Friday, August 29, 2008

Bully Me Not

This post was on my to-do list for a long time and frankly, I don’t know how quite to organize my thoughts on the subject. A few weeks ago, a pretty scary incident happened with Kiran’s son (read about it here). Kiran’s son has been picked on by this boy at school, his bullying resulting in serious tumble down the stairs. It was a scary time for Kiran and her family, no doubt. While exchanging emails with her and a few other friends, I discovered how common bullying was in the elementary school aged kids and kids even younger.

Chip is 3 and I never thought he would be bullied and perhaps he isn’t because how do you really define bullying? In the context of someone so young?
Isolated instances of aggression?
Repeated instances by the same person?
Repeated instances of aggression with the same victim but different aggressors?
Chip falls in the last category. I don’t think he gets bullied at school, I would have heard of it, but he does fall victim at get-togethers, parties and on the playground. All kids get into scuffles, yes, but with bullying one child is always powerless against the other. The bully always holds power over the victim and the victim is unable to respond.

Take a dinner party we went to. The kids were playing in the basement when a kid about 4 years old walked up to Chip and demanded that Chip hand over the foosballs he was holding. Chip denied. The boy, punched Chip in the stomach. Hard. I was watching; unsure if I should step in. The boy demanded the foosballs again. Chip shook his head. The kid punched Chip again in the stomach. Two quick, hard punches. Chip fell to the ground, breathless. I went to help Chip, another friend who noticed went to the boy and told him to stop hitting. I went to the boy too and told him hands were not for hitting. He walked off in a huff. His father was watching and said nothing. The father obviously did not mind the boy hitting to get his way. The boy has hit Chip before and I have always wondered what to do. I don’t want to butt in what are essentially kid’s quarrels, but I also don’t want Chip to get hurt. So after that instance, I told Chip, that he has to hold the bully’s hand (if he can) and say in a loud voice “Don’t hit me. Hands are not for hitting.” That, I told him, would attract the attention of a grown-up.

A couple of weeks later, Chip was at a tot lot. We were meeting some friends for coffee and they have 3-year old too and the boys were playing. I suddenly heard a cry from Chip. He came crying pointing to a stocky, blond boy who had hit him. The boy was now picking on my friend’s 3 yr old (M), but M had more grit than Chip. He hit the blond boy back. The boy backed off. My friend told Chip to play on another slide, but the blond boy followed Chip and punched him again. This time I saw it and told Chip to tell him to stop hitting. Chip ran back to the boy, put his face within an inch of the boy, and looking into his eyes, yelled at him. “Don’t hit me. OK? Don’t hit me again. Don’t hit me.” That was enough for the boy’s mother who sat engrossed in a conversation to look up and scold her son.

But I could not get the incident out of mind. After I got home, I told BigGeek what had happened. BigGeek was furious. He went to Chip and asked about the punching incident. Chip told BigGeek that a boy had punched him. “If someone punches you Chip” said BigGeek, “tell them once to stop hitting you and if they don’t listen, punch them back. Punch them back hard.” Two months ago, I would have disagreed with BigGeek. We should not be encouraging Chip to hit other kids. But after this incidence, it got me thinking. A grown up is never going to be always around to help Chip, and even then, Chip should be able to take care of himself. He should defend himself. To not do so, would be to encourage the bully. Co-incidentally, that week, Chip also saw Spiderman 3 and Batman. In bits and pieces. I was not comfortable letting Chip watch the violence, but it did him some good. He realized that good guys sometimes have to beat up the bad guys. Chip is a gentle kid by nature. He gets upset when a cartoon character falls or crashes because he is worried that the character is in pain. Even during the throes of his terrible two’s, he rarely hit or punched. His anger is directed inside (which frankly is a lot more scarier to me). I have seen him wanting something another kid has and not snatch the item. He asks for it, or tries to barter or divert the other kid’s attention to something else, he rarely snatches and never from a younger child. This is who he is and I don’t want to change it, but his father and I can and should teach him to defend himself. The world is not as gentle.


