This is my son. This picture was taken on his first day of Kindergarten. Eager. Excited. A little nervous. But ready.
Ready to take on the alphabet. Count by 2s. Learn how pumpkin seeds grow. Watch chicks hatch. Eat apple sauce at snack time.
But not ready to take on a bully. Little did he know that a bully was lurking. Ready to make his Kindergarten life miserable.
I asked my son if I could share his story. He said it was OK because it might help other parents and children.
Not long into Fall, a freckle-faced, fellow Kindergartener started teasing him. Bugging him. Saying mean and hateful things. The bully would twist his arm when they lined up, so hard that it left bruises. Sometimes bloody fingernail marks.
The bully knew how to push buttons and hurt feelings. He made fun of the way my son talked. And imitated him to the point that my son stopped talking at recess, for fear of being ridiculed.
My son had a little delay in pronouncing a few sounds. Typical for a child of his age. “W” for the letter “L.” “Train” would be pronounced “twain.” “Rs” were hard to pronounce. “Car” would be pronounced “cah.” He qualified for speech class with a speech pathologist once a week to help clear things up. (Fast forward one year later, my son “graduated” from speech…no more baby talk!)
It wasn’t only my son who was affected. The bully poked another student in the face with a pencil. Her parents didn’t speak out. I also found out the bully bruised another child’s wrist. The parents remained quiet.
You may think, “Boys will be boys.” But is it OK for your son:
- to come home from school with his wrist bruised?
- to cry before school, saying he didn’t want to go ever again?
- to be scared to line up after recess, always looking over his shoulder?
Enter Mama Bear.
Deep down, I envisioned me transforming into Peyton from The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, who goes up to a bully in a playground, twists his arm, and snarls, “Leave Emma alone. If you don’t I’m gonna rip your f—–g head off.” But I thought turning into a bully would be going against my mission.
Every day, I would talk to my son at length. Prod him with questions. What did you do at recess? Who did you play with? What happened? Did you find a teacher on duty to talk to? Who did you sit by on the bus? How did lunch go? I needed to find out what was happening. How he was feeling. What were his responses to the bully.
I knew that as a parent and mother, I needed to take action. I started by giving him words to say. To empower himself with the bully. Simple words such as “Leave me alone.” We practiced. Practiced saying it loud and strong.
That wasn’t enough.
I talked with the teacher…
I talked with the guidance counselor…
I talked with the principal…and wrote her a letter detailing the incidents and demanded that it become part of the bully’s permanent school record.
Actions were finally taken. The bullying stopped.
Several months later, Kindergarten became more like Kindergarten. My son was ready to go to school in the morning. To cut paper snowflakes. To learn about Martin Luther King Jr. and Eric Carle and Sacagawea. To see the chicks hatch in the Spring. To learn how to say “thank you” in Spanish.
Communication and persistence were key.
Our children need us for support. Our children need us for direction. Our children need us to empower them. And sometimes, our children need us to take action and be their voice.
Because sometimes, little voices are hard to hear.