My son started being bullied in the second grade. I know that sounds ridiculous. He was too young, I couldn’t possibly believe another child was targeting him. At first I figured my son was being overly sensitive or he and the other child just didn’t get along. It turns out I was wrong. Really, really wrong.
I need to explain my child to you so you can get the full picture. He is the type of child that cried when the teacher did not call on him in class. He seriously believed that the teacher didn’t like him. The reason, because he had his hand raised and she ignored it. Besides being very sensitive, his personality is also very passive and non-confrontational. Picture a sweeter, quieter version of Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. Not exactly relate-able to his peers. The kid is now 12 and is already smarter than me. I mean I have to google answers to his questions all of the time. There are times when he makes my college degree feel worthless! Looking back at it all now, he was a perfect target.
It started out as small things. During second and third grade he would come home and tell me about a boy who called him “stupid” or state that the boy was being “mean” to him. I told him the little boy was wrong to call him names and to stay away from him. At first he was good about telling the teacher when it happened. Then he came home and told me the same child was pinching him under tables and kicking him whenever they were in line and the teacher wasn’t looking. Other kids soon joined in and they would knock things out of his hand or hit him on the back of the head when walking by. He had no friends and when asked about school he would become sad and say he played by himself.
I spoke to his teachers and was assured that my son and this boy were going to be kept separate. Also, the school counselor was going to meet with them and help them work out a plan for class. The school can make all the promises they want, but the teachers can’t see everything. Things were missed and my son’s self-confidence was paying the price. I tried explaining to my son that some children have medical conditions or problems at home that make them act out. As parents we all know people can be assholes, but it is really hard for a child to understand they are not the cause of the asshole’s behavior.
That is when my husband and I decided to place him in martial arts. He desperately needed to feel a sense of control over his environment and himself. I always encouraged him to walk away and get help if needed, but I wanted to know my son could defend himself if it ever came down to it. My greatest fear was that this problem was going to escalate and become more physical. The irrational part of me wanted to tell him it was okay to knock the bully out, but the rational part of me knows that violence only encourages violence. It is a hard realization that I had no control and couldn’t physically protect my child while he was at school.
Fourth grade is when everything escalated. As the school year went on, I noticed my son was becoming more and more withdrawn. He was very quiet and reserved all the time. He finally stopped talking about school all together. He was closing himself off emotionally and I was becoming scared. I kept in contact with his teacher. I kept telling him he was doing the right thing by walking away from the bullies and going to an adult to get help. I could see his frustration, his anger and his sadness. They ate at me. All I wanted was to take them all away.
The day arrived when it finally became a physical fight. At the end of the school day everyone was walking outside to be picked up. The bully got in my son’s face and was calling him names. My son finally snapped and pushed him away and told him to “shut up.” That is when the bully punched him in the face. The teacher saw this and broke it up. Physically my son was fine and even told me the bully had a”weak punch.” I was beyond pissed and wanted to take out anyone who would dare lay a hand on my son. Obviously I didn’t do that because I am an adult and I had to focus on my son. He was okay physically, but he was broken emotionally.
The words he said to me that day I will never forget, because they broke my heart. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “Mom, is there something wrong with me? Do I need to change who I am?”
My beautiful, bright, uniquely wonderful son felt like who he was at his core, his fundamental self, was wrong. I had failed him as a parent and the school system had failed to keep him safe. With an aching heart and all the love I had to give, I hugged him and said, “You are perfect exactly the way you are. Your Dad and I love everything about you. Never try to change yourself for someone else, ever!” Afterwards I went to my room and cried, my heart breaking for my son. The next day I took action. I asked his teacher to meet me outside of school, because I needed answers to my questions. I needed to make the best possible decisions for my son. I refused to fail him again.
I found out that the teacher had been sending incident reports regarding the behavior of the children and bullying. This should of resulted in some form of disciplinary action, but the principal was lenient. Apparently only the principal, vice principal and/or security officer can physically restrain or remove a child. I asked her if she felt her classroom was a safe and learning friendly environment, since she didn’t have any real control over it. She told me, “no, not always.” I asked her if my best option would be to send him to another school. She told me that if it was her son, she would. That I had a “creative, intelligent and sweet child” and that his school environment could be preventing him from flourishing.
After going above the principal (who no longer holds his position after that year) and switching schools, I started noticing positive changes in him. He began to smile more and talk about school and kids in his class. At parent/teacher conferences last year, his new teacher told me he was one of her top students, had a group of friends and a fun sense of humor. I started to cry out a sense of relief and happiness. Seeing him start to lead a normal school life was so uplifting. I was worried for the longest time that he would have permanent damage from what I could only call a traumatic experience. He is still wary around new children until he gets to know them, but is able to socialize normally. He even has a second degree brown belt. We are very luck his story had a happy ending. I share my son’s story, because I want parents to be aware that it isn’t always a matter of kids being kids and the damage caused by bullies may not always be so easy to fix.