Stopping the rot before it starts

>> Wednesday, 17 February 2010

At Boy #1's school in London, bullying wasn't much of a problem - at least, not in the 15 months he went there. I suspect this was because Reception and Year 1 had their own sites away from the big kids, meaning that the general atmosphere was fairly laid-back and low key. So we never had to deal with it.

His new school in Moscow, however, is built on a much larger scale. Sometimes this is definitely an advantage, as with the library that parents have access to with a life-saving dvd section full of kid's titles. As with the cafeteria that is open to parents all day and which does a mean hot chocolate and the only freshly-squeezed orange juice I've come across in the city so far. Or as with the outdoor ice-rink that the children get a lesson on every week in winter when the weather is cold enough.

Sometimes, however, the disadvantages of a larger establishment become apparant too. Yesterday afternoon post pick-up, the boys were in the playground and Boy #1 was targeted by two 2nd graders who were looking for someone to torment.

What do you do in that situation?

Usually my stance is to keep an eye on things and perhaps offer a little helpful advice along the lines of 'stay away from them, if you can't do that then ask them why they're doing it (and hopefully make the aggressor realise what an idiot he is), and then finally, if all else fails, fight back - although be prepared to run fast if you do...'

This time, however, the boys were 2 years older and substantially bigger. Boy #1 stood no chance, and these 2 unsupervised boys showed no sign of letting up. So I committed the cardinal sin, and confronted them myself (I mean, my son had been forced to take refuge under a wooden vehicle in a snow hole and was beset from both sides by these two boys).

I walked up to them. The ringleader saw me coming and scarpered, but his cohort was cornered. "Why are you doing that?" "What? I'm not doing anything!" "Come on. You can see he's not enjoying it. Why would you continue to chase and push someone smaller than you if you know they don't like it? Really, I'm interested. Why?"

A look of confusion crossed the boy's face. A grown-up was having a reasonable conversation with him about something that he was plainly in the wrong on. What the hell was going on? "Don't ask me. Ask my friend. He's the one in control, he's the one telling me what to do."

Now I was the one who was confused. "So does that make it alright? Doing something that you know is wrong just because someone else tells you to?" He shrugged. I tried another tack. "So, do you always do what people tell you to? Do you always do what your mum tells you to, for example?" "Yeeeesssss." "Oh, come on. I doubt that." "Well - sometimes, I do...." "Thought so. I think that maybe this time you could think for yourself and see this is not the right thing to do. Otherwise I might have to find your mum and talk to her about this."

He thought about that, and melted away whilst I pulled Boy #1 out from under the wooden ambulance (how fitting) where he had found refuge.

End of conversation. But not, perhaps, end of situation. I'm worried that I did exactly the wrong thing, but I couldn't just stand by. Not only were my motherly instincts up and fighting but the whole unfairness of someone smaller being picked on got to me too.

On the plus side, he didn't seem unduly perturbed and was happy to continue playing with his friends for a few more minutes before we headed home. And as he doesn't share break-times with the class these boys are in, the only time they're likely to cross paths in the near future is when I'm around. Also, thanks to the Moscow winter, the children are all so heavily disguised at the moment with their snow gear and hats that I'm hoping that the fact I put Boy #1 in a different coat and snow pants this morning (rather than his previous orange / red combination, which did make him rather visible) means he might just slip under the radar until the aggressors have forgotten all about it...

But what would you have done?


Liz (LivingwithKids) 17 February 2010 at 09:34  

When we had a similar problem we spoke to the school and they dealt with it. It's very difficult though to suppress your inner Mummy Bear/Lioness instinct when your young are being attacked, verbally or physically. I must admit I felt like marching into the school and picking up the bully by the scruff of his neck.

TheMadHouse 17 February 2010 at 09:35  

I will be watching the comments, as this is something I have yet to encounter, well they are only 3 and 4, so I have no idea, but as Liz has said my hackles would be automatically raised

Keren David 17 February 2010 at 09:39  

In that situation I always got right in there. Short and snappy. Never caused a problem.
Once they're teenagers you might want to step back a bit.

Tattie Weasle 17 February 2010 at 10:03  

I'd be in like Flynn. I'd also tell the school just so an eye can be kept on him while I am not there. The beatbullying website has some useful tips too. I think trying to play it cool with your boy was a good idea as well - I didn't and think I made it worse in my case. However all seems calm her on this fonrt hope it will be on yours!

Paradise Lost In Translation 17 February 2010 at 10:42  

Good on you I say! Actually I wd wade straight in there. I can't abide bullying of any sort & seeing kids treated unjustly. My kid or someone else's. I'm a teacher & I think it's a bully's secret weapon to make out that it will get worse if you 'tell on them'. That you won't get any support. most schools are quite good at dealing with situs ESPECIALLY if you keep at them & don't let it drop. I can't see how it can be a bad thing to protect the smaller & more vulnerable, or to 'help' children think about what they are doing & why, OR to show at a more basic level that they can't get away with it.
I agree it's more complex once a child is a teenager but I still think it's a battle worth fighting

Anonymous,  17 February 2010 at 11:21  

You did good - though next time ask the kid who was following the leader if they would jump off a cliff if the other kid asked them to...

