When Bullies Attack
How will you react when it happens to your child?
Bullying has been a hot topic in the news lately, and sadly it seems that children and teens are growing less and less tolerant of others who are different. With resources like cell phones and the Internet available to bullies, public humiliation is just a mouse click or text message away. Unable to cope with this kind of judgment, children as young as 12 are taking their own lives.
As a mommy of two (Caleb, 2, and Jacob, 5 months), I cannot help but wonder how to teach my boys to be kind to others, while also training them to stick up for themselves so they will grow into strong young men. Although I've admittedly worried since they were born that they will be bullied someday, naively, I don't think I realized how early it would start.
Caleb is very enthusiastic about reaching out to other children. He is determined to make friends wherever we go, and still lives in that oh-so-blissful "age of innocence." He does not understand, nor is he bothered by, both the subtle and obvious characteristics that make other children different than him.
Recently we were visiting the St. Louis Mills Mall, a favorite destination of ours. Caleb was on the playground interacting with other children, both older and younger than him. One little boy, presumably about 2-years old, was talking to Caleb in full sentences. He ordered him to climb up a slide, jump up and down, and also appeared to have several other items on his agenda. It was cute at first, because toddlers who are born "leaders" do tend to be bossy in endearing ways. Caleb smiled and giggled while this little boy chattered away, delegating little tasks to those around him.
Here's the thing. Caleb has a speech delay, due to certain muscles in his mouth being severely underdeveloped. Even though his comprehension is perfect and he knows the words in his head, he cannot form them or communicate verbally.
After the little boy had impatiently waited for Caleb to respond and his expectations were not met, he shouted quite loudly, "you're a stupid baby" and promptly ran away after shoving Caleb to the ground. Caleb looked up at me with big curious blue eyes as if to ask, "why did my little friend leave?"
I would be lying if I said that I didn't feel mad, and yep, my eyes definitely teared up. I'll admit it, I'm a mushball. Initially, like most protective mommies, I wanted to defend my sweet boy and say, "you leave him alone," or "be nice to him!" It also hurt me to see that the child's mother was sitting within hearing distance and had witnessed all that had just happened but did not appear to be bothered by it.
But, perhaps like the Grinch, my heart grew a few sizes that day. Because suddenly I saw past the boys' mean words and actions, and all that remained was a sad, very lonely little boy. I wondered where he had learned the word, stupid. Perhaps he had been called that very name by someone very close to him in his life. I did not know his story, so my judgment quickly melted into simply feeling sorry for the little bully. I'm not sure exactly why, but as I watched him trying to get his mommy's attention while she busily texted, ignoring him, all I wanted to do was give him a hug. I didn't feel mad anymore.
Still, I know that this is something I will have to deal with for years and years to come, and even though we all like to believe that our children will never, ever be mean, the raw truth is that they will be...no matter how much we think we've prepared our perfect angels. So in the end, we do what we can. We teach our children to be kind, tolerant and respectful of others. We teach them to love and see past differences, and we hope that they will always, always have someone to confide in when they are made fun of, ridiculed or bullied. If we're very lucky, we will be those someones.