The harsh reality is that almost everyone will experience bullying at some point in their life, and it sucks, but what do you do when it happens to your kid? As a Dad, how do you react?
Let me first start with my childhood. I had sticks thrown at me, I was punched, name called, and even had posters made to make fun of me, and posted around my high school. I was lucky that I had my group of close friends, and I really just ignored the rest and wasn’t bothered by it much, but Facebook and Twitter and cell phones weren’t around “In the olden days” as my 7 year-old daughter would say. It was easy to leave behind.
The thing that has really changed with bullying these days is parent involvement. That’s not a bad thing, but it can have negative effects too. Hear me out. I dealt with my bullies by myself, I never told my parents, I didn’t even talk about it with my friends, unless they saw it happen. I didn’t love that it happened, but it was mild enough that I was ok to handle it myself. I didn’t need anyone’s help. But if I did, I don’t really know who I would have talked to. It wasn’t something anyone really talked about. Bullying has gotten so much worse though, social media can be a nightmare for kids, and it’s not easy to escape like I was able to. There are so many young lives lost, outcomes that could have been different if they had someone to talk to. That’s why I’m writing this. You MUST be the one your child can turn too, about anything, always.
So let’s jump back to the present. My son has been the victim of bullying for the past 3 years, from the same child. It started with small things like having his book bag dumped out on the bus, and his toys thrown out the window, and grew to much more serious incidents including slamming his head against the window, being held down and kicked, and even having hands put around his throat while his life was threatened. I’ve never been a violent person, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get angry, and when I go all papa bear, look out. After the choking/threatening incident, it took over 4 weeks of almost daily phone calls to the school and the school board before an unsatisfactory solution was offered. It was far from perfect but it was better than nothing. Through most of this process, I could see it was causing some stress on my son. He didn’t say much about it. I took it as fear from the bully.
The biggest thing I’ve learned through this process is the importance of talking with your kids, REALLY talking. Find ways to get past the normal “How was school today?”, followed by “Good”. We talk about our favourite and least favourite parts of the day during dinner every night, and that helps. After a few in depth talks with my son, I was informed that he hasn’t told me about several other bullying incidents, because he wasn’t concerned about them. He didn’t get hurt so he shrugged it off. But if I were to call the school, he would have to talk to the principal. That made him nervous, and even a little embarrassed. So he kept quiet, and that’s heartbreaking… and eye opening. The stress he was feeling during my 4 week tirade at the school was as much about the drama as it was about the bully.
Your child may not need you to go steaming into the school losing your mind on the principal. While it might make you feel better, it could actually be hard for your child.
Now I am not saying ignore it, or that bullying is ok. The school needs to know, and they need to be held to a much stronger level of accountability than they are currently. But our children’s emotions count too, and I didn’t consider my son’s feelings. You mess with the cub you get the bear, but he doesn’t always want the bear. He was happy I had his back, but stressed about the drama. I’m not sorry I got involved with the school, it was a serious matter they needed to address, but I’m glad to know how it was making my son feel as well. Being self aware is important. I could have at least gone about it a little more discretely, for his sake.
These conversations with my son really opened the door about how to deal with a bully on his own. If he comes to you on the playground, just walk away. If he calls you names, just walk away. Basically, don’t engage him, just ignore. If all else fails, you can ask for help, and he knows I will be there for him always. This ignore thing really seems to be working though.
We also had long talks about verbal abuse, which I think was harder on him than any of the physical abuse. My wife and I constantly reassured him that the mean and hurtful things said are not true, and that a bully only puts people down to make themselves feel better. This kid doesn’t know you, and he means nothing to you, so don’t let his words control you.
Don’t give him power.
I really enjoyed these conversations. I’m setting him up to be his own man, giving him guidance to make his own decisions… and mistakes. All my initial reactions were to jump in and protect my son from every little thing that could possibly hurt him in life. The thing is, he’s growing up, and doesn’t need me for every little thing anymore.
I am well aware that bullying is not a problem that will go away overnight, but I’m also aware that I can’t always fix it for him. What I can do is teach him from my experiences how to best control the situation and deal with it. If he doesn’t want me to fight his battles for him, I can respect that. But the most important thing is that he knows when he does need me for anything, I am there in a heartbeat. That’s what a being a Dad is really all about. I’m happy to be that man for him.
By Ryan Gregory, DCL Member