The bully.
July 25, 2011

Charlotte encountered her very first bully at the park last week.

It’s not that she hasn’t been pushed around before, because she has.  She’s had her hair pulled and her toes smashed and her face gnawed into by an overexcited eleven-month-old.  These sorts of things happen and, at the risk of sounding like a callous old hag, I let them.

Don’t get me wrong, if it looked like that eleven-month-old had vampire incisors and a taste for blood, maybe I would have stepped in.  But a little slobber never hurt anyone, so I didn’t.

This, on the other hand?  This was different.

This was a punk twice my child’s size stepping up to her, ostracizing her, and pushing her to the ground.  Charlotte is newly two.  She didn’t understand the words flying out of that kid’s mouth.  She didn’t understand the tone of voice, the body language, or the physical aggression either.  But she didn’t need to.

I saw the incident coming and I wanted to intervene, but I didn’t.  I waited.  Even bullies sometimes teach valuable lessons.  My heart ached watching her fall to the ground, watching the look of confusion and upset flicker across her face.  But still I watched, still I waited.  A second later my baby stood up, turned around, and ran screaming MOMMA! into my arms.  She pushed her body against mine, sobbing and begging HOMING? (going home?).  My heart jumped into my throat and my whole body felt hot with anger.

Evil things fly through a mother’s mind in a moment like that, but instead I took a deep breath.  Calmed my daughter.  Ran my fingers through her hair.  Kissed her forehead.  Wiped her tears away.  Held her and rocked her side to side and told her that having her feelings hurt is just like falling down.  You have to stand back up and shake it off.  Shake shake shake.

I told her, then, that people are not always nice.  It means that they are selfish, I told her, that they forget to think about other people.  Everyone is selfish and mean sometimes.  It isn’t your fault or my fault, it’s just the way people are.  When someone is upsetting you, I continued, what you need to do is speak up for yourself.  Say: “I don’t like this.  Please stop.“  I told her that I’m always here for her, that she can always come to me with a problem.

And then I asked her what she wanted to do?  Would she like to go back and play some more?  Or would she like to go home and find something else fun to do?

She pushed away from me, looked into my eyes.  HOMING, she said.  Okay, sweetheart.  We’ll go home.  And we did.

How do you deal with bullies?


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  1. By Cambria on July 25, 2011

    Wow! I am sorry that happened.

    I’ve never encountered anything that extreme, or even as much that my child asked me to go home. I have removed them from situations that a bigger kid was being rough and said “she is very little, we need to be more careful”.

    Recently a little girl who is a year older than Hadley said to her that her outfit, that was a costume, was ugly and sneered “is that a costume?“ Her mom was right there and diffused the little girls words, but I’m not sure if Hadley got what she was saying. All she cared about was that her dress twirled and was pretty, not that the little girl was being mean.

  2. By on July 25, 2011

    Wow.  Did you see the bullyparent?  I wonder what they were thinking/doing?  Did you think about approaching the bully with Charlotte and asking for an apology or asking the bully not to push other children down?  Sometimes that can backfire/not work, but then again, there is always that glimmer of hope… I don’t know what I would do in this situation.  We’re still a bit young and just starting to toddle on our own, but I’m sure we’ll get there all too soon. 

    I fear that there will be a situation when we will be the bully, and I hope I can act and teach him appropriately at that time, if it happens.

    I look forward to hear what others say.  Give Charlotte (and yourself!) a hug from us!

  3. By Danielle on July 25, 2011

    Oh, heartbreak! I think you reacted perfectly in this situation. Nice work, Mama.

  4. By Sara on July 25, 2011

    I hope that when my girl encounters her first bully I handle the situation as gracefully as you handled it. It’s great that you turned it into a teaching moment, kudos! I think I might have been hot with anger.

  5. By on July 25, 2011

    Oh poor baby!! It’s sO so upsetting when they encounter something like this!!! Specially when the other parent doesn’t step in and put. The situation right.

    I tend to see red when anyone hurts or upsets rOry. A small boy scratched his face at a soft play place a couple of months ago and I could easily have shouted so hard!!! I didn’t but I was less than impresed!!!

    You handled it well!!!

  6. By christy on July 25, 2011

    sooooo sad.  heartbreaking actually when pure little babes learn it is a cruel world.  unfortunately you are right it is a lesson she must learn.  i encountered a bully over the weekend that made me cry. and i’m 29.

  7. By Lindsay on July 25, 2011

    Oh my gosh, my heart broke just reading this.

