Earlier this week, Hayden was bullied at school. I can say the term bullied because it is was not an isolated event. He has been bullied several times this year – which in itself is not a good thing. We have been working with Hayden and the school for these ‘situations’, which has been since Term 1. This week though was the first time something of that nature occurred. We still don’t know exactly who did it. Which is mildly frustrating. I do wish we could find out, not for any other reason than I would want to know that that child is not going to do it again; and that they are ok as it is not a common thing to just urinate on kids clothes.
This week however, I have been amazed at the depth of character in Hayden. He has been sad, and embarrassed for the best part of a week. Monday night he barely slept, instead tossing and turning and having ‘bad’ dreams. Tuesday night he slept marginally better. He did not eat much at all Tuesday or Wednesday – said he felt a ‘bit weird, like I am dazed Mum’. He talked openly about how he was embarrassed by what happened, and how he did not want to do swimming at school for the week. I had a few meetings and conversations with the school. I cannot say they did all that I hoped or that they supported Hayden as well as they could have, but they did listen. I really think they should take a leaf out of Hayden’s book and act with ‘care’ as he would say.
We had a fairly generic apology. Not really specifically aimed at Hayden or myself. More a ‘we know you are sad Hayden, how can we make you happy’ type apology. Which was disappointing, for me; but Hayden did not seem bothered. He was more concerned with making sure it did not happen to anyone else. At one point, he said to the Deputy Principal, ‘if this happens to another kid, please ring their mummy or daddy. Please let the kid know that they can go home and not be at school when they feel sad about what happened’. She was shocked that he said this. And after picking her jaw up from the floor assured Hayden that the parents would be contacted.
I watched my special little guy struggle with his feelings all week about this. Eating (well picking at) breakfast on Tuesday, he asked me ‘Mum do you think it is because I like dinosaurs and no one else does?’ – trying to work out why he was singled out. That broke my heart. I told him absolutely not, and that we will probably never know the reason why. People sometimes just did silly and potentially mean things for no reason other than opportunity. I watched him think about the incident, and how it made him feel. I watched him struggle with questions like ‘why did they pick me?’, ‘why am I different’ and him questioning his own ability to talk to other kids. He then even began thinking about the characters in Harry Potter. He came up with the theory that Dementors were in fact either a) cursed – so they once were happy but when they became dementors, they lost all happy thoughts and feelings or b) made that way so it is not their fault. Kind of a unique insight huh?
I cannot tell you how proud I was of him when he said he would go back to school. I had come to the conclusion that he probably would not go back for the last week, and maybe just a day this week to get all of his things. He went back Friday morning. He stood tall and proud and walked into his classroom. He was greeted with very happy hello’s, lots of ‘we missed you Hayden’, and ‘there are lots of Christmas cards on your desk, open mine first’. He was initially nervous going into school, but I could see his trepidation ease with each passing second when he walked into his class room.
What this week has shown me is how often bullying happens. Not just in schools, but in every day life for a lot of people. In workplaces, in families, it happens. It starts from young ages – as young as Kindy. It has lasting effects yet it still occurs so frequently. I have been told it is ‘character building’ or ‘part of being a kid’. I don’t agree with either. Hayden is not alone here. This year he has had his tuckshop money ‘taken’, been punched, slapped, and verbally insulted/abused. We have a bully plan that Hayden devised as a step by step process for when (sadly not if) it happened to him –
1. Tell the bully to stop and to go away
2. Move away from the bully if they do not go away
3. Play near teachers on duty
4. Tell teacher, keep telling teachers until one listens
5. Tell Mummy & Daddy so they can help too
This is his ‘process’. What is upsetting is that he has to use it a few times this year; which is horrible as a Mother to know. A large part of why this is difficult for me is that I feel like I cannot protect him. I know that he is not going to live in a bubble and never face any form of obnoxious behaviour, but it still makes me feel like I am letting him down. I don’t understand the train of thought that bullying is character building. Every day, thousands of kids navigate their way through their play ground to find the path that is the least painful to walk down. The one without name calling, or taunting. The one where they can just play and be a kid, without any consequences other than skinned knees from slipping over when being chased by a dragon/pirate/evil queen/insert villain here. The people that are enabling this to happen a high percentage of the time are the teachers – who stand and watch the kids playing and probably get called a few names by the kids for their trouble. But bulling still does happen. And when it does happen it is not always addressed appropriately. I only hope that for Hayden, he can continue to tell me when it does, and that he will keep going to another teacher and then another teacher until someone listens to him and then helps him. He needs to feel safe at school, like every other child and teacher there.
I don’t think there is a quick fix solution to getting rid of bullies. Because they are everywhere. We all have at least one in our workplace, and then another for whom we offer special dispensation for – just so we don’t have to deal with the consequences of them not getting their way. All we can do is stand taller, walk prouder and politely decline or refute what the bully is saying – which sounds lame, but there is not really any other way to appropriately suggest for kids to ‘bully manage’. As Hayden says, we have to ‘stop their powers’. And the way you stop their powers, according to a 7 year old, is you just ‘ignore everything they say that is nasty and tell them that you are doing that, and you don’t stop what you are doing unless you have to. You tell them that they are saying mean things, and you don’t like it. If they keep doing it, you walk away. You ask them if they want to play with you, you ask them if they want to help with something, you just ask them mum. Because they might think that I am smarter or stupider than they are, but they don’t know me, and I don’t really know them, so maybe if they knew me they would not do it’. Sounds easy, but I know it isn’t. I know that so many times Hayden has had to try one of these tactics and work out what is the best way to move forward. For a 7 year old, there is so much analysis of the social setting and steps to try and navigate the best possible outcome – and all I can do is show Hayden how to be proud of who he is while he is still trying to work out all the social stuff. How he fits in. It is possibly one of the most difficult things to do – because you cannot fight your kids battles for them, you have to show them how to fight their own fairly.