Jan 17, 2011

I want my free little boy back

I need help. My 9-year-old son is being bullied. Again.

I want advice, tools, tricks, books, magic words to build strength in my boy - social resilience is the key word. There's something in him that puts him repeatedly in this role, and it's my job to help him grow past it. The growing has to be from and by and through him, but I'm looking for ways to support him, guide him, mentor and teach and hold space and shine a light that will help him find the way.

I want a magic mirror that lets him see into the future. Lets him see the beautiful confident man he will grow to become, when these playground terrors are done with. Some of the same traits that make him a target now will make him free and unique and cherished when he's older. That may not make him less afraid to go to the morning line-up outside the classroom, but it strengthens me to have this confidence in that special light of his that will shine so bright later on, and maybe it can be something for him to hold onto when he's a bit older.

I want a best friend for him. Just one or a few peers who see the beauty and honour the odd in him, that he doesn't have to try so hard or wonder so much or long so hard to feel loved or even liked. Overall the children do like and appreciate him, but he's not the top of anyone's birthday invite list and he feels it.

I want him to like himself. Miraculously he still embraces his own different ways of being in the world, still is natural and free in who he is. But the unforgiving social mirror makes it hard to feel likeable sometimes, and when he jokingly calls himself a "dumbhead" there's a doubtful part that wonders if it's true.

I want his childhood to last as long as he deserves. He's still a little boy, imaginative, innocent, believing, wondering, a bit magical, a lot wide-eyed. It's too soon to have to put up guards, to be afraid, to learn to Deal with stuff. He needs to experience the world, not manage it or fear it or make the best of it.

I want school to feel safe for him. As a member of the Social Health Committee I'm respectful of the serious steps the school has taken, and we've mobilized the protocol to bring the whole community in on the solution. This includes meetings with the teacher, heart-felt communication with the other child's parent, and a faculty-wide report so that all eyes can be watchful and compassionate toward both boys. I don't believe that policing is the ultimate answer, and I don't believe that the one other boy is the whole problem, but an immediate sense of safety will open up space for the other work of strengthening our son's resilience.

For myself, I just want to be held. To be told that I'm right in believing in my son, that others see his special sun and how it shines and will continue to shine. I want to hear about other parents and children's struggles and successes, to know that there are many paths and that all have been walked before us. I want to hear that others are watching and holding Galen and our family, and reaching out as possible with invitations to play, or kind words, or kind and hopeful thoughts. To know that we're not as alone as Galen sometimes feels.

I want my summer break Galen back. The one who feels light and natural. The goofy, laughing, sensitive, inquisitive, self-challenging, exploring, treasure-finding child who only knows flowers and basketballs. We managed to not lose most of that when school started in the fall, but 2 weeks after a warm, centred family Christmas I can feel him slipping away. The hugs and snuggles are more insistent and searching, the calls for reassurance and connection more frequent and hungry.

This is more than rhetorical reflection or poetry. It's a genuine call for help and support. I know that loving my boy is the best I can do, and I'm trying to hold him in every way possible. But any of the above wants that you can help us find, any advice or ideas or telepathic hugs or or or..., send them this way. My boy needs me right now, and I'll leave no rock unturned to give him what he needs.


  1. I'm tearing up reading this. For Galen, for you, for my boy (nearing man).
    No easy answers...not even hard ones, actually...just doing what each moment calls for and nothing more. The truth always outs...whatever it may be. Holding you in love and light.

  2. I too watched my son being bullied and at too young an age not fit in with his peers. I cried many tears as I watched his disappointment in others; how he would give away his favorite toys to win friendships only to be badly taken advantage of by those with agendas even at such young ages when they shouldn't have understood agendas. Heartbreaking as it is for a parent to watch the youthfulness that should remain until puberty being forced out by others, it is a part of childhood and always has been.

    Many an open conversation I had with James, as I tried to help him understand that those that bullied and lied and cheated him were all sad and hurting children, seemed to help him move through this phase in life. The truth is, as adults that we know that the bully child probably lives a sad and unloved life at home and has to find his self worth outside that arena. The conversations I had with James helped him understand early on that the love he had at home was precious and it wasn't long before he came home to tell me about something sad he had heard about the bully and cheater and thief. He began hearing about a dying parent or a divorce or some other tragedy in the life of someone who caused him pain and he came to understand the bullying wasn't really aimed at him personally. It helped him not take on the identity of victim that could easily take root.

