Lucas was playing goalie in soccer. The other team scored. Lucas might have kicked the ball into his own net. I can’t be sure. Lucas is the kind of kid who’d rather comment on the birds flying overhead than pay attention to what’s happening on the field. His teammate, a boy in his class, got up in Lucas’s face, pushed him and screamed, “No one wants you on this team.” I wasn’t there to see it just then, as I was walking over from Abigail’s field. Lucas held it together, a whistle blew. Water break. Lucas held it in, much the way you might when you have to pee and you’re nowhere near a toilet. Yet the closer you come to a bathroom, the more pressing the urge to go. As he met my gaze and saw my approach, he began to unravel, tears marking his face, until he was within arms’ reach, when a sob escaped before he grabbed my legs and heaved into my sweater. After breathing together, he shared that his athletic classmate screamed in his face and pushed him. “Very bad manners,” he cried.
Another day, at a playdate with a group of boys from school, one of the mothers came to me and confided that she’d witnessed a bullying behavior from one of the boys toward Lucas. The boy turned to the others and said, “Let’s play ‘Spy on Lucas.’” Lucas is a happy, resilient kid. If kids are making fun of him, he doesn’t get defensive, because I don’t think he understands that he’s their target. When the other boys continued with whatever they were doing, the child persisted with his attempts to rally his troops. “Let’s play keep away from Lucas.” The mom didn’t have to tell me this information; it would’ve been easier for her to say nothing and go on with her day, but she genuinely felt it was wrong and didn’t like to see it happening. I had great respect for her and liked her immediately. Since it wasn’t her child, and the child’s mother wasn’t there, she asked that I speak to the kids. I did. These kids are five and six years old. I told them that they’re in a small school, that they’re all friends, that no one should be made to feel left out. I made eye contact with each of them and spoke frankly. The rest of the afternoon the boys played well together, everyone included. Not cool, I thought.
After some distance over the summer, Lucas was elated to see his friends from school, to the point where he just wanted to talk a mile-a-minute, without any ending, or point, in sight. He simply wanted to talk, to tell a story, to connect with his friends. Only his mouth doesn’t work as fast as his brain, so he fills the gap with several um’s and uh’s. He actually doesn’t do this as often anymore, but at the time, at another playdate, there it was, an excited puppy, eager to reunite with friends. “So, guys? Um, um, guys? Okay, so, this summer… um.” Then a boy responded, “Um, um, um, what already?” His mother scolded him. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what was said when parents weren’t within earshot. It made me feel very unsettled.
If I ever witnessed any of these behaviors in my own children, they’d be subjected to major family meetings and very serious talks. I’d also talk to their teachers, asking that they keep an eye out but also asking for advice as to how I, as a parent, should handle it if I ever witness my own child doing any of the bullying or teasing.
Now, I’m in the practice of asking the beans each day to tell me about what they did during recess at school. The other day Lucas told us that he played with some of the boys mentioned in the vignettes above. When I asked him what he played, he described a “game” of capture, where he ran from the other boys until they caught him, then he had to lie on the ground, and they’d pull him. He was the only one, he explained, to be dragged. He described the events with enthusiasm, saying it was great. Again, I couldn’t help but worry that he was once again oblivious to the fact that he was the target of their game. My sweet puppy! I told him I was so happy to hear that they had such a fun recess, and cautioned only that if they play the game again, to make sure that next time it’s someone else’s turn to be pulled, that he shouldn’t always be the one everyone runs after or away from. He agreed, but I’m not sure if it registered.
I spoke with both beans about bullying and all its forms, how sometimes the words even come out as really nice, but they’re just being ironic. I demonstrated with a demeaning tone and fake smile. Bullying, I explained, is when we purposefully choose to leave people out, when we ignore people, when we laugh or point. When we play “keep away” without taking turns. But in truth, I wasn’t sure how to offer positive responses for each instance. We tried some role playing, and when in doubt I told them to say, “NO!” Loudly, so an adult can hear, and then to tell an adult. We also discussed how it’s their job to stand up for others when they see it. Then I asked them to tell me one kindness they extended to someone that day. Each morning I remind them to make someone else feel really good, that that’s what we do in our family.
Along with speaking to his teachers, I plan to make use of some of the suggested movies and TV show titles streaming on Netflix that encourage the bullying conversation. With October being National Bullying Prevention Month, and with news headlines being as alarming as they are in recent days, it’s my mission to sit these kids in front of a TV (and a stack of books)!
Show your little ones that there’s a hero in all of us:
2.Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
3.Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
4.Spy Kids: All the Time in the World
5.Justice League Unlimited
6.Ben 10: Alien Force
As a Netflix Stream Team member, I received an Apple TV and a year’s subscription to Netflix in exchange for sharing 1 post each month about Netflix movies and TV Shows. As always, though, all opinions are my own. Also, I’ve been a Netflix subscriber since the Wasband, that’s how far back we go. Just sayin’.