Bullies

This week, the final week of the semester, the hot paper topic seems to be bullying. I have read papers on bullying and suicide, the role of bullying in school shootings, bullying and Asperger’s, and bullying in prisons. So today, I am revisiting an experience we had with bullying….

My daughter was in kindergarten—riding the bus with elementary students through fourth grade—when she experienced bullying for the first time. It was the first year of public kindergarten in our town, and some important guidelines hadn’t yet been established. In fact, not long after this incident, one of several incidents on our school busses that fall, kindergarteners would be restricted to seats in the front of the bus, so the driver would be able to keep an eye on them….

Because my tiny daughter had a big, second-grade brother on the bus, she rode toward the back to be near him. But one day, not long into the school year, a fourth grade boy got on the bus and sat in the seat with her. He was big and tough and willing to use his size and age to exert his power wherever he could. On this particular day, he exerted his power over my five-year-old daughter.

When the bus stopped to let the kindergarten, first, and second graders off on their playground at school, this fourth grader turned his back, talked to his friends, and refused to budge, purposely blocking my daughter’s exit. By the time the bus drove around the school to the “big kid” playground, my daughter was scared and in tears, knowing she was in the wrong place. When she got off the bus, a fourth-grade safety patrol student came to her rescue, walking her around the building and depositing her with her class.

Not long after, I saw this young bully playing with his friends near our house. “You should really pick on people your own size,” I told him as I walked by. Interestingly, he knew exactly what I was talking about.

“The principal believed me when I told him I didn’t do it,” he responded, his eyes wide and purposefully innocent.

“That’s fine,” I said calmly, still walking. “But my daughter doesn’t know enough about busses and bullies to make up a story like that,” I shrugged, letting him know I knew the truth, and I continued on my way.

His response came about 15 minutes later when the boy’s mother knocked on my door, trembling with anger. “If you ever speak to my son again,” she said, but she didn’t have an end to her threat—you know, the part that is the actual threat. As she went on about the virtues of her son and the fact that she believed his side of the story, her continued threats of “Don’t you ever…” kept trailing off into emptiness. Her son stood behind her, smug and satisfied that his mother was putting me in my place.

When I finally had enough, I turned around, stepped inside, and calmly closed the door, shutting her out and sealing in my family, my home, my peace. I turned to see my children—all three of them, then three, five and seven—wide-eyed and stunned, looking to me for reassurance that this wasn’t as scary as they thought it to be.

“Well,” I said with a sigh and a wink. “Now we know where that boy learned to be a bully, don’t we?” Their little bodies relaxed as they nodded their agreement in unison.

Indeed, children who watch their parents bully others are at risk of becoming bullies themselves. On the other hand, children who have good role models at home… they can change the world for the better!

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