Ananva said...

As parents, it's always a dilemma whether to teach kids to defend themselves or just walk away.
We were at the park a few days back and a 3 yr old kept throwing sand on the slide that my kid (19 month old) was coming down on (inspite of being asked politely not to). So my husband pulled that kiddos hand and asked him to stop- I thought we should have just removed our daughter from there, and moved to another play structure. Not sure if a 3yr old understands what he is doing, so I don't see the point in telling them what to do (or not). I think the onus is on the parents to make sure that they watch their kids and ensure that they don't bully or get bullied.
My dad always told us to fight back if someone beat me and my sis while playing in Mumbai- but the softies that we were, we would just hide and cry.
Not sure if there is an answer or if I am even making a point here, but all I can say is that your post touched a nerve at this end.

Anonymous said...


I agree with BigGeek's attitude; my son is a gentle kid as well, and being a large boy, kept getting picked on in playgrounds and the like. We tried to teach him to speak up loudly, but at the time, he was unable to actually gather his thoughts together enough to shout or verbally restrain the other child.
Then we started him on taek-won-do. This has helped tremenduoudly in developing his confidence, and now, 3 years along, he uses his defensive techniques almost automatically.
Read Metrodad's post this week on this topic as well.


K 3 said...

Aww, Dottie, it's a tough battle. I have no answers yet, but I guess teaching kids good manners and telling them what to do should help a lot.

Eventually they will learn when to fight back and when to let go.

Neera said...

I too have recently started agreeing with my husband's attitude which is the same as Big Geek's. At times I think that step no. 2 should be to find an elder around and tell them if the child hits you the second time and step no. 3 should be the hitting back. Would that encourage tattling? What do you think?

Anonymous said...

My dh has told the exact same thing to our kids. The girls are now old enough that they dont get into fights.
My almost 4 yr old doesn't snatch or hit BUT if he is playing with something and some kid snatches it away, he HITs back. I get confused to as what to teach them.

The thing now is my almost 2 old gets his older brother to fight his battles and the 4 yr old gets his older sisters to help him.
i have heard my 9 yr old, "Oye that's my little brother, Dont you dare do anything to him" I thought it was cute and any other kids will be insane to take on 4 kids right?
So the solution is to have more kids so that the siblings will all protect each other (kidding)

Orchid said...

u couldn't have brought this up at a better time...with LI'l A being in KG, I am already worrying myself sick with "how-will- he- deal-with school bullies"...i have to agree with big geek and uj feels similarly as well....physical assertiveness to some degree is not a bad idea, i think.

Orchid said...

u couldn't have brought this up at a better time...with LI'l A being in KG, I am already worrying myself sick with "how-will- he- deal-with school bullies"...i have to agree with big geek and uj feels similarly as well....physical assertiveness to some degree is not a bad idea, i think.

Shobana said...

Sometimes it is ok for us to teach our kids to hit back as a defense mechanism. If we continue to teach them to be nice, they will end up being beaten up. This is one of the biggest reasons why I still am keeping Naren at home, for fear that he is not street smart. I have noticed that he gets beaten up by a friend's son, but the little guy does have his own way of scaring the pants off the other kid.

Preethi said...

Very well said... I was in your boat too.. Cheeky is not quite so soft.. if someone hits him he would hit back.. and I would tell him it was not OK. But when kids would push him to th limit.. some hitting despite his attempts at stopping them, some grabbing every single thing in his hand, pushing and shoving, screaming and yelling. Eventually I stopped telling him and let him give it back.. after all he needs to learn defense!

Mona said...

dottie, i think you and bg have taken the right attitude with chip. i think for kids, as long as they know that hitting is ONLY okay in self-defence, that's great. and you know he's a gentle enough kid, that he wouldn't abuse it - you can rest easy that if need be he can defend himself. if it's something he can't overcome, there's always you and bg right?
my heart aches at the thought of poor lil chip being bullied :(

Anonymous said...

