Saturday, April 20, 2013

How My Son's Bully Taught Me a Thing or Two About Kindness

Act #110:  Seek to change the outcome.

At first my motives were less than honorable.  I just wanted my son to love school again.  For the first six months of his kindergarten career we were thrilled that he was flourishing and eager to go to school every morning.  He was skipping through reading levels, excelling in math and science, developing playground friendships, and forming a close bond with his homeroom teacher.   Mind you, this was the same child who couldn't read a single word, literally hid under my dress every time he met a stranger, and couldn't even open his own Ziplock bag when he first started school.  Then all of a sudden one day he told us that he didn't feel like going to school anymore.  After a whole lot of digging, we soon isolated his sudden dislike of kindergarten to one factor:  a "big kid" in his class named "Alex" (obviously his real name is not being used here).  Come to find out, Alex was placed in recess line behind him daily.  When his teachers weren't looking, Alex would pull the hair on my son's scalp so hard that he cried.  Sometimes on the playground, Alex would push him into the mulch.  Sometimes he would hit him.  We responded like any parent would, we attempted to teach our passive son some respectful ways to create boundaries and to protect himself, and we asked him to alert his teachers each time this happened.  We also talked to his teacher and asked her to keep a closer eye on our son.  But nothing worked and it didn't stop.  Finally one day I simply had enough.  I didn't want the next 12 years of my kid's perspective towards education to be skewed by this rotten bully of a kid who clearly didn't know who Jack's mom was.  It all came to a boiling point when I walked Jack to his daily assembly and nudged him to sit in the next open spot in his kindergarten line, and he refused to do so.  He looked as pale as a ghost and he pulled me aside and whispered as softly as he could - I don't want to sit next to Alex.   Enough was enough.  So I marched straight over to Alex, in full protective mom mode, ready to confront my son's first bully.  He was playing on the gym floor with another boy and didn't see me coming.  Towering over him, I tapped him lightly on the shoulder, You're Alex, right?  And then the bully looked up at me.  And smiled the sweetest toothless boyhood smile I had ever seen aside from my own kid's smile.  I was taken back at how much larger his build was than my petite-framed son.  I'm not sure what I was expecting - maybe some demon-child with horns growing out of the top of his head?  That would've been so much easier.  But instead I looked down on this child, whose eyes had the innocence of a baby, and who looked up at me curiously trying to figure out why I was taking an interest in him.  Pleased that someone was taking an interest in him.  So my well-rehearsed speech aimed to ask him to leave my son alone suddenly made no sense, and instead I asked Alex what he wanted to be when he grew up.  I told him I believed he could be a fireman one day.  I then asked him for a favor - to keep an eye out for Jack and asked him if he could be a friend to him.  I then told him I was counting on the fireman to be kind to his classmates, and I left for work.  The next week when I dropped Jack off, Alex's eye caught mine, and his entire face lit up.  And that is the day that my son's bully asked me for a hug.  So I awkwardly gave the kid who torchures my kid a hug.  Alex would ask me for a hug every day thereafter. We have somewhat of a morning routine now where I hug and kiss Jack good-bye, and drop him off with his friends in his place in line.  Then I walk over to Alex, give him a hug, tell him he's an awesome kid, and ask him to be kind to his friends.  He always promises me that he will be.  Alex's teacher later told me that his only father-figure, his 58 year-old grandfather died recently.  My son's bully is no longer his bully.  They aren't exactly best friends, but Jack regularly reports that Alex is no longer mean to him, and he also doesn't see Alex being mean to the other kids either. 

My son is excited about going to school again, and I get to start my day out basking in the presence of not one, but two spirited young boys who will be reminded daily that they have the capacity to love, and to be loved.
 
 

14 comments:

  1. So beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks for reading Trish. The experience certainly humbled me beyond belief.

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  2. I love that your empathy won out and that empathy had the power to transform this situation.

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    1. "Alex's" toothless smile made it easy to do so :-)!

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  3. I cannot help but respond as a mother of a black (not to bebe discounted) large and too-strong preschooler completely afraid of his lack of impulse control, his lack of real understanding of what he does and how what he does will form what other think of him and how this will shape who he understands himself to be...

    Thank you. To remember that to be a parent of one child is to be a parent to all children is such an important thing to remember. And to remember that one child's bully is another parent's worry means more than you could know.

    - Amy...a pastor who strives daily to help her big strong son to learn to be a protector instead of a bully and is terrified that he won't learn in time.

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    1. Thank YOU, Amy for reminding us that every child is a gift. Your story reminds me of a toddler in my son's daycare. He was so much bigger than the rest of the kids and didn't know his own strength (he was only 2!) I watched him sit on kids, whack them around unintentionally, etc. and always worried in the back of my mind how he might be perceived based on his size/race (he was African-American) even though he acted like every other toddler in that class!

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  5. Oh Mae!! Such a beautiful story. So true that if bullying continues whether from kids or parents, the cycle continues. It is amazing to see that you've truly made a difference.

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    1. That boy has touched my life beyond belief!

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  6. I love following your blog, and this is my favorite post so far. Such an important reminder about what children--and difficult adults in our life as well!--need. Thank you!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words - it was a humbling life lesson for me!

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  7. Never yet met a kid who didn't desperately desire (however *secretly*) to be a Good Kid, a Special, Praiseworthy Kid. Some kids simply haven't been shown how to be a friend; some are simply too Hungry/Angry/Lonely/Tired to be a friend.
    Good for you, Plain Jane, for seeing the Good Kid in "Alex," and coaching him on how to see it in himself.
    Your son is cherished and he is well-tended, and he will always carry an aura of cherished, well-tendedness that those kids, who are *not*, will be able to sense immediately. It's as if they could SMELL it on him. And they will be drawn to interact with him, because they simply want to have what he has.
    So it's a good thing for you -and your son- that you're practicing positive, productive intervention now, because I suspect you'll need to do it again in the future. :/ ♥

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    1. You mean, I have to hug a new kid every school year all the way up to 12th grade???!!! ;-)

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