Jan 19, 2011

Watching my Son be Bullied

We are all victims of bullying. Amidst all the beautiful outpouring of support after my last blog post about my son being bullied, was an astonishing number of people talking about their own experience being bullied as children.

On one hand it's perhaps comforting to see how these young tormented children have grown up to be confident, loving adults and friends. Then again, it's a scary indication of our world that it's such a prevalent experience. It also makes me wonder how our own experience of it (or of anything, for that matter) colours how we deal with it when our children enter the same cycle.

Interestingly, no-one admitted to being a bully. I will, right here. Andre, Indra, David, Brian... I can name all the classmates I tormented from grades 7-10, and dearly wish I could apologize to them now, call them up and let them know that somehow I did eventually become more compassionate, as if that could relieve them of the pain I caused. Even having been in that role, I can't understand the bully's motives; can't pinpoint why I behaved that way, why I chose them particularly as targets, or even why I stopped. But it does at least propel me to try to find forgiveness and latent goodness in the children now causing the same pain in my son.

Sandwiching those cruel years were experiences of being bullied in grade 4 and then in grade 10 (the latter being one of my targets who suddenly grew and turned the tables - sweet karma). I've tasted that same salty fear that now stings my boy's eyes, and my inability to deal with it then certainly colours the support and reaction I give to Galen.

It's time to finally share a painful blog entry from two summers ago, when we were already dealing with these issues (with a different boy). It's more raw than constructive, and in that way perhaps more real. It helps me remember that I'm more than the helping adult in this situation - I'm a full-on player with my own history breathing into how I act and react. And lest I ever minimize my little boy's experience, it's powerful to remember that my own first experience of being bullied that's mentioned below - an experience I carry with me to this day - was when I was the exact same age as Galen is now.

August, 2009

"Punch him in the nose." That was my dad's advice when Danny Gay threatened to beat me up in grade 4. "Say to him, 'Danny, I don't like what you've been doing to me,' then punch him in the nose to make his eyes water, then beat him up."

It sounded so brutally simple and it terrified me, and I never did get over that fear of being hurt in a fight. I just walked around in a lot of fear and nightmares, and prayed that I'd make it to the age when fights don't happen anymore. So to now see my own son start to go through the same cycle is heartbreaking.

The school bully of grade two came for a playdate next door. We'd already had incidents with him last year of teasing, pushing, even kicking in the groin (yes, in grade one Waldorf). Today Galen came back to our yard bravely holding back tears to tell me that X kept running at him and pushing him down. When I suggested he stay out of the rough-housing games that all 8 kids were playing, he said that he was just sitting by the car but X wouldn't stop. Could I go talk to him?

I tried to explain that Daddy stepping in would just make things worse. We talked about a strategy to just ignore him, to not show fear and not react, so that X would just get bored from not getting a rise out of his victim.

But what I really wanted to say was, "PUNCH HIM IN THE NOSE!" I know it would just beget a cycle of violence, and that Galen's pacifist stand was much braver and ultimately more effective, but deep down I just wanted him to plaster that little punk. I wanted him to overcome the fear that I never did.

At the root of pacifist non-violence there needs to be a deep compassion and love for people and the world, and an unshakable belief that violence is not the answer. There will always be a doubt in my heart about whether I reached this Quaker non-violence stance from true conviction or from fear. So I desperately want my boys to find true inner power to guide them on a path of strong gentle love.

I joined in the children's play for a spell to diffuse the energy, then watched from a distance as X resumed a pattern of repeatedly wrestling with Galen and throwing him to the ground. I watched my little boy be beaten up, under the thin guise of play-wrestling. And I watched him bravely - so incredibly bravely - pretend to wrestle back each time, pretend to not be afraid, and refuse to leave the group play in defeat.

Although I confess to a dark desire for X to be expelled from the school and our lives, I do feel compassion for him also, knowing that he is acting out something hard for his 8-year-old soul. And I know that our deeper work and responsibility is to nurture a strength and Peace in Galen. Our son is a truly gentle, beautiful soul who does not enjoy the rough play of other boys. This will not be the last time he will have conflict with boys who play by different rules, and who connect on a more physical level. Our energy needs to be with Galen, not against X.

This parenting gig is difficult at the best of times, let alone times when our children are genuinely afraid or sad or hurt. The challenge is to support them with the best of our beliefs and inner strength and hope, while somehow avoiding unloading our own baggage on them. Any words of wisdom or support you can share would be much appreciated as we continue down this bumpy road.


