I have a TON of schoolwork to do today – and the sheer amount of work in my program will be the subject of a post coming soon (quick snapshot: worker bees forget how much work school is, oh.my.god.) – but the gravity of what today represents is pushing me to write to you all. As some of you know, bullying has been hitting a little too close to home for the last year or so, and I’d like to share a few experiences and thoughts. Read on or exit out… whatever you choose is fine. This one’s for me.
My Bear is 4-1/2 years old, and he is a sweet, bookish child who makes a point of sharing and complimenting and thanking. Every single time he is given something – a lollipop at the doctor or a piece of candy at swimming lessons or a toy – he insists on getting something for his little sister, too. And for 2 years now, he has been the target for aggressive kids. I hate labeling it “bullying.” Whenever I do refer to what happens to him as bullying, the whole thing seems so harsh, so huge… my heart hurts too much. Because he’s 4-1/2 years old.
Think back to when you were that age. Think about how you saw the world and how dramatically things impacted you. Small children go apoplectic about not getting to watch a TV show or fall to the ground in distress when a friend won’t share. Do you remember trying to sort out how you’re supposed to behave in new situations and being just filled with joy from praise?
Now think about being the kid who doesn’t necessarily fit in entirely, the one who tries to play with other kids but who gets tongue-tied or who is a little clumsy or who’s just not as rough-and-tumble. Even little kids can feel awkward. They’re not oblivious as so many people seem to want to believe. And to then have those other kids you want to play with call you names and make fun of your awkwardness and tell you you’re not included and push you down and hit you when the teacher’s not looking and refuse to play with you and ostracize you… Try to think about how that feels to a 4-year old who is just forming an image of his place in the world and his ability to be accepted and loved.
Here’s the kicker, people. From my experience, and this is just my experience, the victim is the one who deals with all the consequences. That’s right. Not the bully. The victim.
Let me give you a few highlights. When Bear was not quite 3, a child in his class (at our former preschool) took to hitting Bear every chance he got. I was never told by a teacher, but rather I started seeing bruises, and Bear acted differently about going to school. When I spoke to the Administrator, she acknowledged the hitting (WTH??) and explained that the other child had developmental challenges. And she left it at “we’ll try to keep the boys apart.” What??? Excuse me??? I’m sorry that the other child has challenges, I truly am, but please tell me what will you be doing to help and correct that child with those challenges aside from just trying to act as a barrier? Because I’ll tell you all, acting as a barrier didn’t work. The bruises kept coming. The consequences were ours alone to bear – Bear’s fear of going to school, Bear’s retreat into himself, Bear’s reluctance to play with other kids, and our ultimate decision to go to another school.
There have been more instances in the year and a half since, even though Bear is at a different school. Like I said, he’s a sweet, gentle and awkward kid, and aggressive children see an easy mark in him. Most recently, a boy has been taunting Bear and calling him names almost every day, much of which I witnessed directly. Let me tell you, it never fails to knock me over seeing such small children act so mean. When I brought it up with the head of the school (again, I had to bring it up, apparently it didn’t merit attention) I was informed that the boy in question is the youngest of three boys, so he’s just acting out. I was told the teacher would try to encourage this boy to be more empathetic. Super. So, because he’s belittled by his brothers, it’s understandable and sort of okay for him to take out his frustration on Bear? I appreciate the effort to try to redirect this child’s thinking, I truly do, but are his parents being told that their child is being mean to another child? Are they expected to help him learn to behave in a more appropriate way? Are there consequences for them if this behavior continues?
Let me give you a final perspective, and then I’ll leave this alone. This has been happening on and off for a while, and since I recognize that Bear’s gentle and awkward demeanor may be at play here, I’ve asked the teachers to help him approach other kids and teach him ways to interact with them, things I’m working on at home, too. To be fair, the teachers are trying, and I appreciate their efforts. However, when we talk about how it’s going, the teachers fall back on the fact that Bear isolates himself, and they seem to see this as the reason these efforts aren’t working, like the isolation is the cause of all of this. Excuse me for seeing things differently, but perhaps this is a learned behavior brought on by all of this cruelty. Perhaps what Bear has learned is that by isolating himself, he protects himself – even temporarily – from the hurt. Perhaps his decision to isolate himself shows that more work needs to be done to reassure him that the other children are learning new ways to interact and that the onus isn’t entirely on Bear to change.
Because in every case, we’ve been given information on what WE need to change and what BEAR needs to change. Not the other child. Not the bully. Nope. Bear. The victim.