It’s a pretty simple idea in out house that was born out of necessity. A few weeks ago Oliver, who is in 1rst grade and weighs all of 40 lbs soaking wet, came home with a huge scab on his forearm. Apparently some older kid pinned him against the fence and wouldn’t let him go. Oliver said it hurt and he was scared. He had no idea what started it, just that he was playing a game with some other 1rst graders and the fence was “base” and then boom. A few days later, I heard from another parent that another 1rst grader was twisting other kids arms and stomping on feet. Those who had been hurt were scared and confused because this kid is their friend. I asked my boys if they had seen this behavior and they said they had. Hadn’t happened to them yet, but they had seen this kid act out that way when he/she didn’t get what they wanted (trying to not give away any identities, hence the gender neutral approach).
Enough was enough. I was getting elementary school flashbacks. Not for me, about my brother.
I have never been bullied in my life. I am sure people tried to make fun of me. My mother dressed us as if we were children from 1940′s England, because apparently her only frame of reference is her own. I didn’t eat pizza until grade 5 (We never had that during the war!) and didn’t own a pair of jeans until grade 6 (No one wore those during the war!). Yes, my house was exactly like a Monty Python skit and so I am sure I was pretty weird to the other kids. However, any nasty crap that was dished out, I just refused to take. Once when I was in 4th grade some 6th grader told the whole school he was going to beat me up. I’m not sure of my exact words, but they were something like,”Bring it on baby. I’ve got a lot of rage built up living with Miss. Havisham and I’m willing to let it loose on you.” Or something like that. I was waiting for him after school, but he never showed.
I really believe those that torment can spot the weak. Like a thief they are looking for the easy house, the one without an alarm or a dog. Sadly, that was my brother. Unable to rise above the weird “God save Queen and Empire” essence that followed us everywhere, he was bullied mercilessly. Ridiculed and beat up almost daily. Teachers used to walk him home from school (why it never occurred to my mother to go pick him up is beyond me, but I’m guessing they didn’t do that during the war either). My brother is 4 years older. When he was in grade 6 and I was in grade 2, I walked him home. For protection. Because bullies left me alone. My brother never got over it and neither did I, but it has affected us in different ways.
I believe that I have some kind of innate teflon, that instinctively I know how to react to a bully. But I also believe you can teach that stuff. Some kids have innate talent and can draw beautifully the first time they hold a pencil, but others through hard work can develop those same skills. So we ran bully drills at home with the kids. I started explaining exactly what a bully is (someone who makes you feel scared, hurts you, or pushes you). What do you do it you are bullied? Scream at the top of your lungs, “YOU’RE A BULLY, GO AWAY,” and then run and get the teacher. As my kids are almost always together one can run for help while the other screams. We practiced screaming at home (they loved that). And then we put the steps together and I pretended to be the bully. They had to spring into action. We did this maybe 10 minutes a day for 4 days (I can only take so much screaming).
And then it happened. When I picked them up from school on Monday, Victor told me how the kid who has been twisting other kids arms did that to him. Something about taking too long on the slide or whatever. Victor yelled, “My mom says you’re a bully” and Oliver ran to get a teacher who came right away. The other kid started crying. Later that day, Victor was in art class with that same kid, and my sweet son told him/her that their art was really nice. “Why?” I asked. “To make him/her feel better. I thought it might help.”
Kids do things, especially 1rst graders. I get that. Some will punch and some will tease. Maybe they see it on the playground, maybe at home, maybe TV, who knows. Kids push boundaries, that’s how they learn. But if they learn at an early age they can make other kids afraid of them, that is not a good thing. I teach my kids not to hit, not to tease, and if anyone reported to me that behavior was happening, the intervention would be swift.
But I also teach them how to defend them selves. Many people don’t have the innate ability to ward off a bully, but with a little practice they too can be empowered and have the skills to react and stand up for themselves. If my seven year olds can do it, your kids can to! Pass it on.