Well it’s that time of year again – back to school. Some parents are excited to send their kids off five days a week, others are sad to see them growing up so fast But we all share the same fear – that our kid will be bullied or turn into a bully themselves.
I teach my kids every day about how to not be a bully and how to stand up for their friends or fellow students if they see someone being bullied.
But for this blog post, I’m on the side of the bully.
Hear me out.
For the first two years of my son’s education (kindergarten and grade 1) and daycare before, I would receive phone calls and/or emails from the daycare staff, teachers and principal about how my son hurt other students or teachers. Many times I was asked to come and get him because he was a threat to the other students. He spent more days sitting in my office with me than he did in the classroom – or at least that’s how it felt.
I’m not one of those parents who denies that my kid did wrong. “Who my kid? No way. He’s perfect”. I knew what he was doing. I was teaching him how it was wrong and doing everything I could to help him. But it wasn’t getting through to him. He would hurt someone…Every. Single. Day. It got to the point that when I’d ask him how school was he’d say, “I didn’t kick or punch anyone. I did spit on Freddie though”. Instead of: “Freddie and I played soccer at recess and had so much fun!”. As a mother, it was heartbreaking to hear. I felt so helpless. And scared. Never knowing if the day would come when the school would get fed up and kick him out. They saw that his dad and I were working with the school and our son to try and solve these issues. But nothing seemed to work.
From the age of three, I knew something was “off” about my son. I’d talk to him and although he was looking directly at me, it was as if he wasn’t hearing a word I’d say. He’d have meltdowns almost daily, that would last for hours (this is not an exaggeration). He’d throw such massive fits that we were scared to take him to family functions or in public anywhere. He comes from a loving, nurturing home. My husband and I give our kids the attention they need, the love they crave and everything in between. Our kids have a healthy home environment. So what were we doing wrong?
Nothing. We tried every form of discipline that’s legal and not abuse. We tried the reward system for good behavior. Name it, we tried it. But nothing was getting through to our son. He kept having meltdowns, kept on not behaving or listening to any grown up, kept on hurting kids (and sometimes staff members).
Finally, we had our answer. Our son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Everything made sense now. But the question remained – how do we help him? My husband and I read numerous books, took classes, joined support groups. We talked to our pediatrician, sent our son to see a specialist. But nothing we were learning and applying was working. We made the hard decision to medicate our son. It was the best decision we ever made.
ADHD and ODD are mental illnesses. Our son’s brain doesn’t function like a “normal” child’s brain. He simply can’t control his emotions (the outbursts and meltdowns). He can’t compute or think about how his actions may have consequences and hurt other people. I remember one time when he kicked a kid on the soccer field. I asked him why he did that and he said the kid kicked him first. In the shin. I asked my son, “where was the soccer ball?” He said that he was holding it with his foot. So what really happened was the other kid was coming to kick the ball and either missed or my son moved at the last second, thus getting kicked. Makes sense. A simple mistake. But to my son, he didn’t see it that way. He was kicked so he had to retaliate. His brain didn’t stop to think about what really happened.
Our son was labelled a bully. He hasn’t been invited to birthday parties or play dates. Kids are scared of him, because of the reputation he built his first two years at school. The medication he takes has helped him immensely. You can see a change like day and night in him from before meds to after meds. He’s not a zombie either (which was my fear with many of the ADHD meds). He’s still non-stop active. But he’s loving. Caring. Social. He doesn’t hurt kids, adults or himself anymore. He doesn’t have meltdowns anymore. He has normal emotions. He gets angry and sad. But the meds help his brain deal with these emotions on a “normal” level.
This blog isn’t supposed to be about ADHD or mental illnesses or whether or not you should medicate your kid if they have a mental illness (it’s not always the answer). It’s about child bullies and why I’m sticking up for them. My son was a bully. But he didn’t know it. He couldn’t help it. He had no control over his brain or emotions. I believe the same is true for other kids who are labelled bullies (don’t get me started on adult bullies – that’s a whole other situation).
I’m not saying every child bully has ADHD or ODD or another mental illness. I certainly hope it’s not true, but it is likely very common. But, in my opinion, every child bully has something wrong with them or their lives. Why they feel the need to act out and hurt other people – so they can feel better about what’s hurting them. Maybe they’re being abused at home. Maybe they’re struggling with self esteem. Maybe they don’t have a good home life or are being hurt themselves in another environment. Maybe they’re being forced to deal with adult situations at home and need to let out their frustration and fear at school, by hurting others. There are so many sad case scenarios that could be happening in the life of a child who is labelled a bully.
Kids are some of the kindest, most honest humans on the planet. Kids ask me all the time why I have scars all over my body. I tell them and they say “Oh. Ok” and they go on with their day. They don’t call me names. They don’t tease my kids about their mom looking different. So what’s going on with the kids that aren’t so nice?
I think if we looked deeper into bullying and really looked into helping the child that is labelled a bully, we could put an end to it. One of the reasons I love the school our son is in so much is they told me that they could kick him out for his behavior – but they knew that wouldn’t help him. He’d just go to another school and be labelled a bully there. Instead, they worked with us and our son to HELP him. Now, he’s one of the most popular kids in the class. Everyone wants to play with him or be his partner. Because he’s so sweet, thoughtful and kind.
Kids should be allowed to be just that. Kids. If there is a child at school who is acting out, action needs to be taken of course. For the safety of the other kids as well as the bully himself. But we can’t give up on him. We need to help him feel safe. Feel OK to be sad or angry. Feel like a kid.
Of course, all responsibility does not fall on the schools. Parents need to step up too. But if the parent could be the problem, then someone else needs to be there for these kids. Schools, parents of other students. I would put money on that if we really dug deep, every bully in schools has a story. One that would probably break your heart. We can help them, by not giving up on them. By being there and showing we care – no matter how many outbursts or meltdowns they have. No matter how many times they kick us. My son is a recovering bully, if you will. We found his solution. We helped him. And now, he comes home from school and tells me all about the games he played with his friends. No more stories of him hurting other people. Unfortunately, he’s not invited to many birthday parties or any play dates. He only has one or two kids show up to his birthday party (or sometimes none). The label “bully” still follows him around, likely by the other kids’ parents, I suspect. I don’t blame them. My kid hurt their kid. I just wish they’d give him another chance. Their kid did.