Hi ,
First time commenting. I loved this post. My daughter is almost 3 too, and I find her to be exactly like your son. Very gentle, will never snatch, hit or bully other kids. Consequently, she gets picked on a lot.
I ws like you, quite reluctant to get involved in the matter, but eventually we've (E and I) come to a course of action. If someone bullies her, she tells them nicely - Don't touch me, or Don't hit me or whatever. If the bully persists, she comes and tells me about it. If the bully's parents are around, I usually go and talk to them. (Even if it means I'm going to be unpopular). If the said parents don't intervene, and the bullying goes on, then I talk to the bully myself.
You'd be surprized how many times the bully looks at you like they don't know what you're talking about. Some of those kids have *never* been disciplined at all. I worry constantly how she's going to cope in preschool.

Its a tough world out there. I don't know if I'm helping or harming E by interfering, but I was bullied in school (a lot) and some of those scars still hurt. *hugs*
I hope Chip does better from now on.


GettingThereNow said...

Dottie, in the mere 2 hours (probably?) I met Chip for, I saw what a gentle child he is. These incidents that you have narrated made my blood boil. Regarding the boy who punched Chip in the stomach, the next time you get together, and he hits Chip, step in. This is not a kids' fight. This is serious bullying and he (and his parents)need to realize that. I have learnt the hard way - at the cost of my daughter's self-esteem. We are recovering but you don't want that to happen in the first place.

bird's eye view said...

Dottie - I always face this dilemma when it comes to Chubbocks. He's such a gentle, sensitive type by nature and I really hate the thought of teaching him to be violent. But I realised that after years of me teaching him that violence is bad, he was winding up by being avictim himself. Have posted on this a while ago - I feel really bad that the world is such that you have to teach to protect themselves by hitting others. It's like that old country song by Kenny Rogers "Sometimes you have to fight to be a man". Puddi, so far I'm least bothered about - she reminds me of Basanti from Sholay!

karmickids said...

I have done away with the dont hit me, and bowed down to my husband's "Punch him right back" dictum. And yes, Spiderman and Batman seem to have helped.

choxbox said...

my mantra is - its not okay to hit/bully but is equally not okay to get hit/bullied. pretty simple.
hammered in super hard and also demonstrated by words and actions several times.

if my kid was being hit when i were around, i'd step right in. no confusion there.

Girl Next Door (gnd) said...

Chip is an amazing, wonderful kid and in all this time that I've known him, I've never seen him do outrageous things.
His spirited nature is always directed at being active and running around and never at roughing others up! BIG HUGS TO HIM!

You couldn't have written about it at a better time with all the buzz about back to school.
So many things to be prepared for, "Bullys" being one of them.

This IS a huge dilemma! And bullying is not just about physical attacks. Kids can be easily hurt with verbal attacks too!

The moment there is crossing of a line, we have every right to intervene! And, why not?
It's easier when we're around...

But, It's not an easy question at all when we're not around...
As much as I want them to be safe, I do not want to teach them to hit others.
What if when they grow up they forget the "only in self-defense" part and simply remember the "it's OK to hit" part??
What if this turns them from being a victim to becoming the bully?
Would we know the signs if that were to happen?
I'm sure you have some hesitation too...
Dottie, you've stirred up my already over-worked mind!
On second thoughts, you couldn't have written about it at a worse time with all the buzz about back to school :)

deepa said...

This post hit a raw nerve and got me rethinking my position on this issue. V is by nature not agressive and is always asking me what to do if someone hits/snatches/plays rough with him and I used to think like Big Geek( hit if you are provoked despite best efforts) but heres the dilemma- V goes to a montessori where violence in any form is not encouraged, no, not even to retaliate if victimised and given that we want him to have a consistent theory on this issue I find it difficult to go against what is taught at school and say "yeah hit back if you're bulied" Still confused.

PG said...