    My little boy is only a month old so we haven’t had to deal with this yet, but my 14 year old sister dealt with a slew of bullying last year (gum in the hair, pushing in the halls, the whole shebang) and it made me crazy. Kids can be so cruel at any age, and it’s so unfortunate. I’m not looking forward to this with my little boy. :(

  8. By Amber on July 25, 2011

    Wow. I’m so sorry to hear about Charlotte getting pushed.  I know experiences like these can make for valuable lessons, but they still suck. And knowing what a thoughtful, caring parent you are, I can imagine how painful that was for you to watch. I think the way you handled it is very interesting. I think I like it (and I definitely respect it), but I don’t think it would work for me/us.

    Nate’s been around his fair share of bratty kids, but only one real mean bully. After terrorizing the entire park for over an hour the bully (several years older than Nate) grabbed Nate’s arm very roughly and pulled him down. I told the child that he is absolutely not allowed to grab other children in that manner. And I told Nate that we were going to go play with children that play nicely. Then I found the kid’s mother and informed her what happened. She just got defensive and is clearly part of the kid’s problem.

    I just cannot tolerate any violence among the children. Particularly if there is a large age gap like there was in our bullying case.  I used to feel that it wasn’t my place to parent other people’s children, but that ship has long sailed. When Nate is playing with kids at the park and they act violent or particularly aggressive I usually step in. And I step in because 9 times out of 10 their own caregiver isn’t around to monitor their behavior (they’re usually sitting on their butt on the other side of the park) and these kids need to learn right from wrong.  I usually point out the behavior that needs to be corrected and if it doesn’t change, I tell Nate that we need to go play with other friends or in another area.

  9. By on July 25, 2011

    My son started daycare when he was 14 mo old. In five short months my son has learned to bite, push, and sit on top of other children. It is hard being the parent of a “bully”. I don’t bite, push, or sit on top of my child. But these are things he has tried to do to me.  And these behaviors started when we enrolled at school. At 19 months he is just now starting to get the vocabulary to talk to the other children and me. I sometimes feel at a loss as to how to handle a rough kid. We do a lot of redirection, I mean A LOT. But I sometimes feel so incredibly frustrated when my son tries to bite me for the sixth time in a row. Or when in a public place he pushes a kid down and tries to sit on them.

  10. By on July 25, 2011

    I’m not a mother yet, but for what it’s worth, I think you handled that situation perfectly. :)

  11. By Kim on July 25, 2011

    I am so proud of you and how you dealt with it.  It is hard to let our children fall and get hurt like that.  But it is through that falling, that they learn how to get up again.

    As for how I deal with bullies, it is very similarly to how you do it.  I hold them, we talk about how it feels to be bullied and if they think it is a nice way to act.

    Now that my children are older, we use it as an opportunity to talk about how THEY treat other people, to help them be sure they are not the bully.  But it also gives us the opportunity to talk about being assertive.

    Ah, playground lessons…they are the lifelong lessons we all learn and need to remember.

    xoxo

  12. By Sarah Christensen on July 25, 2011

    Samantha - I don’t think a 19-month-old is ever a bully.  I tend to believe that children only become bullies when they are old enough to reliably communicate well verbally.  I don’t know what age that is, exactly, but a toddler or a preschool-age kid who behaves aggressively doesn’t bother me.  They’re learning and curious and they don’t usually mean to hurt people so much as they mean to control their world, right?

    As well, Charlotte went through a biting phase too.  I think these things just happen.  Keep doing what you’re doing; I’m sure your son will stop biting soon enough!

    Amber - I didn’t know who her parent was, but I’m not sure I would have said anything.  I’ve sort of given up on other parents.

    As for the kid, well, most of the time I have no problem telling other children that she’s still little and she doesn’t understand, she needs to be played with more gently, etc.  In this case, however, the kid spent most of the time at the park playing very nicely with Charlotte.  It wasn’t until other older kids (the kid was several years older than Charlotte) showed up that she changed her mind.  She told Charlotte to leave her alone a few times, teased her a little bit which made the other older kids laugh, and then when Charlotte didn’t understand and started yelling her name and asking her to play again, she stepped forward and pushed her down and told her to leave her alone, etc.  So the kid obviously understands that Charlotte is younger and needs to be played with more gently and she’s capable of acting very nicely toward younger children - she just lost her patience when she had other kids she wanted to impress and play with.  That seems to be a much bigger discussion than just “we don’t push other kids around,“ you know?

    Lindsay - My heart hurts for your sister.  I hope things turn around for her soon.  Nobody should have to go through that, EVER.

  13. By on July 25, 2011

    My daughter is small for her age, 0 percentile small, she often gets mistaken for 2 when in fact she is 4. She gets pushed around a lot cause she is smaller than most, shes pretty chill and just shakes it off. However there have been a few times where I saw it in her eyes, “if you do that again… so help me” I dont think shes ever acted on that though.

    Once a boy took a toy and she came up and said, hes not being very nice. She explained why and then said its okay mom, Santa wont bring him any presents! The mom looked embarrassed but really the child was quite young..

