This week, my son came out of after-school football club with a look that told me he was absolutely destroyed about something.
When we got in, he confided in me that some boys had been heckling him about his football skills – even though he’d scored a goal. They had wanted one of their mates to take the big penalty kick instead of him. He was ‘rubbish’ and this other kid was practically David Beckham’s love child, or something. This clique had been mean to him a few other times, too.
It wasn’t just the hurtful comments that had wounded him but the feeling of being ganged up on and excluded from Year 3’s self-proclaimed sporting elite.
I suppose this was our first real bullying incident. A few times in the past, my son has complained that so-and-so had been mean to him. But, after a few consoling words from me, he’d always been able to shake it off and forget about it.
But the football incident was different. It really hurt him and he was kept awake thinking about it. He was considering throwing in the towel and quitting football club.
As adults, we know that all kids are little brats sometimes and it’s easy to dismiss these childish incidents. While I’m not trying to whip up this episode into huge event, I was really taken aback by how upset my son was. I felt heartbroken for him.
What I also quickly realised when trying to comfort my son, was that I wasn’t really prepared for this incident. My dealing-with-bullies advice armoury was distinctly lacking and I struggled to find the right words and coping strategies to offer him.
The irate and irresponsible me wanted him to tell those little sh*ts to shut the hell up. But I ended up blurting out some sketchy advice along the lines of: ‘stand up for yourself but don’t stoop to their level… or do anything to get in trouble with the teacher.’ Not really a clear strategy he could easily follow.
Knowing I had spilled parenting failure all over the floor, I decided to call in an expert to help mop my shit up.
‘Just ignore them! Don’t rise to it…’ said Grandma on FaceTime, ‘…then they’ll never get the satisfaction of knowing they’ve upset you’. I was pretty sure that was better advice for this particular situation – so we’re going with that for now.
Of course, I had a quiet word with Coach the next day to ask if he could keep an eye out for any signs of trouble.
I’m hoping this playground unpleasantness will be short-lived and my son will be fine. He seems happier now anyway.
But it’s made me realise I need to have better advice and approaches for dealing with these things in the future.
What advice do you give your kids when they are being picked on or having trouble with friends? What action do you take? What’s your stance on encouraging them to ‘tell’ or to stand up for themselves? Please let me know in the comments below…