Embracing the “Bully”

Last year I volunteered in my son Zach’s kindergarten class. There was a boy Emmett who was bigger than most of the other kids, and he quickly got a reputation for being a bully. I noticed at recess though that the other kids would provoke Emmett. They’d annoy and pester him until he started pushing them back. I asked his mom whether he felt the kids were picking on him. She thanked me for noticing that and said he did feel like the kids were bothering him and trying to get him “worked up.” She said it was getting better though, and she was coaching him on how to respond without fighting back.

This year, another boy, let’s call him Puck, has had such serious problems with a few other kids that he’s been assigned to the library for all three recess periods, where he’s had supervised interactions with just a few other kids. Some of the parents of kids Puck has fought with have been angry enough to lobby for him to be suspended or even expelled.

I talked to the school principal and found out that the kids Puck has been having problems with have told Puck they don’t want to play with him anymore. The principal feels that excluding one kid from a group is a form of “bullying” too, and I agree with her. A lot of the kids at school were starting to talk about how “Puck” was mean, and no one wanted to play with him.

I decided to invite Puck to stay after school one day a week to play with Zach and some of the other kids we hang out with. Later I heard a couple of other families also reached out to Puck’s family and started inviting Puck over for play dates. I was really relieved and inspired by their kindness and compassion.

Two boys hugging

Sometimes kindness works magic

I’ve seen now that Puck can be rough at times and a little slow to respond when other kids tell him to stop being rough, but I’ve also seen him being just your average calm, silly kid. He seems to behave best when he’s playing with just one other kid and when they’re both focused on a task, like building something or baking cookies.

Last week I noticed that Zach and another boy were laughing and running off together, away from Puck, who kept following them, desperate for their attention. I worry that Zach is going to reject Puck just like other kids have. I’m going to bring a few organized games to the afterschool play date because the boys seem to get more rowdy when they’ve gotten bored. They all quickly resort to grabbing and kicking each other.

I’m going to keep scheduling one-on-one play dates for Puck and Zach. I truly don’t believe that Puck is a bully. But I worry that being rejected and isolated again and again will turn him into one.

Have you noticed kids being labeled a bully when they really weren’t? How do you help kids work things out when they can’t do it on their own?

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7 thoughts on “Embracing the “Bully”

  1. RageMichelle October 22, 2013 at 10:28 am Reply

    How wonderful that you took the time to help this child. You go in the ‘good guy’ category.

    • Frankie Laursen October 22, 2013 at 8:18 pm Reply

      Thank you. I hope it all works out. It’s still too early to tell. I do feel like we’ve made progress in the right direction at least.

  2. Mara Migraineur October 22, 2013 at 11:45 am Reply

    I agree with RageMichelle! It has been very touching to see our community rally around these families and be supportive rather than judging.

  3. penelopegeorge October 22, 2013 at 7:57 pm Reply

    Standing O for you and all your efforts and forethought. As a mother of two ASD kids, I’m almost hyper-aware of kids with extra challenges. You demonstrated the *real* cure for bullying – friendships.

    • Frankie Laursen October 22, 2013 at 8:20 pm Reply

      Thank you! It’s hard because I can’t force Zach to be friends with any kid, but I realized I can encourage him to be open-minded and inclusive, at least when I’m there at play dates.

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    subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service. Do you have any?
    Kindly let me recognize so that I may just subscribe.
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    • Frankie Laursen October 29, 2013 at 4:08 pm Reply

      You can access the RSS feed at: https://pretendyouregoodatit.com/feed/ or you can subscribe by clicking the “Follow” link on the top right of the home page. This will allow you to subscribe by email. If you’re looking at the mobile version of my blog, you’ll need to scroll to the bottom of the page, click “View Full Site,” then click “Follow,” and enter your email address.

      Hope that helps. Thank you for reading!

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Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

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