The other afternoon my son came home from school wanting to talk about his day. That alone was enough for me to take an appreciative breath.
Before he could speak, I flashed on those early years when he was in elementary school and showing . His responses to my questions suddenly became brief—at best. I’d ask him, “What did you do today?” and he would answer with a quick grunt, “Nothin’.”
It took a long time to get a handle on the situation, and we learned—the hard way—the of parenting a bullied child. We initially made the mistake of focusing all of our energy on getting the other student to adjust his behavior, but quickly realized the futility of that.
We also learned that, although we had to report each situation and expected action to be taken by the school, our real focus had to be on our own child, providing him with the skills he’d need to thrive in elementary school and throughout his life.
On occasion, I would hear parents speak of the bullies as the “villain” and their kid as the “hero” in order to build confidence in their children. I understood why. It’s easy to get angry with anyone who doesn’t treat our kids well—no matter how old they are—but that approach makes me concerned about revenge mentality.
Whenever I would read the paper or turn on the news to find stories of kids desperately taking matters into their own hands, I wondered if they felt they weren't being heard or taken seriously, or they viewed their aggressors as “the bad guy.”
So along with the many other actions we took to empower our son and build his confidence, we reminded him that the behavior of others should never change who we are or impact the strength of our own character.
We had many conversations with him emphasizing the potential of his future and pointing out that statistically the “bully” probably wouldn’t experience the same success.
We encouraged our boy to find a way to be compassionate and recognize the sadness in that, instead of feeling somehow satisfied by someone else’s failure.
But there was a certain point where we just had to cross our fingers and hope that he'd take the time to think—and to apply what he’d learned.
So when he came home wanting to talk, I immediately took the time to listen.
He said, “A friend of mine asked if I’d feel good if one of the kids at school who bully people moved away or fell off the planet.”
“Wow,” I said. “What did you tell him?”
“I said if he left I’d honor his memory.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s just a seventh-grade bully. It doesn’t make me feel good when bad things happen to anybody. That kid just doesn't get it. He thinks if he bullies other people it’s going to ruin their lives. But like you said, if he doesn’t change, it’s his life that isn’t gonna turn out so good.”
“That’s right, 60 percent of all kids who continue to bully…” I began.
“…end up with a criminal record, or can’t hold a job, and stuff,” he said repeating the words he's heard before.
“That’s right,” I said.
“And the other 40 percent go into politics,” he said falling all over himself with laughter. “I’m just kidding. That was pretty funny, though, right mom?”
“You’re a regular comedian,” I said, enjoying the smile on his face.
Fighting the instinct to embrace the good guy/bad guy perspective is hard. But I’m glad we made the effort.
Instead of having a son who feels the world is out to get him, we seem to have one who embraces compassion and can find a little humor in life as well.
The journey isn't over, but so far, so good.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert is the author of the I've Got interactive book series for children. Calling upon her professional acting experience on Broadway, film and television, she is a public speaker and takes her books into classrooms hoping to help kids build character, develop empathy and learn to communicate respect through creative dramatics activities. For more information, visit http://www.ivegotbooks.net.