It happened. My son got in the car and said it, “the kids are mean to me.” I could feel my insides burn with anger and sadness thinking of his feelings and the impact they will have on his future. We talked about ways to deal with this and it passed. I made it a point not to bring it up so as to not draw too much attention on some bullying in the playground. I quietly admitted to myself that it won’t impact his scholarship applications and his self-esteem could handle it.
Then, a year later, I found myself on the other side. “Mom,” my sweet son said, “Johnny has buck teeth.” I was driving so he couldn’t see the anger in my face. I took a few deep breaths and thought to myself: I will not raise a bully. I was careful with my words but it was hard because I was freaking pissed. I said things like, “How would that make you feel?” and “How dare you say that about someone else?” He kept stating it like it was a fact and not an insult, but I just said it’s unacceptable. Looking back, I’m pretty sure he had no idea what was upsetting me.
In today’s society, whether it’s the mean girls at work, or a group of moms shaming a different group of moms, bullying has become a common practice to assert some sort of power or authority. If I am being truly honest, I find bullying to be more rampant in adults than I do with children so I am not completely surprised where kids may be picking up this behavior. Whether the behavior lives on social media where mom-bashing is a norm, or at the workplace where coworkers intimidate others, we need to take a real look at the example we are setting. Bullying exists at all ages and we need to model behavior that’s inclusive and accepting of everyone around us.
I know that as humans, we are eager to make connections with others. While we may not purposefully leave people out, sometimes we do and sometimes, our children may notice this behavior. After spending a few hours processing what my son said in the car, I really wanted to be deliberate on how I handle this situation. I came across a book at the library for kids titled, Bullying. We read it together and it really resonated with him. We talked about how he has felt before when he felt bullied. We discussed how someone may feel when they are bullied. After we finished the book, I explained that saying Johnny has buckteeth may be hurtful. He seemed to understand. I asked him his plan for dealing with Johnny; he said he would ask Johnny if he wanted to play with him.
I know this is the first of many parenting challenges I will face but I am glad I was able to communicate, address it, and talk to my son about his behavior. Sometimes, we get complacent about the things our kids say and other times, we get aggressive. My hope is that you acknowledge that bullying is everyone’s problem and take your part in helping stop it by being a kind person and an even better role model.