I’m crying right now. It seems really silly… I think my 2-year-old son just got “bullied” for the first time and somehow it’s not about him, but about ME.
I remember being bullied when I was a kid. For me, growing up in Hawaii, I was bullied because I was white – or “frickin haole” as one boy called me as I stood in front of the class – skinny – I was called “chopsticks” & “bones” by some of the mean girls – and because I was smart - or a nerd, geek, or as one girl bully said to me “you think you’re better than us?!” … it was so hurtful. It made me feel small, weak, afraid and unworthy.
Watching my son at playgroup today was…. painful. A 4-year old boy was taking the toy trains Jackson was playing with, telling him “I don’t want to play with you,” “You’re messing up the tracks,” “That’s mine” and physically pushed him away several times. And somehow it was all about ME – Jackson seemed completely unfazed, but I was feeling small, weak and afraid. I tried to facilitate the interaction letting the older boy have the trains he had taken and finding a “new” train for Jackson. I made a new track for Jackson. I asked them to take turns and tried to explain that Jackson was smaller he wasn’t trying to “mess up the track” on purpose and they could both share the track. “I don’t want to!” he would say… and I – the person that is supposed to be in charge in a situation like this – was at a loss. I was in shock and wanted to cry. My Mama Bear instincts did NOT kick in. It got to a point where I was afraid to talk to the parent, to the playgroup leader and even to the 4-year-old. I felt like a failure.
I took Jackson away from the situation to play on the swings, to play with play dough, to throw around a ball – all his favorite things – but he kept going back to the train tracks!! Didn’t he see how badly he was being treated?? Didn’t he feel upset about being pushed around?? … he did not.
I did. I felt it. I knew. He did not.
So I did the only thing I could think of in that moment. I left playgroup early. I couldn’t stand to see him go back to that situation time and time again. It was literally breaking my heart. Instead of sticking up for him, I gave up. The only thought going through my mind as I carried Jackson to the car… “We’re never coming back.” I’m really disappointed in myself… instead of confronting the situation, I ran. Just like I did in middle school.
Once out of the situation I “became an adult” again and realized how much more I could have done to help the situation and make it better. I called my mother-in-law (she’s an early childhood educator) for tools I could use in the future. The advice was basic and intuitive – I just needed a little reminder.
Playgroup Bullying Tips:
1) Have the kids take turns picking toys in the first place.
2) If they try to take each others toys, suggest that they trade instead.
3) Facilitate their interaction – “You can play with this and you can play with this. We are going to share/take turns…”
4) Let the situation play out as a learning experience. Victims need to learn to stand up for themselves.
5) Don’t let a situation escalate to where it is physically or emotionally harmful to the children.
6) Go to the parent – “We’re trying to figure out how to share this…”
7) Talk to the playgroup leader.
Next time, I’ll be better prepared. Though Jackson doesn’t yet recognize it… I’ve got his back.