Yes, thi is a difficult topic. My son is the same. I have witnessed how children have just snatched things away from him and all he did was stand there shocked and started crying. In many of the situations, all he needed to do was not to let them take the things away. He is still not very good in interacting with children. He rather chat with adults than play with children. Infact, that is one of my worries.
I had also been telling my son to go to an adult caretaker in the kindergarten , but hubby clearly said , if someone hits you hit back. I think, like your hubby said, one does need to tell the other first to stop and if he doesn't, I would rather have my son hitting him back, but I wonder also what would it lead to. Not always in a good way. They do need to involve an adult in the matter. I feel, at this age it is the right thing. Once they are older things would be different, i can't say about that.

Rohini said...

Cannot see my brat being bullied. In fact, I worry about him becoming a bully but early reports from school suggest that most of his aggression comes out at home...

On Chip, I agree with BigGeek's approach. I mean Chip can ask the kid not to hit loudly enough for the other kid's parent to hear but what if the parents happens to be like the father in the first situation and is not too concerned about his kid getting violent?

noon said...

Dottie - I relate to this - you know how KB is - gentle types. He is changing a little from having to deal with his sister for competition - still he doesn't hurt people. I don't want him to ever hit any one but I don't know what I would do if I saw him get beaten up - he needs to know it's OK to defend himself. So in that sense I think BG is right - if there is no one around to defend him he needs to know how to defend himself...

Mira's mom said...

Dottie - completely with the Big Geek on this. I'd at any point in time teach Mira to get back to the bully than take all the crap silently. I agree - the world is not gentle at all. And yes, congrats on the award - you deserve every bit of it :-)

DotThoughts said...

ananva: At three years of age, yes.. I think there is no ahrm in stepping in.

anon: thanks for pointing me to metrodad's post. It resolved any dount I ever had :)

k3: yup, eventually.. until then, what are we to do??

neera: you know, I think chip does have tattling tendencies. And at some point, they need to fight their own battles. I can't and won't fish for him. I will and should teach him to fish, though!

asaan: lol. I like your solution :)

orchie: the more I think abt it, the more I am convinced.

shobana: agree with you.

preethi: exactly.

mona: yup..

priyainsuburbia: so sorry to hear about you being bullied.. I hope you teach your daughter to stand up in self defence.

gtn: you did :) he was at his worst behavior that day!

bev: my thoughts exactly. more power to basanti :)

karmickids: see?

choxie: I like your mantra. borrowing it now.

gnd: tell me some one else wrote this :) you are being very kind. about other forms of bullying, I think you should do a post on it. girls can be very mean for cliques.

deepa: Yup, i hear you, but not defending oneself is a bigger problem!

pg: yes, but by constantly involving in a adult how will the kids learns to sort out their conflicts?

rohini: maybe you should do a post on that!

noon: BG has a lot of supporters here :)

mira's mom: thanks!

GettingThereNow said...

That may be - but you can't change sides now Dottie :P You agreed he is a gentle kid. Even gentle kids can behave badly, right? But from what I saw, he was not even disruptive. No running around, no yelling. Yes I saw he brought that bangle he brought to you that he had pulled off some shelf, but at least he brought it to you and didn't sneak away with it. You have look at the kids that we sometimes meet Dottie, so understand why I don't think any of his behavior was "bad" :P You had built up this image in my mind of a Chip who would be climbing walls and yelling and charging at people... I was pleasantly surprised. I wish we lived next doors so my daughters could play with him.

Anu said...

This is a topic close to my heart and felt good to read your post as you have written it so well..

I have a 3 year old boy who is a shy and gentle kid..of course not at home! In a way we used to think it was good he was well behaved outside. But now that he has started school, i keep worrying if he will get bullied and whether he will even react.

In the earlier instances, we have always been around but tend not to interfere as long as it is tolerable as we feel he has to learn. But it just breaks my heart when he does not even retaliate. We have now been drilling the fact that he should firmly and loudly tell anybody who tries to hit, push or bully him not to do so.

I guess they will have to learn to fight their own battles but we can always do the teaching and watching out part.