The “how was school” question usually gets a pretty standard response at our house. One day, was different. Sprinkled in between stories about P.E. and the lunch menu, my first-grade son told me he cried. A kid knocked down a toy he was playing with at indoor recess and made fun of his name.
There are two sides to every story and indoor recess was making everybody stir-crazy. I told him to shrug it off and stay away from the other kid.
His classmate continued the bullying behavior by making fun of my son’s name almost every day.
I asked my son to tell me about his classmate. Turns out, the student was new and also had a unique name. He probably wanted to make friends but was going about it the wrong way. And, maybe he was a little insecure about his own name. That’s a lot for a first-grader to grasp.
A couple days later, the student called out to my son at recess. He turned and the kid chucked a snowball in his face. I could feel the mom-bear claws coming out.
I asked our son what he did (secretly hoping he’d chucked one back). He said he cried and ran away to tell his friend what happened.
Seriously? Although, what did I expect?
How to respond to a bully
We’re constantly teaching kids to be nice, kind and gentle. Those are all good qualities. But, I hadn’t taught him to stand up for himself. My son was caught. To him, it seemed mean to tell someone else they were being mean.
I asked him what he wanted to do if he hadn’t run away and cried. He wanted to tell his classmate what he said and did wasn’t funny, it hurt and it was mean.
Good. It was life-skill time.
My son needed me to tell him it was okay to stand up for himself and tell his classmate those things.
He stood up for himself and it made him feel better. But, the name calling continued.
Responding to name calling
Our son’s name is Beckett. When he was born, his great grandparents were sure his name was “Bucket.” We probably should have seen the name-calling coming.
We were talking about the situation at dinner and our four-year-old son, Hudson, asked what the other kid was calling Beckett. Beckett said, “Beckett-Bucket-Beckett-Bucket.” Hudson started giggling. Beckett fired back with “Hudson – Dudson” and then Hudson started crying.
We told them both to calm down. Then we made fun of our names. Pretty soon, there was a lot of rhyming and a lot of giggling at the dinner table.
Next time the name calling happened, laugh. Laugh at the other kid like you’re laughing right now.
He did. I asked how his classmate responded and Beckett told me he laughed, too. After that? The classmate didn’t make fun of him again.
We talked to his teacher about everything at conferences and would have let her know sooner if we felt like our son needed us to.
It’s tough to see your kid struggle. But, I knew we could push him on this one and he’d learn to stand on his own two feet a bit more assuredly if we gave him the tools to do so.
Our job isn’t to keep him shielded in the nest. It’s to make sure he has strong wings and knows how to use them. We can’t teach him that if he doesn’t fall down a few times.
What I learned from the bullying situation
- Those mundane conversations are important. Having them every day meant that our son felt like he could tell us about what was going on.
- Our son felt like his classmate was only picking on him. That wasn’t the case. When our son started talking to his friends about it, they all felt less alone.
- Teaching your kid to stand up for themselves and others can start young
- We wanted to make sure his teacher knew partly to protect our son but also to make sure he didn’t start modeling the behavior.