    He may have lost some childhood but gained a compassionate heart through all this that he took well into adulthood. As I watch my son now as a young man forging his way in the world, I am so proud of the compassionate man he is and I attribute much of this to the lessons he learned while seeing the bully in a different way.

    I'm sure you talk very openly with your son; the best you can do is help him understand the source of what may be the bully's motives. If you can find out what or who the problem is, you might be able to circumvent some of the trouble and if not, you can help your son understand that it isn't him personally, but rather deep problems in the one doing the bullying that cause the behavior!

    Not sure if that helps but just know this is a season and it will be a growth process whether we are ready for their lessons or not.

  3. Oh Rick, a big hug. My mum, too, had to watch me get bullied when I switched schools in Grade 1. She had to endure a five-year-old tell her, "there's nothing you can do". It broke her heart.

    Sadly, I have no idea what helped me get through those dreaded morning line-ups that year. Extra-curriculars like Brownies? Time? I do know it took years to get back to being the open person I was before then, but I did get back.

    And like Les' son, that the bullying experience helped make me more empathetic to others. And tt's one of the things I like most about myself today, so....silver lining?

    Things will get better, Rick, they will.

  4. My heart goes out to all of you. I was bullied at the same age (we moved to a new, small school, and I was the only girl in my grade!), and though now I can see that it made me a more compassionate person, at the time I was really depressed. What helped--being held in the love of my mother (my dad wasn't really aware or there, like you are), who helped me get to sleep every night (I had insomnia from it), drove me to school so I wouldn't have to brave the bus, and just was there for me. There was nothing she could do about the school or the kids in it. The only other thing that really pulled me through was that through an extracurricular activity, I did make a best friend after about a year in that school. So, all I can suggest is maybe helping Galen connect with children that are not in his school, so that he may find his "match" out there somewhere. The real freedom for me came when my parents divorced (not that part!) and my mom and I moved to a new city, where I could start fresh. then I got a chance to be one of the "popular" kids, which I learned after a year was not that great either.
    It is heartbreaking...just hold him, and talk to him, and watch him. Blessings to all of you.

  5. A big hug from me too, Rick.

    First of all, Galen is incredibly lucky to have a caring dad like you, it's so important that he feels the love and support at home and is not left feeling alone in this situation. It saddens me that he is faced with the difficulties of life at such an early age, but I'm sure he will learn and grow from this experience, even though it might not seem like it at the time.

    Having shared a home with you, I can say how much I admire your family and the loving way in which you raise your children. I have many wonderful memories of the time and it's breaking my heart to see Galen go through such a hard time. I don't have a lot of wise words on the topic of bullying, but I have the confidence that you'll work through it and that Galen and the whole family will become stronger in the process.

    You're a great dad :-)

  6. Like the others, this brings tears to my eyes. I was bullied from grade 2 to grade 7.

    I can tell you a few things that didn't work that my parents tried - trying to ignore the bullies, or not show them that they're hurting you. That just made me believe it was never okay to show you are hurt, which became internalized and I grew up trying to appear invulnerable. We need to teach our kids that it IS okay to ask for help and it IS okay to let others see us cry.

    Having things that built up my self confidence was what eventually helped me end the bullying myself. Finally I struck back at the bully (not physically - I wrote a rather sarcastic little poem and it 'accidentally' made its way to her). Then I told her that I was fed up with her making my life miserable, and lots of other kids miserable too. I said I just wasn't going to put up with it anymore. That didn't come until I was 12 and strong enough in myself to believe I had a choice in the matter.

    That's one of the most challenging things, I think. When you're 9 it seems like you don't have any choices, and day after day you have to endure the same torture. Having some best friends made it bearable; being encouraged intellectually to grow and stretch my wings gave me a distraction from it.

    Most of all, I think a lot of hugs and sympathy would have been better than "Just don't let them have the satisfaction of knowing they got to you." No stiff upper lip. It's okay to admit that it totally sucks.

  7. Also, whatever you can do to give Galen a 'break' from things at school occasionally can help. Maybe during springtime he needs to stay home for a week to help with lambs? The day-after-day battle becomes exhausting and it becomes easy to forget you have a life outside of bullyland. Give Galen every chance he has to see the bullying situation as a separate, temporary condition - not part of who he is, not just "that's life."

    Good luck with it... my heart is with you all!

