Every Monday evening, our entire family attends a program for boys with behaviour challenges. Gabriel goes to a “boys group” and they play games and work on developing strategies to deal with their anger and frustration that don’t involve violence, expletives, or hurling large items at their teachers. Mike and I go to the parent group, where we learn parenting techniques to help assist us in raising our challenging sons. And Kailyn goes to the daycare, where she makes crafts and dances. It is difficult to make it there for 6pm every Monday; the kids eat “dinner” (PB&J’s and goldfish crackers) in the car while I fight rush hour traffic and Mike acts as mediator between two very tired and cranky children who would rather be home. But, over the last two months, we have seen some positive changes in both ourselves and Gabriel, and albeit small, they are enough to keep us going.
Tonight, our topic du jour was bullying. Perfect, I thought…this is something that I have been wanting to discuss. How do we get our kid NOT to pick on other kids at school, when at home he is a loving, empathetic child (most of the time)? Surely, since this was a program for kids with behavioural issues, we would be discussing the “other side” of bullying: what do you do when your kid is a bully. But, the discussion didn’t go that way. Instead, we discussed how to find out if your kid is being bullied, what to tell him, and how to advocate for him. And, while I believe that those are all very important things to learn, it left me wondering: what about us?
There’s been a lot of talk about bullying these days. From Karen Klein, the school bus monitor whose bullying was caught on camera, to the tragic story of Amanda Todd. And while I don’t want to take away from the significance and sadness of those events, I feel like all this talk about bullying has been completely one-sided. I constantly hear and read comments like, “what is wrong with the parents of that bully?” or “those bullies need to be punished” or “something MUST be wrong with that kid’s home life since he’s such a bully!” and it makes me cringe. Because that kid is my kid, and the parent is me.
I don’t want my kid to bully others. But, he does. Not all of the time, but he does. He is a highly sensitive kid who has a hard time socializing with his peers. I don’t think he has a ton of confidence. And he is often anxious, and feels the need to be in control of every situation. Add all of that up and sometimes bullying is the only way where he feels in control and powerful. We are trying to change that; we work hard every day to build his confidence, model empathy, discuss how he could have made better choices. It is a slow and taxing process, but it will happen.
So to say that there is something wrong with us because my kid bullies is completely false. I know not all situations are the same and perhaps our family is an exception, but we are proof that there are decent, educated, empathetic, loving parents whose children are bullies. And to say that my kid is a terrible person who needs to be punished just because he bullies is also false. On the contrary; he needs more love, compassion, kindness, and attention than a typical kid. I firmly believe that kids are inherently good people deep inside. Once you push past the unacceptable behaviour, the swearing, and the aggression, you’ll find a child. A seven-year-old child who needs a little bit of extra help. I just wish more people would take the time to look.