Bully, Bullying – the buzzword heard across playgrounds all over. I personally hate this word. It’s overused and often used incorrectly. Bullying is not just a one-time mean phrase thrown out on the playground. It is an imbalance of power, where one person or group of people appears to have power over another. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. I am really disheartened to share that it is happening literally in my backyard.
Let me set the scene- we live in a decent neighborhood, for a while there were no little kids. Older parents with high school and college aged kids dominated the block. When my son was a baby, I was so excited to see that two houses down a young couple expecting their first child was moving in. Then next door a new family moved in with their young son and new baby. All boys, I remember thinking how great it was that my son was going to have three friends to play with!
Well, that excitement did not last long. As the kids got older it was very clear that my son was the outsider of the group. It’s extra heartbreaking because he so badly wants to be a part of this group, especially since he is an only child and doesn’t have “built-in” playmates. The neighborhood boys are always playing together and my son always watches from the outside. From flat-out saying “we don’t want to play with you”, to mean comments in front of the parents; the boys even hide when they see us pull up in the driveway. My son is often ignored when we leave the house for the day. And they tease him for playing with the new little girl in the neighborhood. They endlessly tease him for being her friend, to which I’ve replied, “why wouldn’t he want to play with her…she is nice to him!” To summarize, it has been made perfectly clear that my son is not welcomed by this group of boys.
The bullying in my own backyard reached a head on one of those random warm days in March. My little guy attempted to play with them one more time. Within about twenty minutes, he was running back to the house crying. One of the boys had pushed him into the brick walls of the house, then when he fell they stood around laughing at him. This dynamic clearly took a turn for the worse from teasing and mocking to physical aggression. When I confronted them about this incident, the eldest boy, (who is nearing middle school age), admitted to laughing at someone being hurt.
This was the final straw. In the past, talking with one set of parents worked, while it didn’t with the other. When approaching the parents about this particular incident, I explained how much my son loves playing with their child, when he is being nice. They are in the same grade and have friends in common. I mentioned how the boys don’t always get along, especially when the other kids are playing. I know my son is not always innocent in arguments, but the ganging up on him has to stop. Especially when it turns to physical aggression.
Thankfully, this mom was and is completely understanding and supportive. We both promised to watch the boy more closely and intervene as needed. The most important part of this conversation was that I was able to bring my concerns about the other boys to her. The one, is quite a bit older than our 3rd graders, and I am not sure that he is the most positive influence on them. While she disagreed on that point, she agreed to encourage her son to be kinder and inclusive. Shortly after our discussion, her son shared that he really does like playing with my son, but the other boys don’t and encourage him to be mean. If only the other set of parents were open to talking!
For now, we soak up the time he can play with the other third grader! They play nerf wars and he comes swimming with us. They often play together with sister, too. I encourage my son to play with the girl down the street. I try to prevent or distract him from interaction with the other boys.
The best way I prevent him from being bullied in our neighborhood is to keep him busy and away from engaging in the mess. We focus on his friendships from summer camp, sports and school. We are constantly busy.
I encourage these nontoxic, supportive friendships over the ones that make my child feel like he isn’t “cool” enough. (Let’s be honest, you get enough of that in high school!)
Every child deserves to experience true childhood friendship- not the heartbreak of bullies. Have you had to deal with bullies? How did you handle it?