not pretty.  We will continue to discuss ways of coping with our kids.  We will also teach them how to defend themselves and do what is necessary in threatening situations.  Hopefully they will come out relatively unscathed.  But realize that bullying happens and you shouldn’t assume that your kid isn’t involved.

Maybe everyone should talk to their kids about bullying.  Let them know that is not something that they should suffer through in silence and it is certainly not something that is acceptable from them or their friends or their siblings.  Ask them if they have ever been bullied or if they have ever been bullies themselves.  You just might be surprised at their answers.

" I got a message for you, Roth! LEAVE EMMA ALONE! Look at me - if you don't, I'm gonna rip your f-ing head off!" - Peyton, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (1992)

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Bring It

Kid B is playing soccer again this season.  But instead of the Christian recreational league that she has played in for something like six or seven seasons, she is now playing in a gimme-all-your-money, drive-all-over-the-land, players-are-gonna-elbow-you-in-the-developing-boobs-when-the-ref-isn’t-looking, hard-core league.  Well, it sure is different.

There was a fair amount of ability in the old league.  Players ranged from novice to experienced and they did a good job of spreading the talent out amongst the teams so none of them was stacked unfairly.  There was one practice and one game a week.  The coaches were unpaid (and usually parent) volunteers, some of whom knew what they were doing and some not so much.  The kids played all positions and didn’t really focus too much on plays, strategy or anything more advanced than basic skills.  Kid B is extremely athletic and can kick a goal with her cannon foot from mid-field, so she was very much a big fish in the little rec league pond.

We had planned to eventually go to a more competitive league at some point, but – as things go – we never quite figured out which one to join, nor did we really want to leave the comfort and familiarity of the nice church sponsored league.  But then I got a call one day this summer from one of the long-standing, knows-what-he-is-doing, rec league coaches who said they were forming a third string team in a local competitive league, and that team needed good players.  Baby bird was getting a little shove out of the nest.  So we got Kid B to try-outs that night and she was offered a spot on the team.

At this point Kid B has been to a pretty intensive soccer camp and has been attending twice weekly practices, where the (paid and – I believe – European, which is much more soccer-y) coach has the girls run real drills, laps, and other necessary conditioning exercises that bring these twelve-year-olds up to a fitness level where they can at least stand on the field for an hour-long game, and some of them could even run most of that time.  Kid B can get pretty intense when she plays sports.  She usually reported after practices that her team was looking pretty good and she was excited for the season to start.

Then last weekend they played in an Atlanta area soccer tournament.  They had three games scheduled (two on Saturday and one on Sunday), with the possibility of a fourth game on Sunday if they played well throughout the tournament.  Sheepdog took Kid B because I had house projects to do (and, let’s face it, Mama likes to sleep in on Saturday mornings).  He kept me posted on the games via text messages:

Sheepdog: Losing 2-0.  Red (Kid B’s) team has lots to learn.
Me: Is she playing well?
Sheepdog: Not many opportunities.  Blue has been near our goal most time.  She needs to move and hustle more.
Sheepdog: Kid B on bench.  3-0.
Sheepdog: It’s like Blue is kicking the ball and Red is tapping it.  Kid B back in.
Me: Good Lord she’s gonna be in a foul mood.  I don’t envy you.
Sheepdog: Kid B is in goal and they just scored.  Not much she could have done.
Sheepdog:  Kid B just had a great save.
Sheepdog: We’re on our way home.  Horrible.

So, Kid B’s team lost both games on the first day, and they apparently did it in spectacular fashion.  In addition, since Kid B was usually the (relatively) most aggressive and the tallest one on the field (she towers over her classmates, sometimes by a whole head), her opponents often targeted her and managed to nail her in the side and in the back with some elbows quite a few times without getting caught by the officials.  Kid B was indeed in a foul mood and she was extremely frustrated about her situation.

We have to be careful with Kid B, as she does not respond to criticism (even the constructive kind) very well.  I could tell, as she sat there with her ibuprofen and her ice packs, that she was missing the comfort of the league where players graciously stopped play for someone to tie their sneakers and asked if you were okay if they had kicked the ball anywhere near your personal space.  She was tentative about being “mean” to other players or getting caught by the referees, even if she was just defending herself.  But if she was going to progress in soccer as she says she wants to, she needed to grow up.  Not everybody is going to ask W.W.J.D.? before taking a tight shot for a goal.

Sheepdog and I had the same advice for her.  He told her, “Play hard.  Be aggressive.  Kick it like you mean it.  Don’t go out on the field ready to hurt someone intentionally, but (like in a Walmart parking lot at night) be aware of your surroundings.”

And I added, “If you see someone coming at you with her bony elbow poking out, protect yourself subtly with your own pointy elbow, laugh out loud and shake your head at her while you whisper just loudly enough for her to hear, ‘Bring it, bitch.’  Most bullies will back down when confronted.  Then you use your foot cannon to take it to the goal.”

That kid's not playing in any church league. She's wearing concussion-protection headgear. Go Green!

The next day Kid B did just that.  Her team still lost (this is going to be a long season), but her coach commented to the rest of the team that Kid B was the only player who gave as good as she got.

Maybe I should offer to hold a “Bring It” seminar for all of the girls.  I bet that’d go over well.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…