Our First Bully

There is a bully on T’s baseball team. The age of the kids is 4-6, but I’m sure it shouldn’t surprise me that bullying starts this young. T had his first game last Saturday and there was a moment in the dugout during which which the bully grabbed T’s hat off his head and held it out of reach. T stood there with a puzzled look on his face then reached for it, and when he did the kid shoved him backwards over a cooler. It’s hardly the first incident.

Then I tripped the bully and he did a face plant in the dirt. Just kidding- I didn’t. But it felt good even to write that. Wow, it sucks to watch your kid get shoved around.

I’m not sure what to do about it. Part of me wants to tell T to go ahead and sock him. T is smaller, but he’s ridiculously strong and coordinated and could easily lay that kid out. I know this is going to be controversial, but that’s my usual policy about bullies (as a kid who was mercilessly bullied for years). You turn around and fight back. Even if you lose, you’re bound to get a few good shots in, and given the choice, no one is going to keep picking on a kid who nails him in the jaw.

But in this case, we’ve been struggling for years with T’s aggression and impulse control and we’re just starting to make progress. I’ve been astounded by his growth lately. I watch kids shove T on the playground while he literally stands there holding his hands behind his back. He’s attending his second week of preschool, and while it hasn’t been completely smooth sailing, the challenges seem manageable. He has gone nearly a week and a half without ONE incident of aggression. I feel so encouraged about his healing and growth. I’m not about to turn around now and be like, “Okay, you know how I told you that we don’t use our hands for hurting? I meant we don’t use our hands for hurting, EXCEPT when faced with a first-class jerk. In that case, go to town.”

That doesn’t seem productive. So instead, I told him to walk away.

Near the end of the game, when the other parents were in a little huddle talking about the bully kid (whose parents were unsurprisingly absent entirely), my heart actually hurt for the boy. I kept thinking about all the times that people might have been saying similar things about T’s behavior, making similar assumptions that he’s mean, pushy, an all around bad seed. In our case, those things couldn’t be farther from the truth. The truth is that when T is aggressive, it’s because he’s terrified. His behavior gets better and better as he feels safer in the world- as he learns slowly and consistently that the people who love him can be trusted not to disappear.

As much as I want to kick that bully when he shoves my son, I can also see how scared and hurt that kid’s eyes are. It doesn’t make his behavior OK. It doesn’t make me like him any more. But it does give me a shred of compassion. I figure, if I can’t dig up some compassion for a neglected six year old, I need to seriously look to my heart.