My 7 years old son is being bullied in school... what to do?

Hi, all.

I just wrote a long post explaining all the tiny details of the ordeal, but… here are the basics:

  • My son is a good kid. He’s been in the kindergarten since he was 3, he finished preschool, and knows how to be a part of a group.

  • He started school this September, and things were going pretty well for a few days, but then it turned out that he is being bullied by most of the other boys.
    We tried telling him not to pay attention to them. Didn’t help.
    We told him to alert the teacher (I spoke to her as well), but she is all: “It’s kids’ stuff, let’s not jump to any conclusions, blah, blah”)
    We told him to fight back, but the others started attacking him in groups.

This Friday, during the first break, four boys attacked him “because hi likes girls”… Then, during the PE class, one of the boys hit him in the head with a ball, and during another break, two of them followed him to the bathroom, knocked him down and started kicking him…

Now.

  • The teacher likes him, and he likes her, but she seems to be too… slow. She’s completely clueless about the stuff that’s going on during five minute breaks between classes.

  • He wet the bed three times this past month. Now, at first I thought it has to do with the fact that my mother - his grandma - is ill with lung cancer, lung fibrosis and a manner of similar wonderful things - but I’m guessing that’s not the only cause.

  • His overall behavior seems to be… regressing. He is able to cry if you look at him the wrong way, and he started mixing his “L” and “R” sounds, as well as some others.

My kid suffers. A lot.

Now, what to do?

I could speak to the teacher again, but either she’ll be as unwilling to do anything as she was the times before, that won’t help. If she does react, and those boys get in trouble, they might figure out that’s because of him, and he’ll catch hell (happened to me when I was a kid).

Should I speak to the Principal directly? Should I ask her to move him to another class?
I’ve been taught that only cowards run away from the problem, but it seems to me that running away (ie, changing class) wouldn’t be such a bad idea… Those are some seriously messed - up kids he’s dealing with there.

Any ideas? Advice?

Please forgive any grammar errors, writing in English is quite hard when one is upset :).

The principal. This has gone beyond guys being guys. Yes, young kids can be jerks and you have to take some of this crap as a kid.

This has gone beyond that.

A friend of mine was a middle school principal. This is the type of situation he expected to deal with. You’re not running to the principal because someone called junior a poo-poo head.

Most principals have at least a master’s degree in education and should be prepared to handle this type of situation.

Since the teacher hasn’t helped before, I’d request a meeting with her and the principal together, to find out what they’re going to do prevent this from happening again. I’d also take notes on each incident and each meeting that you have.

Who’s breaking up the fights between classes? Where are you, out of curiosity? Around here, kids that age wouldn’t be able to have that many fights without an staff member noticing.

I don’t know about asking to switch classes right now, but he’s seven, and even if he was older, it’s not cowardly to remove yourself from an abusive situation. Getting knocked down and stomped on by two people is way over the line.

The school probably has a formal written policy on dealing with bullying. Ask for a copy and see if it looks reasonable and sounds like it should deal effectively with the problem. If so, work on getting the policy applied to this case - if not, work on getting it reviewed.

I understand exactly what you’re going through, and offer my sympathies to you and your son.

As to what to do, given that you’ve already spoken to the teacher and nothing has been done, I think you have no choice but to go to the principal. I also think that fighting back is probably not the way to go, both because of the others attacking him in groups, as you mentioned, but also because if he reacts violently, he’s going to end up being punished too (assuming anyone at the school moves to punish the violence at some point).

If the bullying does not stop even after you’ve talked to the principal, I can’t see any other option than pulling him out of his current school. The bullying won’t stop unless someone stops it, and if no one at school will, you’re going to have be the ones that do. He can’t keep suffering like this, and I really don’t think it’s the coward’s way out. We had to make that decision for our son 6 years ago, and it was the best decision we ever made.

I think you might find Barbara Coloroso’s book The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School–How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence helpful to look at. I’ve not read the book itself, only some essays and excerpts, but found them insightful and helpful.