  1. I havent read it all but our schools are starting to use the WITS program


  2. Oh my God. I'm shocked. Your son was right, when he asked you to please go talk to the bully. SOMEONE needs to. Instead all the parents around him just let him go. Just keep on keeping on. He's not going to stop until a real parent tells him enough, then give him a punishment if he does it again.
    Personally, I would have walk out, spoke to him and told him to stop or I'll send him home, then if he did it again. Drive him home immediately, not even wait for his mom to come!
    Give them guidance. :)


    (Try it - be LOUD - let it OUT. It feels really good. I've done it and it works! I have popular kids that don't get bullied. Do you have any idea much more power X gets from shoving your kid around in front of his own dad? woo hoo.)

  4. In case it wasn't clear, I'm not celebrating how I didn't intervene; in fact, i was so aghast at it later that it's probably one reason i never posted this writing until now. I'm exploring the reasons for my inappropriate inaction, how it's linked to my own unresolved issues from my own experience of being bullied.

  5. Rick, my advice may seem drastic, but I highly recommend talking to your pediatrician and getting Galen in for some behavioral counseling. A counselor can help him in ways you can't as a parent, especially since you have seen bullying as an ongoing issue with your son.

    My son has difficulties that are different from Galen's but I felt the same sort of helplessness about what to do with the problems we faced as I saw my son's confidence plummet in ways that were beginning to be frightening. A counselor can help him to develop strategies for confidence in challenging situations with difficult people. The earlier you do this sort of intervention with him, the better, in my opinion. My son is doing much better now and we are far more confident about how he will navigate the challenges of high school next year.

  6. Hi Rick, sorry to hear you guys are going through a rough patch with Galen. I just received this email and thought you may be interested:

    Subject: Boy Smarts Seminar

    The following seminar is open for all to attend. Tickets are $10 each and are available through your local PAC, tickets will go fast and we currently have 10 available for purchase but are able to get more if needed. Please respond to adamclutchey@shaw.ca and let me know if you are interested in attending and we will arrange to get you tickets. The tickets will go fast so please respond to this email with your interest to attend by Monday January 24th, 2011

    Boy Smarts - Barry MacDonald

    Thursday March 10th at Quamichan Middle School 7-9pm


    Boys of all ages, like girls, cannot be spoiled by too much healthy love and support from their parents. Instead, boys who share a close connection to their caregivers will likely become more confident, do better in school, sports, music, and later have a stronger likelihood of avoiding substance misuse, than boys who have distant relationships with their parent(s) and caregiver(s). When boys come from families where they are nurtured and their needs are met they develop healthy attachments. No amount of appropriate bonding, attachment, or nurturance from a mother or father is harmful or leads boys to become weaklings or sissies. Boys do not need to be rushed into independence

    Thank you
    Adam Clutchey
    PAC President

    École Duncan Elementary PAC

  7. Sorry. I disagree! Passionately.

    The worst thing in the world is to tell a kid to "ignore" the bully! Further, a child needs to be encouraged to seek adult help when dealing with a bully. The child needs to know that adults will help to defuse the situation.

    Play date means adult supervision. The adults need to step in a create an environment where roughhousing is unacceptable. Tell a story, go for a walk, play jump rope (great for getting out lots of energy without hurting someone).

    There are dozens of ways to encourage both boys without subjecting your son to situations he is uncomfortable with.

    I realize you are not happy with how you handled the situation. Remember, you are the adult. You are in charge. You can end any and all play that makes even a single child uncomfortable. Take it from a middle school teacher, if you let one child think for one second he is in control, he will always be in control when you are around.

  8. We have a daughter. It's a little easier or maybe a lot easier. When I am unsure of an issue with my daughter. I ask her if she needs more from me. She will say yes and I have stepped in. When I have stepped in, it doesn't take much; good eye contact and a knowing smile goes a long way with an aggressive kid; the same goes for the parent of the kid.
    You are in a rural community and, I will stand by this statement, the social rules are different. It will not hurt your son to have the image of you standing behind him. We protect ourselves in groups. We look for support in groups and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as we don't go nuts and become something stupid.
    I wouldn't be able to watch someone repeatedly pummel my daughter. I'd blow a whistle. I see myself as a ref. It's okay for you to stop and correct play.