Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bully




In this day and age of bully awareness, how do you teach your kid to handle getting picked on in school? Particularly when said kid is kind of your stereotypical definition of a nerd: smarter than everyone else, three grade levels (at least) above the rest of the group, into traditionally "geeky" things, loves reading, is social awkward, has glasses and hearing aids, and occasionally has a hard time saying things (thinks too quickly. Happens to me, too, which is from where he got it).

I clearly remember a time, soon after we moved to Pittsburgh, when I took The Boy to the Blue Slide Park to play. He was still mostly bald at that point, and very small and very thin. He did his usual thing: ran around, climbed on stuff, went down slides a hundred and fifty times, and played a lot of "Daddy get me" games. There were some bigger kids there, probably around 8 or 9 years old, lead by a little girl, whose face and voice I will not soon forget. The Boy tried, on an occasion or two, to go up and say "Hi!" to them, but they pointedly ignored him, and I steered him away from them as often as I could. They started a cruel game of "Avoid the Froggie," to which they added a verbal soundtrack mocking the child. When I hit my limit, I approached them and asked them to lay off - he is a cancer patient in recovery, and his sickness was an contributing factor. The Boy never figured it out, as far as I could tell.

Yesterday, The Boy got into it with a neighborhood kid on the bus ride home. The kid - who is in kindergarten, but with the maturity of a 3-year old (in reality, having seen the kid before, there are some mental issues going on) - was calling him "poopy" and "yucky" and similar names. After a while, The Boy lost patience and decked him. The other kid was standing in the aisle and not letting The Boy get off the bus. Little Bear, meanwhile, squeezed past and cheerfully exited the bus. (Sigh. So much for having your brother's back.) The two boys eventually came off the bus crying.

Earlier in the day, on the way back from the gifted center, one of the bigger kids was throwing something at The Boy, to irritate and mock him. The Boy responded by throwing the thing on the floor, but the kid got it back and chucked it again.

So, how do you tell your kids to deal with that?

Growing up, I wasn't bullied often. My mom was a councilperson in town, so the teachers kept an extra eye on me. I had a few friends in different social groups, so nobody really hated me because of territorial reasons. I was also bigger than most of the kids, and because of my older brothers, I had a much, much, much sharper and vicious set of comebacks than most kids my age. Kids that tried to pick on me had a difficult time doing it - I made them angry far, far easier than they made me angry, so they would generally pick on easier targets.

The Wife had a hard time in school. She spent some time in private school, which was an awful fit for her. She was bullied constantly, and her teachers didn't really like her enough to intercede. When she'd respond by slugging someone, inevitably, she was the one that got in trouble. She has a fast wit, similar to me, but she lacks my ability to attack viciously.

It's going to be hard for The Boy. He's a sweet kid, and he's been a bit sheltered. The Wife encouraged him to use the old "So?" question, with accompanying shrug and grin, when other kids mock him. She encouraged him to talk to teachers or the bus driver if somebody's really giving him the business - I'm not necessarily a big fan of that, as getting a reputation as a tattletale is not so good for you. I encouraged him to make jokes about it and to be funny - people generally don't pick on the class clown. I don't know how well that will work for him, right now.

If this were thirty-five years ago, I'd get him lifting with me in the morning, and after a few months, he'd kick the s**t out of that kid. Problem solved. Nowadays, you can't - hit a kid where a teacher sees it, and you have a three day vacation. Which might be the solution - if you can provide enough of a response to a bully or something, maybe they punch you in class and get suspended. Down part is, if they're smart enough, they'll hold off in public, and you'll need to watch yourself every time you go to the bathroom.

The other secret, I guess, is to surround yourself with a lot of friends, all the time. There is safety in packs. I think he's still one of only one or two in his grade going to the gifted center, which is an issue.

Man, this is a tricky one. I know he'll figure it out. I just wish I could prevent him from experiencing this.


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