My nine-year-old son was getting bullied
The other night my little boy (who we call Beanie Boo because of his big, dreamy eyes and sweet nature) told me another boy at school was asking him for money.
Every, single, day.
I instantly felt my heart rate go up into protective mama-bear mode.
‘How long has this been going on for?’ I asked him.
‘Lots of weeks mama,’ he said as my heart broke thinking about how long he’d taken to work up to telling me about it.
‘Why is he asking you for money?’
‘It’s all my fault,’ said Finley.
‘It is not your fault – a third-grader should not be asking you for money every day. What happened?’
‘It was a bet that I made and now he’s asking me for one hundred dollars. I said when a bus was coming past, I bet that bus has a moustache. And it didn’t.’
I almost laughed with the innocence of it all – the buses in Sydney have moustaches for Movember — but his obvious distress saddened me deep to the core.
The cruel bullying of the vulnerable permeates every corner of our world these days.
‘Honey, let me tell you something. It is not your fault. That’s just a funny comment – not a real bet. It’s like me saying I bet you can eat all that pizza. Or I bet I can jump higher than you.’
‘Mama he asks me every day and I need you to give me the money. I can’t tell the teacher, cause then he’ll yell at me for being a dobber.’
Bloody hell. A dobber. You can’t win. What’s the point in having a bullying ‘policy’ at schools if kids are terrified of speaking up in the first place?
My poor little lamb. His fragility has always worried me. I don’t want my son to grow up as I did – scared to say no, desperate for people to like me and someone who adjusts boundaries to suit others. But I have changed through some tough life experiences involving adult bullies – and I wanted my son to be strong. Stronger than I was.
Should I step in? Talk to the teacher?
No. I needed to empower him to stand up for himself. My mama-bear fight or flight wanted to pull this mean kid aside in the playground and kick his butt. But, I took a deep breath and said …
‘Finley, you need to tell him no. You need to look him in the eye and look angry and in a loud voice say: do not ask me for that money ever again. If you do I’ll be reporting you to the principal.’
He squirmed, looking at the ground and hugging me said: ‘I don’t think I can.’
‘Yes you can. I know he’s bigger than you but it doesn’t matter. Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you can’t be tough. Like mama is. Small and strong. And just because you’re kind hearted doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for yourself. Stop worrying about whether he likes you are not. He’s not your friend – believe me baby.’
‘And we are going to practise.’
And we did. I asked him for $100 repeatedly and got him to stand up straight, look me in the eye and tell me NO and don’t ever ask me again!
That morning as I dropped him off to school I was panicked inside – would he be able to do it?
I actually wasn’t sure my heart-on-sleeve softie would be able to.
That night I got a phone call from my two children who were at their father’s that night.
‘Mama, I did it. I told Kallam* not to ask me for the money again. And he said he wouldn’t ask me ever again.’
With tears in my eyes but a clear voice I told him: ‘You did it buddy, you stood up for yourself.’
‘No I didn’t mama – I just told him not to do it anymore.’
‘And that my darling,’ I said, ‘Is standing up for yourself. Saying no.’
Oh, and Kallam hasn’t bullied Finley or asked for money since.
*Name has been changed
Should you step in when your child is being bullied?
Psychologist Clare Rowe, says …
- It’s important to step in for your child if they are being bullied. “But you need to be ensure that it really is true ongoing bullying that is happening. For example, that is is targeted, prolonged and impacting your child frequently.”
- For less severe conflict. “Teach children conflict resolution and management skills to see if they can sort it out for themselves. Skills such as standing up for themselves and assertiveness training may also benefit some kids.
- When the bullying behaviour remains problematic. When your child has done everything on their power to resolve and minimise the issue then you are left with no choice but to approach the school and request that they intervene.