    I dont think its necessary to get apologies from small children, but if they are school age they should know better and that is frustrating. I read a really good article how its better not to force “fake” apologies when they are really too young to mean it. The best you can do it try to teach them empathy and when they are old enough hope that they will feel sorry on their own! Often this is much to the dismay of other parents though ;)

  14. By on July 25, 2011

    I haven’t encountered that situation yet, and my guess is I won’t. James is big for his age (tall, dense, and wide, but not fat). And he’s very tolerant to pain (like falls and scrapes). What I’m hoping is that I can teach him to step in when other kids are being bullied. I think it’s important not only to teach our kids not to bully, but also to help whenever they can.

    That said, I think I would have approached your situation differently (not that I think you did anything wrong). Personally, I would have said something to that older kid and their parent if they were around. I’d like James to see what it’s like to stand up for someone else… not to tolerate bullying. I feel like so many people watch other people being bullied when they can help. How many times have we seen videos on the internet of kids being bullied? Well, the person holding the camera could have maybe done something…

    At this age, it’s obviously not as much of a concern. But eventually, bullying becomes incredibly dangerous….

  15. By Sarah Christensen on July 25, 2011

    Jen - I don’t believe in forcing behavior either, so I wouldn’t have demanded an apology from the child.

    MC - There are some circumstances where I will happily stand up for Charlotte.  Against adults, for example.  But children are a different ballgame.  Whether or not the other kid knows better (and I think she did), she isn’t mine.  And Charlotte does need to learn eventually that people aren’t nice all the time - I’d rather have her learn that on my terms than without me.

  16. By Sarah Christensen on July 25, 2011

    MC - Thinking on it, another consideration is that I’d personally prefer that if Charlotte acted out when I wasn’t watching, the other parent involved came to me and told me instead of stepping in with her.

  17. By Sarah Christensen on July 25, 2011

    MC - On the flip side (now that I’ve been thinking about it for the last hour lol), maybe it is a better idea to involve the parents.  Obviously if Charlotte, say, put herself in a danger when I wasn’t watching I’d prefer that someone interacted with her and managed the situation, then came and chewed me out.  So.  I’m a hypocrite.

  18. By Amira on July 25, 2011

    Firstly, HIIIII!

    I’m a long time reader, first (or maybe second?) time commenter.

    I think you handled it gracefully and kudos to you for staying cool and collected!

    Moments like that always put a knot in my throat and although I know it’s a lesson my child needs to learn, it doesn’t make it any easier.

    My son is pretty big for his age, similar to MC’s description of her son. He’s gentle with younger kids, but older kids manipulate him and it drives me NUTS. The situation of the older child teasing Charlotte sounds like something that would happen with my boy too and in such a case, I first explain to my son that they don’t wan to play and suggest other things for him to do. If it gets to the point that the other child transgresses against mine, then I do step in and say something to the effect of “If you can’t be nice and play politely, then leave him alone” or something. I want my son to learn that not everyone will be pleasant, but I don’t think it’s fair let him be taken advantage of.

    It’s a hard balance to strike, especially without being emotionally involved.

    I also really like what MC said about teaching them to stand up for others. Great point!

  19. By Alicia S. on July 26, 2011

    Matthew’s been at both end of the spectrum. Luckily he never bit, but being around older kids a lot, he learned to tease and hurt other kids’ feelings. I had the opposite issue—everyone I knew was so kind to us, that they kept trying to reassure me it was only a phase and that he would grow out of it. I’m glad I took it upon myself to really work with him on it. Judging from my experience, I think more parents than we realize do just kind of chalk it up to stages and phases and don’t even try to teach their children otherwise. It’s unbelievable.

    Having a step-daughter in sixth grade, it’s terrifying to see where bullying can lead when it’s not dealt with…(My daughter was afraid to get on the bus for a week because she watched a kid get beat up, and when she told the teacher, the bully and all of her friends threatened to beat her up for being a snitch.) even though I’ll be the first to admit I definitely did not always know the best way to either. It’s was a lot of trial and error and doing the best I could.

    He’s also learned to speak up for himself in a way that is (almost uncharacteristically!) patient but stern. Honestly, I think him experiencing it himself is what got it through to him—so I agree, even bullies teach lessons, and I LOVE the way that you explained dusting yourself off to Charlotte. I’ve always had a hard time breaking it down for Matthew to really understand, especially when he’s emotional from getting his feelings hurt.

    Jen—I ALSO have a little girl now who’s under the 5th percentile. She’s only ten months old now, but I worry about this with her.

  20. By missjoules on July 26, 2011

    I just wanted to say that what I am most impressed by in your interaction with Charlotte is that after explaining to her that you need to shake it off, you allowed her to decide to go home. I think that some people take the ‘brushing it off’ lesson a bit too seriously sometimes and try to force it on their kids when they’re not ready.

