Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bully for you

Pecking orders issues seem to be popping up everywhere.  As much as the hens have it down, people seem to do a pretty good job of keeping each other in their places too.  It's more subtle.  Well, unless you're talking about children.  Kids have thrown subtlety out the window.  It's complex, multifaceted really.  And I seem to be fighting it on all fronts lately.

Big Dog, who has always been easily popular and able to get along with anyone is struggling with his first experience with bullying.  Well, maybe not technically his first, but the first that he really understands.  He's spending the summer at Little Dog's school in a program for school aged kids.  It's made life kind of simpler for me since I only have one pick up and one drop off, but it's also added an edge that not as simple.  There is a child in the class who is immune to Big Dog's near-universal charm.  At first it was just a matter of Big Dog not being allowed to play games with this boy, later it evolved into more classic chasing, mild threats and general intimidation.  I've talked to the lead teacher, and they're dealing with it, but every night when I hear this child's name come up as a point of frustration and sadness.  It seems he has teamed up with another child as the kings of the playground and Big Dog seems to be getting a fair share of the serf treatment at their hands.  After a particularly hard day at school, Big Dog says from the back seat, "Mommy, I wish that more people liked me and didn't want to hurt me."  I nearly drove off the road.
It turns out that the second in command had taken to pinching Big Dog and the other boy refused to let him play.  Another boy had also joined in with the teasing.   Big Dog had come to his breaking point.  We talked about it more and Big Dog agreed that there were plenty of kids in his class that liked him a lot, and that those kids were nice and he liked to play with them.  I decided to talk to his teacher the next day.  I did, and it I've heard less about these particular boys the last few days.  He's talked more about the kids he does like, the ones that he does like to play with and the ones who make him feel good about going to school each day.  And I get to breathe at least a temporary sigh of relief.

Little Dog, on the other hand, has put himself in the position of being the 2nd in command of the bullying duo in his class the last few days.  I just found out about this, and it was like being punched in the stomach. After being the victim of the class bully, he has decided he really wants to be his friend.  It's like he's suffering from Stockholm syndrome, his fear and anger with his tormentor had turned to admiration.  He wants to be like him.  The teachers have been trying to steer him away toward the other kids in his class that he plays with more nicely.  The ones that don't tell him to hit or punch other kids.  The ones that don't need him to try to cover for him with the teachers confront them.  In describing the strangeness of the situation one of the teachers actually used the word "henchman" to describe Little Dog's role in things.  It's weird.  Instead of being bullied, he's opted to become a bully.  And I am absolutely not ok with that.  I'm working on it with him.  The teachers and I have discussed a strategy for nipping this new role in the bud.

One of the things I've done is to buy some books to help get him to talk about bullying.  He's opened up about things that have been done to him by this kid and another boy in his class.  As we read one book in particular and discussed the questions posed by the author, Little Dog described this child as both his friend and his bully.  I think it was the first time he thought about the way this child was making him feel and the way that he was making other kids feel.  I think it is the first step in a longer process, but I'm hoping for the best.  Little Dog has always had a thing for the tough guy role, I just don't need him to also have a need to play the bad guy role.  (And yes, I know these two boys aren't bad, they're probably just doing the best they can, but I don't have to like the bullshit they're putting my two kids through, even if one of mine is playing along with it.)

While we were talking about it, one little bit of trivia was revealed.  After listening to both boys list the wrongs they've endured (and again, I understand this is only one side of the story, but Christ, I can't ignore it) Big Dog paused.  "Isn't it kind of weird mom, that they are brothers?"  Turns out it may run in the family.  I just hope it runs its course early and these kids grow out of this soon. No one really needs another bully.

Side note: A while back I wrote about my own experience with a "mean girl."  She was a terrible bully.  I had always thought it was just me she tormented.  Guess I was wrong.  Through the wonders of facebook, I recently discovered that there was a whole group of kids, now adults, who had to survive her abuse.  I take some comfort now, 20 years after the fact, that I was not alone in suffering this "horrible witch." 

UPDATE: Well the books and talks seem to be working.  Little Dog is not being as aggressive and today when he was being pushed toward bully territory by this kid, he decided to leave and find another friend to play with.  It also sounds like his new resistance to be wound up may have changed the dynamics a little bit in the relationship.  Although the teacher still described it as "frenemies" which is not all that great, at least the balance of power is shifting a bit.  Or so I hope.


geekymummy said...

oh man, to be stuck on both ends of the bullying spectrum at once! Can you let me know what the books are, since I'm sure I'll need then soon.

How interesting that these two bullies are brothers. Makes me wonder just a little about their home life.

followthatdog said...

The book they both really like is called "Stop Picking On Me" by Pat Thomas.
It is very simple but got the boys talking a lot about what they were dealing with. I'd recommend it.

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