As well, please keep talking to your son, and listening to him. At this point, he really needs to be reminded constantly that there are people on his side who care about him and who are trying to stop what’s being done to him. Most importantly, he needs to be told repeatedly that it’s not his fault. I know you’re probably already doing it, but the importance of it cannot be overestimated.

Finally, I just wanted to say that it’s very clear you love your son, and I think he’s very lucky to have someone like you in his corner.

Homeschooling is also an option. Or moving to another school. Running away from this type of situation is far, far preferable to the trauma potential of 10 more years (or even one more, really) of torture for your child. As someone who went through a decade of peer abuse at school, I have to tell you that anything is better than allowing it to continue any further, as your kid’s stupid teacher seems to be doing.

If you have to leave your kid in this school, I’d say yes, change his classes, talk to the principal, perhaps the other kids’ parents too. Any environmental change which would get him away from the bullying children would help… remember, just like domestic violence, this situation is not the fault of the victim, no matter what “common wisdom” has to say. The children doing these things to him are little criminals, victimizers. It’s all on them. I wouldn’t be averse to having a direct conversation with the little shits who are trying to ruin his life also, but in this day and age who knows what kind of havoc this (actual communication from an authority figure who is not their parent!) might cause. :rolleyes:

I live in Serbia (Slobodan Milosevic, war crimes, NATO Bombing… yeah, that Serbia), where kids are being let to roam free and bash each others’ brains out, apparently…

Thanks for all the replies so far, folks. It helps to know that I’m not being irrational for being completely freaked out by all of this.

Second going to the principal. All of my 8 year old’s teachers would have had this nipped in the bud long ago. Boys will be boys and all that, and teachers of that age group need to direct their energies, and she is obviously failing.

Go to the principal and if s/he does nothing, call the police. Your child was physically attacked. This has to be dealt with. NOW.

Sigh… this is always a difficult issue. There are two schools of thought on how to deal with bullying: work through the system, though it may be slow or ineffective, or teach& train your son to beat the crap out of the ring leader, with is slow, and has it’s own set of consequences.

My suggestion is to approach this in two phases:

  1. Request a meeting with the principal. Request it in writing. In your letter requesting the meeting, document as factually as possible, and as completely as possible, both the effects on your child and as many specific instances of bullying as you can.

Regarding the effects on your child, document specific effects on your child’s behavior, academic performance, and emotional state. Mention any effects that hamper normal functioning, this will get the attention of any specialists such as psychologists. Try to write it in a clinical, detached, unemotional perspective. Mention dates, number of occurences of problem behaviours, etc. like how often he has cried from fear and refusing to go to school.

Regarding the instances of bullying, mention as many as possible. Mention each occurence individually. In each case, mention all the boys involved, the time and place, what everyone did, when was it reported to a teacher and to which teacher, and how that individual teacher failed to take you seriously or address the problem effectively. Needless to say, document any further instance to the nines.

In your letter, mention the measures you want taken to address the situation. You may include that each boy involved be given counseling, be kept apart from your son, and that an anti-bullying program be implemented at your school.

You must mention that, from what you have seen, the school adminstration is currently tailing to provide “a safe environment compatible with learning” for your son, and that you are prepared to take further measures if necessary to see that this matter be resolved. Use this phrase, because it is in the mandate of just about every school administration in North-America, and the job description of every principal.

In essence, your letter will be setting the groundwork for any legal action or escalation to higher authorities such as a school board, and the principal should realize this, and start worrying that this may affect his performance evaluation. In short, it should get his attention.

After you have the meeting, send the principal and everyone who attended a detailed set of minutes listing all the measure that will be taken, when they will be completed, and the ONE person who is responsible for each action. Finish your minutes with a sentence to the effect that, "unless he sends any additions or changes within a week, these minutes will be considered to match her recollection of the meeting.

Document any further incident in writing in a letter to involved parties.

There have been enough instances of lawsuits filed against schools & schoolboards lately that this should certaily get you on their radar.