  21. By Courtney on July 26, 2011

    It’s sad that this kid’s parent didn’t jump in and it’s even sadder that your 2 year old had to experience it. What you told her was perfect, I think, and when my daughter encounters a bully for the first time, I think I’ll take a page from your book and use the same approach. Well done, Mama!

  22. By Alicia S. on July 26, 2011

    Just want to add that I agree with missjoules 1000%. That was my favorite part for exactly that reason.

  23. By on July 26, 2011

    Totally agree with missjoules too and Jen (re: forcing apologies) and Alicia S. (treat it, dno’t let it work itself out), as well as with the general consensus of teaching my child(ren) to stand up for themselves and others.  All of this with also giving them the love and self confidence they need to know when other people’s opinions don’t matter.  Easy peasy, yeah?

  24. By on July 26, 2011

    My son was large for his age and physically rough with others. After a long time of trying to get him to be more careful, I watched him shove a much older child. That child turned around and sent my son flying. I didn’t step in. He learned a valuble lesson that day. Not - don’t pick on bigger kids but that getting shoved hurts.

    However, when he was very young, two brothers on the playground ganged up and plotted to hit my son. I overheard and stepped in. My reward was their mom telling me not to tell her sons what to do. Some parents are a part of the problem.

  25. By on July 26, 2011

    Well, there’s a difference between picking on someone and being a bully. Kids pick on other kids all the time. All shapes and sizes. For unknown reasons and sometimes for cruel ones (like race and religion).

    I don’t think every situation needs intervention (and in your particular case, you’re probably right…. you didn’t need to step in). But I do think that something that has a potential to spiral out of control, or something very sensitive to individuals, should definitely be addressed right away. No one should ever pick on anyone based on their colour or religion or gender. EVER. And bullying (real bullying) should NEVER be tolerated.

    One thing that we should also consider is that not all bullies intentionally bully. For example, I was feeling harassed at work a few years ago (I guess that’s a form of bullying) and after taking it for several months, I snapped. I told him I felt harassed and I wanted him to stop speaking to me in that manner. It surprisingly came out clear and direct and calm. The guy looked at me, walked away and never spoke to me like that again. Sure, he may be a jerk sometimes and be a little aggressive in the manner he deals with people at work, but I don’t think he ever intended to be a bully.

    I don’t think that approach will work much on older kids and teenagers, but it’s certainly worth a shot….

  26. By Sarah Christensen on July 26, 2011

    MC - I’ve been thinking about it overnight now and I think you have a really good point.  I’ve been trying to think about why I didn’t step in - how confident was I that the other kid would stop?  The push didn’t surprise me, for example, but it did surprise me that it knocked her down.  What if the other kids had joined in?  At what point would I have stepped in?  What sort of words would I have used to ‘parent’ other peoples’ children and what sort of words would I have used to talk to their parents?  Should I have located the adult responsible for the kid?  Is this the sort of strategy that will work with older children?  At what point does being picked on turn into being bullied?  Etc. etc. etc.

    Alot of questions, none of which have easy answers.

    Mitzie - I can’t believe the other parents in that situation!  That is a prime example of how sometimes parents are part of the problem.

  27. By on July 26, 2011

    Sarah, well done in a difficult situation. 

    Interesting comments all round. 

    Sometimes I wonder whether “parenting” (aka telling off) the aggressor is the right approach.  Isn’t it better to congratulate good behaviour rather than punish bad behaviour?  I just wonder whether “parenting” other children actually does any benefit, or whether it is just a veil for venting your own frustrations…

    Not saying that I wouldn’t succome to venting myself on occasion, I’m hardly perfect, but just wondering about your thoughts on this…

  28. By Sarah Christensen on July 26, 2011

    Danya - I try to steer clear of ‘parenting’ other peoples’ children…unless it’s the children of very close friends and there’s an understanding that they can do the same with my own child and I won’t mind.  So I might not be the best person to ask that of.  I think that stepping in with someone else’s child can have benefits - for example, if Charlotte hadn’t opted to leave the playground and had returned to the older kid and chanted her name again, what would she have done?  Would she have become increasingly aggressive toward Charlotte?  Probably.  But if I had stepped in and said no, don’t do that, the aggression probably would have stopped in its tracks.  I hate to say it, but being an adult and therefore simply larger than a child has advantages in situations like that.

    But seriously, I really don’t like interfering with other peoples’ kids.  It makes me very uncomfortable.  And when other parents, especially parents I don’t know, involve themselves in the ‘parenting’ of my child, I see red.  It’s only happened once and I went completely off the deep end.  If other parents are anything like me, interfering with their kid is just a recipe for disaster.


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