Confronting a Bully

Something happened this week that completely shook me. I received a call from the school’s psychologist telling me that there had been a bullying incident involving my son and three other boys. My heart skipped a beat upon hearing those words. So many questions immediately flew into my mind:

“Is he hurt?”

“Did he do something to another child?”

“Was my son the bully?”

“Is he in trouble?”

“Was he ganged-up on?”

My son at five.

I waited with bated-breath for her next words: your son is fine. I exhaled. She went on to explain that normally the principal would be calling me—as is done when anything bullying-related occurs—but she wanted to talk to me herself. She was very impressed with my son. She told me that he handled himself wonderfully, and that he expressed his emotions in such detail and with such clarity for a seven year-old that she wanted to tell me herself how impressed she was with him.

My eyes welled with tears.

For the duration of the call, my emotions remained on a roller-coaster—I was elated that a she was complimenting my son, and yet I was still on edge as to what had actually happened. In the end, I was struck speechless, unable to formulate a single question. We hung up after just a few minutes, and I returned to my work. My nerves felt raw, and all I could do was repeatedly glance up at the clock to see if it was time to go pick him up—the minutes ticked by so slowly.

For the next two hours, my mind drifted to images of an older version of my son. I saw him as a teenager, and yet the picture became hazy when I tried to imagine him being confronted by bullies. Even at the young age of seven, I had already spent many hours talking with him about bullies: how they might act, what they might say, and what he should do in various scenarios. During this brief time—as I wondered what had happened—I realized that it’s possible that I have had a false sense of security when it comes to my son.

He was born in November and is therefore older than most of the kids in his grade. He is also bigger than children his own age—and many children who are older than him—not just in height but in his overall physical strength. Because of this, I have always felt it was important to talk to him about being kind, especially to those who are smaller than him. He has also been learning taekwondo for almost two years, and has his high-red belt. This sport has taught him self-defense, fighting techniques, and—most importantly—discipline. In the back of my mind, I have always thought these things would protect him as no one would be crazy enough to try to hurt him.

But there is more than one way to be hurt by someone. I started playing the conversation with the psychologist over again in my mind. She told me what my son had told her about the incident: he explained that when his heart feels broken by what someone does, he reacts with anger. He went on to explain that once he is able to express his feelings, then he just feels sad and will sometimes cry. My son is incredibly sensitive, and not just in reaction to what people might do or say to him. When he recognizes that someone around him might be sad, stressed, angry, happy, hurt, or worried, he feels it and wants to do something to make it all better. He feels what others feel, and it affects him deeply.

More than anything, I wanted to go to the school to see for myself that he was okay.

I was finally able to hear what happened when I picked him up a little while later: he and two of his friends were fooling around while walking back to their classroom after recess. Another boy wanted to join in, so he decided to kick my son’s friend in the butt, thinking that it was in jest. The boy was taken off-guard, and was understandably angry at being kicked. My son and his friends began yelling at the boy, which led to shoving and a lot of heated emotions.

When I knew he was fine—not permanently scarred by the incident—I cried in relief. My son’s main concern was that I would be angry with him—which I assured him, I was not. He told me that everything was fine with his friends, and he “just wants everyone to get along.”

It’s possible that I may have overreacted—it’s been known to happen. That being said, I am thankful for the reminder that I need to talk to my son more about the emotional fall-out of bullying, not just the physical. If I were to give advice to my son at this moment, I would say that people—especially children—often say things they don’t mean when they are angry. He should never take these words to heart, no matter how much they might sting. I believe that cruel words come from a place of insecurity, and that he should feel sorry for the person saying them rather than ever let them affect how he thinks about himself.

Published by Erin Rehill

A few years ago, my then eight-year-old daughter told me that she wished I could write down all the things I told her so that she wouldn’t forget them when she got older. In that moment, my daughter gave me such a sense of validation, something I hadn’t really experienced in that way. As parents, we don’t often receive confirmation from our children that we are doing a good job, or that we even know what we are talking about. Since that time, I’ve started to pay more attention to the things I tell her, often thinking to myself “Will she remember this when she is older?” So, this is for her, my words of advice to be read, thought about, laughed at, and maybe even used, when she is older.

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  1. It sounds like you have raised a smart and emotionally strong boy. I can’t fathom having to receive that call (as my son is only 2), but imagine it will come someday. My son was also born in November and is much bigger than his friends born around the same time, as I always was too. I guess there will be some extra preparation going into getting him ready when it’s time for school.
    Great post. I really felt like I was sitting there with you.

    1. Thanks so much for this comment, especially the part about “sitting with” me. It was the nicest thing anyone has said about my writing in a long time.

  2. As I started to read my heart pounded. Somehow the mother instinct kicked in. I would have reacted or felt the same way as you did. Thanks for raising a good boy and standing up to bullying. We need more of those in our society.

  3. It sounds like you have done exactly what you should in talking with your son about bullies. I am in knots over having this discussion with my son, who is only three right now. He is the opposite of yours: little but still sensitive. Bullying is terrifying. I’m happy he’s okay.

  4. My daughter was bullied last year. She didn’t tell me about it for a while and when I found out my mind felt like it was spinning out of control. I do not think you overreacted. No reaction or just saying something like, “boys will be boys” is much worse. He’s lucky to have a mom who is aware that boys need support in emotional development just as much as girls.

    1. I can’t even imaging how I’d feel if I found out that either of my children had been bullied, and didn’t want to talk about it. How old is your daughter? Did it get resolved on it’s own, or did you have to intervene? The mom of the boy who had started the incident called me the other day to apologize for her son. She told me that during that week, she had gotten a call from the principal twice, and that she just cried and cried. I truly felt for her, and it honestly gave me a new insight into the issues with bullying. I always assumed it was due to bad parenting, but now I know that sometimes the parents are also unaware—on all sides.

      Thank you for your honesty.

  5. Bullying is such a scary thing, especially these days, but I was relieved to get to near the end of your post to hear he was ok and that he and you have made him into such a caring person. I am pretty sure if anyone tries to bully my kids I will lose my mind…so it’s good to read about people being a bit ahead of us and how they handle the topic…but just overall glad little man is ok.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I so wish that this wasn’t something anyone had to deal with. Being mean to one another is just. so. unnecessary. Maybe if people keep talking about it, someday it will just stop. I hope.

  6. I came because of Yeah Write, but I will return because I truly enjoyed this post.
    I am the Mom of two boys. I read your story and held my breath, as I wondered about the future of my boys (6 and 7). Thank you for sharing your experience and the experience of your son.

  7. Bullying is something that sits with me all the time. I worry about it because as our kids get older, they can’t leave it at school anymore. It follows them online, via text etc…It’s hard to be able to protect them completely, but I think taking a proactive approach is good. Opening up dialogue about it and revisiting the topic as needed is important. It sounds like you’re doing a great job with your son and he sounds like a great kid! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your post on my FB page!

    1. Online bullying is a huge fear for me, too. I’ve already started talking to my daughter about letting her friends take random photos of her with their phone. She should be aware that they could end up online. You’re right, we just need to keep talking…and talking…and talking.

  8. Great writing first off on my little comment.
    I am a little bit like a seven year old and reading more than one minute or two tops on a blog is difficult for me. But you kept this reader engaged the whole time.

    Yeah for the Martial Arts! My oldest is a 2nd degree black belt and actually has saved a life.
    Thanks for writing from the heart.

    1. Wow, 2nd degree! How old is your son? That’s quite an achievement. I believe that taekwondo has been so beneficial for my son, especially the learning of respect. Without a doubt, this has had an impact on how he behaves at school. Thanks so much for the comment.

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