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.
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?