On a side note, I was once the bully. The girls mum came over to our house to have a chat with my mum about what I'd been doing - my mum gave me the biggest b*****king of my life, so much so I've never forgotten it. I was then made to buy the girl a bunch of flowers with my pocket money for the next month and go round there and apologise in person. I think the humilation of my mum finding out ensured I never did it again.

mammydiaries 17 February 2010 at 13:34  

Well done you! What I found most interesting though, was the whole "doing what you're told" aspect and how we tend to engrain our children with this sort of attitude without necessarily providing them with the tools to reason whether or not the person telling them what to do is right. It's interesting... Also, there's a little something for you over at my blog. Don't feel pushed to "pass it on" or even post about it if you don't want to. I just wanted to recognize what a great blog you've got. Cheers!

nappy valley girl 17 February 2010 at 13:44  

I think I would have done the same - it would be hard to stand there and just watch your son being beaten up. And it's not as if you tore a strip off the bully either - you just had a conversation, which hopefully he took in (although you never know with children). And I also think that if my child was bullying someone, I'd be very pleased if a parent stepped in as you did.

Potty Mummy 17 February 2010 at 17:32  

Thanks Liz - I did that this morning (before posting this) and must admit it made me feel better to ensure the school is aware of it. Not sure what they can do, but at least the teacher now also knows to keep an eye open.

MH, you may never encounter it - I certainly hope not. And I'm desperately hoping it's all done and dusted, but only time will tell...

Thanks Keren - good point. Here's hoping I'm never confronted with the issue when they're teens!

Thanks Tattie; nothing to report today, so we'll see what happens. I purposefully haven't discussed it further with him - and since he's not backward in coming forward something tells me I would know if there were anything else!

Paradise, I'm so hoping that it won't be a teen issue in the next few years! And thanks for the support.

Anonymous, thanks for sharing that, and for the proof that involving the parents CAN work (I needed to hear that just in case anything more happens!)

Thanks Mammydiaries, for the support and the award! You may have noticed I'm rubbish at these but I LOVE it when I get them...

NVG, thankyou. And you have to hope the other parent would have wanted it; if they didn't, well, it does say something about cause and effect, don't you think?

Home Office Mum 17 February 2010 at 19:23  

i think you handled it perfectly and certainly a lot more calmly that I would have.

Pig in the Kitchen 17 February 2010 at 19:57  

You were very grown-up and clever, it sounded like a textbook response.

In that situation I have a quick look around to check there are no parents within earshot, then lean in very menacingly and talk in a quiet serial killer voice. I don't say anything too awful, you know things like, 'you need to back off now, is that clear?' or, 'unless you want your genitals rammed down your throat, piss off at once'.
That last one is a joke.

Anonymous,  18 February 2010 at 07:36  

I have to physically restrain myself from wading in as I often make it worse. It has happened a lot to my older son and I have found it most helpful to get the support of the school.

Speaking to parents doesn't always work, especially if they are ignorant and bullying themselves.

Anonymous,  19 February 2010 at 02:16  

I think you did fantastically well in that situation. I wouldn't have been half as clever. (Great point about how you bet he didn't even always do what his parents told him, so why do what other kids tell him. I love it - it's a brilliant argument. (The 'jump off a bridge" one loses credibility really quickly with kids, let me tell you!)

Mind you, I think that parents have to be careful in school grounds when addressing other kids, because sometimes they can misread a situation from a distance. I had to call another mother once who lectured my daughter in the playground over something she perceived seeing happen - in this case, my daughter plus others running off and leaving her daughter. She barged in and lectured my daughter for being horrible - turned out she'd just been going to put rubbish in the bin, or had invited the child to come with them to wherever they were going, and she'd declined - honestly I can't even remember now! (But even if she had run off, the mother can't know what the lead up to the situation might have been - could have been her daughter had said horrible things!)

As a parent I expect my child to be in a 'safe zone' in the school playground. I don't think it's ok for random parents to approach my kid. They should take any grievances to the teacher.

That said, an obviously physically threatening situation (as in your experience - your kid, any kid for that matter) does warrant immediate intervention, and like I said, I think you handled it really appropriately. I'd also cover yourself by letting the teacher know what you'd said.

Iota 20 February 2010 at 00:40  

I am absolutely darn hopeless in these situations. I don't know what is acceptable playground behaviour and what isn't. I don't know how to intervene. I don't know what to make a big deal of and what to ignore. I HATED doing playground duty. Instant authority without any knowledge or training.

If you felt that what was going on wasn't acceptable, then you were probably right. Trust your instincts and all that. I can't think you made it any worse, and on that basis, intervening was right. Especially if you could see that your son wasn't going to be able to get out of the situation on his own.

Oh gosh, I've just read the comments, and I realise I'm a bit out on a limb here. Everyone else seems more outraged. Aaaargh, shall I pres "publish your comment" or not? What to do?

Thing is, when I read the post, I envisaged a jolly snowball fight, but perhaps it wasn't that. Was it real proper boy fighting? In which case, yes, I agree with everyone else. You have to sort out injustice on the spot if you can.

Iota 20 February 2010 at 00:42  

And in answer to your final question "what would I have done?", I would have gone home, had a cup of tea, cried, and felt very homesick.

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