We all want our children to be happy….to thrive….but what happens when your child builds a fortress around themselves that you are fighting to break through…when they are mostly angry…withdrawn…frustrated and struggle with trust.
This is what I call the “aftermath of bullying.” It’s not something that we were prepared to face…and here we are living it first hand…..
Our 8 year old son unfortunately has been a victim of bullying several times since he started elementary school. I guess being twice exceptional, both ADHD and gifted, makes him a prime target. He can be socially awkward…his interests are vastly different from his peers…he gets along much better with adults….and to top it all off he is a year younger than his classmates so he can come across as immature in his reactions to certain things. Oh and he’s small for his age too, coming in at a healthy 46 pounds and just 4′ 1″. He learns quickly in the classroom, often learning something before his teacher evens teaches it.
In first grade there was a boy who had several behavioral challenges. Unfortunately he targeted our son and we had to request full time supervision at school. Thankfully the situation didn’t escalate and the boy ended up leaving the school.
At the end of second grade there was another boy who began to harass our son. Fortunately his teacher handled it and it didn’t get out of control. But we knew that our son was beginning to harbor a considerable amount of frustration.
We had begun cognitive behavioral therapy that year and it most definitely helped. We learned new parenting strategies and were also able to partner with his teachers and this kept not only the lines of communication open, but acted as a great support team for our son.
Second grade was probably our son’s best year. Then came third grade and this boy who had been a problem the year before became our family’s worst nightmare. We felt that all the progress we had made was a wash…we suddenly felt that we had taken 100 steps backward….
In a nutshell the nightmare started in November of 2018. Every week something happened with our son and this child. Unfortunately our son didn’t always tells us right away and sometimes getting any information out of him felt like pulling teeth. I truly think he wanted to show us that he could handle it. That what he was learning in therapy he was putting into practice. But unfortunately it was not working because this boy just kept harassing him.
We sent several emails to his teacher requesting that the boys be separated at all times and discussed it with her at the first parent teacher conference. And what I was told by his teacher was that my son needed to learn how to “deal with difficult personalities.” I even contacted the mother of the bully to see if we could work together to come up with a solution. That didn’t work. It then became physical when the boy pushed my son so we then met with the vice principal. Though we were reassured that it was being handled incidents kept happening. Another physical incident happened and we were back at the vice principals office.
According to school policy unless the incidents are reported within 24 hours and include a valid witness it cannot be documented. So at this point we only could document one incident among the many that my son was dealing with. We kept telling our son to tell us right away, to go straight to the vice principal. But I think he was so over the whole thing that at some point he just started to shut down.
The school kept reassuring us that it was being handled and we watched our son grow more and more withdrawn and angry. One day I just had it and met with the vice principal again. I refused to leave that meeting until a specific plan of action was put into place. It was at this point that I was told that other families had come forth with similar complaints about this child. Now it became clear to the school that it was not my child’s fault. That although he was different and challenging he was not provoking this, he was not seeking out this other child and that he truly was a victim. Thankfully we finally came to an agreement with the school that would ensure that our son would be protected, would be supported and that the bullying would be stopped for good. Together we are committed to helping my son thrive.
BUT….the aftermath has been so painful… before he experienced bullying our son was always happy…always smiling…very respectful and well mannered and enjoyed being around other children…Even as an only child he shared very well, understood teamwork and believed everyone was nice! This all began to change…and honestly we didn’t realize how much of a change until our house felt like a war zone….our son became very snappy…he started mouthing off a lot…everything was an argument….he began to isolate himself on the playground and even on organized play dates. He cried a lot…mostly what seemed to stem from anger and frustration. Ultimately we missed our happy boy. We missed his smile. He hadn’t smiled in a VERY long time. And even though he was in therapy…even though he had friends outside of school….even though he participated in activities to help him exercise and to be an outlet for him…. he was scarred. And the scar ran so deep. My husband and I felt helpless…I cannot tell you how many nights I cried myself to sleep…how hard I prayed for strength, for wisdom, for an answer.
Slowly, but surely we are seeing some progress…is it happening as quickly as we would like? Not at all…. but progress is still progress…Every day is a different day with different struggles. But we are not giving up.
We enrolled him in a social skills class to help him open up more…to work with other children who have also been a victim of bullying and it has been helpful…he continues to work with a therapist and also began practicing mixed martial arts. We are building up his support system and have finally opened up with our friends to help our son begin to trust again. We also have made many enhancements to his 504 plan to ensure that he has the accommodations and tools he needs to thrive in school.
So why am I sharing all of this? My hope is to inspire anyone whose child is a victim of bullying to speak up and to never give up.
While I have learned so much throughout this journey here are my biggest takeaways:
1) Don’t sit back and wait to see what happens. Teach your children to speak up immediately!!! The more time you wait the worse it becomes and the less the school can do to address it.
2) Really pay attention to your child’s behavior. Are they sleeping? Are they eating? Are they demonstrating certain behaviors completely out of their character? Don’t brush things off if they are continuing to happen.
3) Advocate….Advocate….Advocate…learn your rights as a parent….learn about the rights of your child….As a special needs mom I have been advocating from day 1!!! Do your research…For me I was on a mission to learn everything I could about ADHD and being gifted. Why? So I could advocate for my child! I also made it a mission to understand how the educational system in our district handles bullying and how to legally escalate a situation. You have to arm yourself with knowledge because as they say “knowledge is power.”
4) Stop thinking that this will help “toughen” up your kid! Though there is a life lesson to learn…being a victim of bullying can most definitely do way more harm than good in the long run. And the reality is that we are living VERY different times than our own childhood.
5) Don’t be afraid or too proud to admit that you don’t know how to help your child. Get them help!!! There is no shame in seeking professional help. It has been a true life saver for our son to be able to open up to someone who is completely unbiased and who brings a completely different perspective. We, as a family, are learning how to cope and how to strengthen our relationships with each other.
6) Be there for your child….If I had been working full time I know in my heart that this situation would have likely gotten more out of control. While I know this is not possible for everyone, and I am blessed to be able to work from home, be as present as possible with your child. They need to spend time with you. My son opened up more in those moments when we would just be reading a book or on a bike ride. I am forever grateful for those moments because without them I likely would not have learned of everything that was happening.
7) Help your child foster one good friendship. Thankfully, our son has one very close friend who has been such a lifeline for him. Because of this friend our son has been able to manage this nightmare far better than we could have ever asked for. This friend has even come to us to let us know when something happened that concerned him. This friend has been helping our son open up again to new friendships. One good friend is all they really need.
8) Practice self care…this is essential so you can be there for your child. For me my health and fitness is a top priority. Without it I know that I could not do all that I have for our son. Taking care of you is part of taking care of your children.