Every year before school starts, my email inbox gets flooded with press releases filled with advice about how to talk to kids about bullying, how to recognize bullying, and how to bully-proof your child.
It sounds easy when you read about it.
But I remember when a girl in my son’s third-grade class called him “stupid” on a daily basis. I wrote about it back then in a blog. Every day, he came home. “She called me stupid again,” he would say.
What should parents do? What should I do?
Was this bullying? Should I intervene? I wondered. Because after a week of it, I worried my 8-year-old might actually believe her.
“Tell her to shut up,” I told Sawyer one night as I tucked him into bed.
“Really?” Sawyer asked.
No, of course not. But there was no reason that he should sit quietly while someone called him names. But Sawyer didn’t want to tell the teacher, and he didn’t want me to, either.
I got that. When I was a kid, if someone called you a name, you just called them a name right back.
Today we teach our kids to tell anyone who torments them, “I don’t like it when you say that.” Or, “That hurts my feelings.” We tell them to tell an adult.
But I couldn’t help but think about a more direct approach. If someone calls a boy “fat,” maybe he should retort with, “You have Dumbo ears,” or “So what? I heard you wet the bed.”
Kids need to stand up for themselves
I’m not advocating any playground violence, but I do think kids should stand up for themselves. Kids are supposed to report the little harassers, but they most often don’t – and the bullies get away with it.
Sawyer had already told the girl to stop calling him “stupid.” She hadn’t stopped.
I probably should have told him to ignore her or ask the teacher to change his seat. Instead, I told Sawyer that the next time the girl called him “stupid,” he could say something like, “At least I can get smarter – you can’t get less ugly.”
(I know, not one of my greatest parenting moments.)
Sawyer walked into school the next day armed with a ready comeback – and permission to use it.
A strange change in behavior
The funny thing was, that day, the girl didn’t call him stupid.
Not the next day, either. Or the next day.
After a few days, I wondered out loud at dinner if it was his new air of confidence that was keeping her in her place, or maybe the gleam in his eye.
Sawyer told me the actual reason: “Because I stopped acting like a cat.”
Apparently, the girl was just calling it like she saw it.