  8. Hi Rick,
    Sending a HUGE hug to you all...
    My husband Jay had a best friend growing up that was outside of the school he went to. He has often told me that it was really important during times when he felt like he was struggling to fit in at school or struggling with certain individuals, to have his best buddy completely apart from that. Unfortunately, school takes up a lot of hours in the day, but if there is a relationship that you can foster outside of your school community, it may help.
    This is over a month away, but my little one's preschool is having a speaker at the beginning of March who will be addressing bullying. It is put on by Westcoast Childcare Resource Centre and it is called Safe Spaces. If I learn anything great to pass on, I certainly will, or if either you or Sarah are in town at that time, feel free to come and listen in.


  9. I think this blog post (http://www.nogreaterjoymom.com/2011/01/simply-because-we-love.html)says it better than I ever could.

    I know I am not a parent (yet), but standard life advice falls into almost all situations. All that you can do is 'own your side of the camp' you only have the ability to change yourself and no one else. I would suggest focus on loving him for who he is RIGHT NOW, today, this minute, as he is constantly changing and will only continue to do so. You can give him a safe home to be in everyday, even if school is hard. You can appreciate him for who he is today.

    Seriously Rick, don't doubt yourself or Sarah! You are both AMAZING parents, and after (even during) the rocky teen years, your kids are going to be AMAZING people who will let their lights shine. They will follow your example. Sorry, that might not do much to help the pain in this moment, but perhaps all that you and Galen can do is endure it. You both have to walk this road.

    Definitely sending you both hugs! and hope my advice isn't patronizing. Hey, you asked for it!


  10. Dearest Rick,
    As a little girl I moved just 30 minutes from our "city" house to a house in the "country." I was the only one of my race attending a little wood floor grade school. Inititally, the other children were excited to sit by me but after a week or so word reached home and the ugliness started. Noone would let me sit with them on the bus, I'd be cornered in the bathroom and told I "didn't belong" there, etc. They were unrelenting. Luckily, I had a few angels strategically placed who watched over me: the principal who didn't condone or let kids get away unscathed for bullying me; the bus driver who spared me from having to make that long walk down the aisle by saving me a seat behind her; and the BIGGEST angel of them all, my Mama, Opal Margaret. Listen to me Rick. The BEST thing she did was not allow me to run or leave that school. The BEST thing she did for me was to simply tell me each and every morning, "you deserve to be here and I love you." I carried her love with me through each day like my own protective blanket until I eventually shed it for one I created by learning to be myself NO MATTER WHAT and the friends I needed showed up. So Daddy, stay by Galen's side through this, you're doing a GREAT JOB. Many blessings! Toni

  11. Hi Rick,

    I was in one of Sarah's mothering circles, and have appreciated your blog through her postings on Facebook. In response to her posting your thoughts on Galen in this moment, I wrote to her that my only sense of such experiences - through my own daughter - is to just Be. To be by Galen's side, just as you are. This will be how he finds his way, by his own definition. And I think Toni says it even better above - You deserve to be here and I love you. In this world, I believe we are alone - and should rejoice in our individuality - and we are engaged with others - the truth of which is to be loved as we all deserve. As parents, we are at the root of our children's experience in this regard, the stretch of self to other. There is no greater test - no greater growth in ourselves - then sharing who we are with our children.

    Galen will hold his beautiful self - in all its ups and downs - and he is blessed in you and Sarah.

  12. http://www.olweus.org/public/bullied_child.page

    The link is to the bullying program we use at my school (I am a teacher). It is really one of the bester programs available. Advocate that your child's school use a cohesive, structured program (no matter which one is adopted). It is so much more helpful for the professions when there is a plan of action in place to not only identify, but deal with bullying in the classroom.

    In addition, your son is starting to enter an age where peers replace parents. His moods, attitudes, and emotions are going to be in volatile flux for several years. 9 is NOT too early for preadolescence (in fact, it is the starting age). Developmentally, there is just a whole lot going on with your son. There are going to be days when he is a little boy, and there are going to be days where the adolescent rares its ever changing head.

    While I know it hurts (my baby is 23), do not wish to keep him in the past. The really crappy thing about being a parent is that once you get pretty good at being a parent for a particular developmental stage, our babies enter a new stage with new rules.

  13. this just breaks my heart. both as a mother of a five year old boy, and as an elementary school educator.

    thank you for your candid sharing.

    Galen is a fortunate child to have a father like you not only in his corner, but surrounding him with love and support from below, behind, and ultimately knowing that your role can't always be out front, painful as it is for you both.

    I am rooting for your boy!!

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