Pursue them to make sure they implement their plan.
Second phase. While all this adult paperwork stuff is going on, teach your son that, every time someone does something that is bullying, to say, very LOUDLY:

“<Name of harasser> STOP <doing bad thing>” to turn away and to walk towards a teacher.

e.g. “ANDREW STOP THROWING BALLS AT MY FACE”’ - walks away from Andrew towards teacher.

If children are hurting him or hitting him, teach him to push (not hit) them away firmly then walk away, while saying the above.

Also, get him forethewith into an effective self-defence martial art class. Any karate school, or jiu-jitsu, hapkido, boxing or kick-boxing. I would stay avoid judo or Tae-Kwon-Do. Yes, this is teaching him how to fight. Ideally, the confidence gained will eliminate the need to use the skills. But learning to fight effectively, even at the elementary school-yard level, takes time, especially if you start with an already scared kid. If all your administrative measure above come to naught, he may have to settle this the old fashion way, but you will have hopefully prepared a thorough case for self-defense with all your documenting, and given him time to acquire some skills.

If it comes down to this, and hopefully it wont, he must take on the “leader” of the harassers, otherwise he will have to fight them all, one by one, and that will give him a problem in his file as frequently violent, which you don’t want. He must inflict enough damage in one fight to permanently deter the leader and his gang from coming back, so that means more than one lucky punch. He must not humiliate the leader, or mock him, or give him any reason to escalate a retaliation, just communicate the message that kid-taz is no longer worth hassling. There will be a disciplinary meeting of some sort, but for a first time offense, especially with the background of the situation, he should get off relatively lightly.

Your kid must never, in any way, either threaten to use, bring to school, or use anything that could be construed as a weapon. This could initiate “anti-Columbine”’ security protocols, and get your kid in worse trouble than his aggressors.

Alright. teachers, psychologists, parents who’ve been there, this is where you chime in. Agree with me or not, feel like applauding or screaming at me, it doesn’t matter, so long as we help out papataz in the end.

Ok, gotta run, I said I would be down for dinner 30 minutes ago. Good luck to you.

Trupa,

I think the majority of what you wrote was excellent, excellent advice, at least for North American schools. I don’t know how effective it would be in Serbia, but it’s still awesome advice on the whole.

I especially loved this part:

We differ on the martial arts part, but the rest was fantastic.

Sorry papataz, that’s terrible and all I can offer is another vote for Trupa’s advice. Since the culture *is *different, you’ll be the best judge about self-defence lessons, but they sound like a good idea, for your boy’s self esteem as much as anything else.

QFT. My parents did not make this decision for me and it left me permanently scarred.

I teach Developmental Psychology and many of the suggestions above are quite good: talk to the teacher and principal at the school.

However, many studies have show that some children have difficulties learning to assimilate with other kids in a group. Think about yourself as an adult - can you go up to a group of strangers and start to mingle with no problems? Now think about a kid trying to approach a group of other kids and want to play with them.

One thing you can do is try to teach your son how to enter a group…wait and observe, see how they play, see what they are playing, approach in a friendly and helpful manner, figure out who to approach first. In other words, teach your son to how approach a group of kids he doesn’t know.

Take him to the park, sit down on a bench and point out to him which kids in the group are the leaders and which kids feel shy. Which of those kids is going to be more receptive to him and which will feel threatened?

This learning process of group entry is something that most people intuitively either “get” or “don’t get” on their own, but new studies are showing it can, indeed, be learned. Worth a try.

(Oh, and don’t get TOO involved, just watch other children playing while sitting with your son and give him a play-by-play of the other kids personalities from body language. Then let your son take it from there, if and when he decides to approach them, and you back off.)

trupa, thanks for your advice. Even though it’s a bit… too modern for the country I live in, there are some parts of the advice I can apply to our situation.

However, I’m afraid that the laws here aren’t as strict as they should be: for example, last year, a few of the older kids (8th grade, 14 years) have beat up another, younger kid, with a… police bat (?), and they used their phones to make a video of said beating. It was all over the Net.
Their punishment? They were moved to a different class within the same school, and only those whose parents agreed to it. What the hell???

