Q: My six-year-old son, Moshe, has been coming home from school complaining about a boy in his class, I will call him Binyamin, who is bothering him. Moshe and Binyamin have been in the same class since they were in preschool and they seem to have been friends in the past. Recently, though, Moshe has told us that Binyamin says mean things to him about his clothing, lunch, haircut, or even his grades.
Now, I should mention that Moshe is taller than Binyamin, so I can’t imagine there being anything physical going on. In addition, Moshe has plenty of friends in the classroom aside from Binyamin.
When Moshe started coming to me because Binyamin was taunting him, I told him to tell Binyamin to stop. When that didn’t work, I told Moshe to ignore Binyamin’s comments. But, Moshe is complaining more than ever and has even started fighting me when it is time to go to school. I told him that he needs to work it out on his own with Binyamin and that I shouldn’t get involved. The problem is, lately, I have been thinking that he simply doesn’t know how to work it out himself. Did I make a mistake?
A: Your question is a very difficult one – and one that comes up a lot in my office. When one child persistently attacks another child, whether physically or verbally, that behavior is classified as bullying. Depending on the severity and recurrence of the other child’s comments, I would consider getting involved. If your son continues to tell you about this other boys’ negative behavior towards him, he obviously cannot work it out on his own. In essence, that is why he is telling you about the information – so you can help him.
Often, we want children to gain skills – to stick up for themselves when others try to put them down or to make new friends. But, the reality of the situation is that if your child is asking you for help that means that he has not figured out a way to master the situation on his own.
Here are some possible signs that your son is being bullied:
Returns from school with torn, damaged, or missing clothing
Seems afraid of going to school
Suddenly begins to do poorly in school
Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches, or other illnesses
Has trouble sleeping or frequent bad dreams
Appears anxious or suffers from low self-esteem
So, should you step in? If the situation continues, my answer is yes. Scars from childhood bullying are often long-lasting and bullying can sometimes escalate out of our control. Here are some ways that you can get involved:
Set up playdates with other children: Children who are isolated are more likely to be bullied in school. Talk to your child about who he enjoys playing with at school and then set up after school playdates with that child. Creating an ally in the classroom will inspire your child with more confidence and will also dissuade others from bullying him.
Talk to a teacher or menahel: Bullying is not a problem that involves two children; the whole school environment is engaged. Teachers and administrators are on the front line of the bullying war. The first step is to make them aware of the problem in the classroom. Then, you can work together with the teacher to come up with solutions to prevent the negative behavior. With proactive efforts, bullying can be severely reduced.
Role-play: Teaching your child how to respond when someone bullies him will help him take control of the situation. To that end, role-playing different scenarios with your child can help him anticipate possible bullying situations.
Because bullying has become such a hot topic, I recently wrote a children’s book entitled My “Friend” The Bully. The colorful picture book follows Pinny as he innocently reacts to a “friend” who belittles and intimidates him – just like the situation with your son. Through help from his parents, teachers, and friends, Pinny’s life takes a turn for the better. You, too, can take an active role in helping your child overcome his “friend’s” comments. After all, he seems to be asking for your help.