Q: Our nearly 9-year-old boy has been having trouble with one of the boys in his Sunday school class. This particular boy simply won’t keep his hands to himself, always touching his arm or pushing on him in line, etc. We’ve told our son to inform a teacher, tell the boy to stop his behavior, then push back if the boy is uncooperative. However, our son refuses to let an adult know about the behavior and this boy usually ignores my son’s requests to stop. What should we do? We’re worried about bullying.
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A: In my opinion, one of the hardest things for a parent to figure out is whether or not a child is being bullied—or is bullying someone else. You are on the right track, although I don’t agree with answering physical behavior in kind. Pushing back or hitting back will likely escalate the problem and could possible land your son in hot water, too.
Keep encouraging him to tell an adult when another child won't stop a physical behavior and/or name calling despite your son's efforts. Try role playing with him to help him find the words to express his frustration or anger. Kids often respond to situations better after practicing how to handle themselves.
Also, it’s no surprise that this boy won’t listen to your son about stopping his behavior. Kids often don't listen to other kids--otherwise, all families would live in harmony without sibling conflict, right? Practice with your son saying, “Stop pushing me” or “Do not hit me” in a forceful tone of voice.
Your son does have another option: he can remove himself from the situation by walking away. This can help both parties calm down and regroup. If a teacher asks why he is moving, your son can say that the other child won't leave him alone.
Finally, talk with your son about putting himself in the other child’s shoes. Help your son to see what’s annoying behavior and what's really bullying. Encourage him to think about why the other child is doing what he's doing. Is that child not as self-aware of his actions? Does that child seem mean or just wanting to be friends, as some children rough house more than others?
We’re so quick these days to jump on the bullying bandwagon that we’ve, at times, blown out of proportion incidents that are not true bullying or labeled a child a bully when said kid is really just socially inept, for example. Teaching our kids to think about the other person, even when that other child is not being kind to them, helps build character.
Don’t misunderstand me--I’m not advocating ignoring bullying. What I am advocating is having a kind heart, one that overlooks small annoyances and grievances, one that seeks the good in others rather than seeking to have all the good for oneself. By teaching our children kindness in the face of provocation we will equip them to help make this world a better place.
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