So, yeah, I don’t have much faith in the local law system.

DMark, like I’ve mentioned in the OP, my kid hasn’t had a problem with the group dynamics before… But, the problem is, the kids he’s dealt with are, for the most part, good kids. Just twenty days ago, he had a bunch of them over for his birthday celebration, and I was genuinely amazed at how well - behaved those kids are: they took turns playing computer games (everyone gets to play for one life, as soon as he/she dies, another kid gets to play until he/she dies), when they were playing Twister, the winner of a particular game gets to be the judge in the next one, etc, etc… And I didn’t impose any rules on them - they came up with the system themselves.

However, the boys he’s dealing with now are different…
For instance, at the risk of sounding all snobbish, I’ll say that one of the boys is poor (his parents both don’t work).
Now, being poor is no crime. But, stealing my kid’s Spider - man ruler and his Ninja Turtles notebook wrapper (?) is. And, while I understand why he wanted my kid’s stuff, I cannot accept such behavior… *

Another kid is just… neglected. His dad travels all over the country for work, and his mom works long hours… Once again, it’s sad, but that’s not my problem.


  • When I told the teacher that the other kid took my son’s ruler, she said that “There’s no way of proving that” [Other than, of course, the fact that my kid says so, and the fact that he has a matching backpack, notebook and the entire set of school supplies. Aghrh!]
    What I find really disturbing is that the other kid had that ruler for a whole month (before my son took it back) which means that either the other boy’s parents either never checked their kid’s homework, or that they don’t care. It’s bad however you look at it.

You see, the problem I have is this: in his life, he’s bound to face a lot more jerks and/ or inconsiderate people and I don’t know how to prepare him for that.
Whew! Sorry for rambling this much!

Everyone else, thank you for your input as well.

Change schools. Do it now. Don’t even send him to school tomorrow.

I’d have a meeting with the principal, teacher, and if possible, the parents of the other children. Most parents would be horrified to know that their children are inflicting this shit on another kid.

I’d also remind the school that you are holding THEM responsible for protecting your child when you’re not around.

After that meeting, if it continues, pull the kid out. He’s still very young and this isn’t something he can be expected to handle on his own.

Good luck. Poor little guy…:frowning:

A police bat is called a “nightstick.”
A “notebook wrapper” is called a “book cover.”

And your writing in English is near-perfect. Don’t worry about it.

I think the best way to prepare him to deal with bullies and jerks is to teach him that different situations call for different actions.

Regardless of what people say, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to harassment. That’s why it really irks me when people proclaim that running away is an act of cowardice, or that the kids should always (or never) tell the teacher. Sometimes running away is cowardice, and other times it’s the most pragmatic solution. (Though I don’t see switching classes or schools as “running away.”)

Good luck to you.

Dear papataz,

Yours was the only post in this thread when I started writing, and I confess, your English is so good I immediately assumed you were somewhere in Indiana or Michigan. So, as you and others have pointed out, my suggestions entirely assumed a North-American context. My apologies.

I’m afraid that, when there isn’t a legal and educational infrastructure aimed at combating bullying, working through official channels isn’t likely to be very effective. The example you pointed out illustrates this. So you have to consider unofficial channels, which may not be pretty, or ethical in a general sense, for that matter. But he’s *your *son, and I *hate *bullies. If you feel your ethics preclude you from doing this, that is up to you. I know I would be prepared to do a great many things I consider otherwise very bad if they were necessary for my son’s well being.

Before I begin, I should mention that this makes it even more important that your son learn to defend himself and fight his own battles. Get him into classes now. Do not expect him to be able to hold his own for 6 to 9 months.

You mentioned you have a certain economic advantage over those other kids. I don’t know your family’s situation, and whether you can afford this or not. Here are my dirty-tricks suggestions, in order of increasing “dirtyness”:

  1. Pay your son’s martial arts instructor for special one on one lessons in 4 or 5 “quick & dirty” techniques that your son can master relatively quickly. Make sure he practices them with full impact on a padded target. Explain your problem to the instructor. Follow his advice on when your son is ready to confront his bullies.

  2. Go see the principal as I mentioned earlier, but consider offering him a bribe to act decisively. I can’t recommend amounts since I don’t know prices in Serbia, but I would suggest enough to pay for a nice meal with wine for two and a night at a medium-class hotel. Be very discreet about it, and never mention it verbally. Perhaps you can put the money in the envelope of your letter. This has the benefit of preserving the appearance that everything was done through official channels.

  3. Find a boy or two at your school that you can “hire” as “bodyguards” for your son. Choose a big boy, at least two or three years older, and preferably also relatively poor. This will mean he will be likely to be “tougher” and more used to fighting, and will have a greater appreciation for what you pay him. Offer him the equivalent of the price of one X-Box game cartridge as a down-payment to get the boys to stop harassing your son, and a weekly payment equivalent to two movie tickets to keep protecting him. Instruct him to be careful not to break any bones and not to leave any bruises on the face of the bullies. This is relatively cheaper than the first options, and likely to be effective. It is important that this boy not tell your son that you have hired him. Your son should not learn that you will fight all his battles, even when you fight a few for him. Have the bodyguard make up a story about hating what the bullies have done or some such.

I think I will stop here. There are still more options, but I think they trip even my ethical filters.

Papataz, your desire to get involved speaks well of you as a father. As one father to another, I salute you, and encourage you not to give up. I also encourage you not to indicate you are even considering following any of my advice on this board.

And if I have offended or shocked you, more kind-hearted dopers in gentler places, I’m sorry. I’m glad you have other options to consider where you are. Remember my first post. Go ahead and flame if you want to.

I am a bit…conflicted…here, in terms of the advice I want to give.

First of all, just to get it out of the way, that teacher is a completely oblivious idiot. Is there another class in the same grade he can transfer to? I will thus echo the suggestion that a nice long talk with her and the principal is definitely in order.

My experience…I was bullied unmercifully during grade school, a total and complete outcast. No teacher rode to my rescue (the school environment-parochial Catholic grade school-was in fact very laissez-faire in that regard, to be kind, sparing the awful details). The advice of my old-fashioned father (“kick their asses”) didn’t help either. My conflict comes down to this; in retrospect I now grok how I contributed to that state of affairs, yet a lot of it just came down to the fact that I was different (more intelligent, more sensitive, Dad was wealthy and we lived in an expensive old-fashioned house in the country that everyone knew about, yet I was also painfully oblivious of certain “playground” social norms, among other things, and I may have acted haughty without actually realizing it). My situation was undoubtedly different from yours, and that of your son, in many ways, and what I don’t want to do here is play the Blame the Victim game, not at all.

But if you hope that a new school will magically solve all his problems, then you must take several things into consideration, starting with how his peers perceive him and how he presents himself. I too remember the fun times when several of my “friends” (I only had one friend actually) came over and we had a ball playing various games while my mom baked cookies. Come next Monday and they would be all over my ass again. As a parent you will be oblivious about such things because they will edit their behavior when you are in their presence (and your son’s).

I remember when I moved away from there and how I hoped that the new school would be completely different (“It had to, didn’t it? This can’t be my fault…”), only to see the exact same crap start up all over again with a new peer group (and again after I switched to yet another school). It only stopped when the light came on and I was able to see how, in part, I was bringing this on myself (alas other things-core values and such-I wasn’t about to/couldn’t change, and at age 14 I accepted my “otherness” and moved on). At his age tho your son will likely have no such insight into his own behavior (and no, shrinks and such probably won’t help either, in case you were wondering).

It is possible that a more enlightened school (if such things exist-I would hope they would. In my time they didn’t) would have no-nonsense policies in place to greatly cut down on this sort of thing. But that is not the only part of the equation that needs to be considered, and that is the only real point I am trying to make. I hope this didn’t come across as too presumptuous.