Our First Bully

Lily shadow

Today was one of those days when I got a glimpse into some of the parenting obstacles that wait for me in the not-so-far-off future.

It started out innocently enough: freakishly hot Spring day, $.49 Dunkin Iced Coffee coupon, morning playdate with a super cool friend and her sweet daughter.

We chatted away as the girls ran off to play, jumping from swings to slide to see saw –  and then back again.  There were a ton of other kids at the park today and most of them were polite, friendly little souls.

As we moved from pushing the girls on swings to sitting on a bench while they drove big plastic bulldozers through the wood chips, I caught my first glimpse of THE BULLY.  There was one boy on the playground today who seemed to tower over the rest of the toddlers and infants.  Probably closer to five or six years old, we watched this boy terrorize several other kids who were easily half his age.  At one point, he literally picked up a ride-on infant toy, dumping the maybe 2 year old little girl off, throwing her right into the wood chips.  She sat crying and absolutely no one came by to reprimand his inappropriate behavior.  I sat there thinking to myself, “Oh please do not go near my kid.”

Right in the middle of the playground was a small playhouse.  Our girls were enjoying some sort of domestic role-playing imaginative play inside the playhouse when THE BULLY and a couple other kids plowed into the house.  All was quiet for about 3 minutes.  After that, I watched as Lily came bursting out of the playhouse.  Mouth in an unmistakable pout, eyebrows furrowed and arms crossed, she stalked across the playground and sat down under a tree.  I gave her a few minutes to cool off before calling her over to me.

Still brooding about whatever had transpired in the playhouse, she reluctantly walked over to the bench.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“There was a boy in the house.  And he was RUDE to me!  He said the car {ride-on toy that he had thrown the small girl off of} was his SEAT!  And I couldn’t SIT!  HMPHHHH!”

“Well, that does sound rude.  Did you say anything to him?”

“No,” she replied.  “I just left the playhouse.”

So, I commended her for walking away and reminded her that she doesn’t need to play with anyone who isn’t being nice.  She jumped back into the playground activities and we made it through the rest of the play time unscathed.  I was pretty sure she had forgotten about the entire incident altogether.

Then as she climbed into our car to go home, she asked, “Why was that boy so rude?”

I tried to give her the most honest theory I could come up with (also one that would make sense to a 3 year old), “Unfortunately, Lily, some people are just Rude Dudes.  I don’t know why.  You did the right thing to walk away.  I wouldn’t want to play with a Rude Dude either.”

She thought about what I said for a minute or so before looking up at me.  “Mom, I just wish that people weren’t rude.”

“So do I, Lily, so do I.”

We spent the rest of the ride home talking about the happier parts of the morning, though at one point she did feel the need to inform me that the rude boy really needed to “change his attitude.”  I had to laugh at the idea of a 3 year old dishing out advice on who was in need of an attitude adjustment.

Today’s incident was just a glimpse at an entire lifetime of Rude Dude encounters.  As much as I absolutely HATE the thought of some kid hurting my kid’s feelings or giving her a hard time, I thought about how important it is for us as parents to keep reinforcing a positive self-image and a strong sense of confidence as Lily grows.  The more confident that she is in herself, the less room for there will hopefully be for self-doubting when bullies are slinging their hateful words.

I spent countless years in college and then in my own classroom learning and practicing the art of teaching tolerance to kids of all ages.  I felt some of those lessons come flooding back to me today, but at the same time I felt at a loss for the right words to say.  Since the day Lily was born (and every single day since), I have marveled at the impressionability of children.  They are little sponges and every experience plays a role in who they will ultimately turn out to be.  Powerful stuff.

How about you?  How do you teach your kids to handle bullies?  Do you encourage them to fight back (verbally or physically)?  Or do you tell them to walk away?  Or both?

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  • Jenn

    I encourage my children to walk away. I let them know that the bully’s behavior is not something that they have to tolerate. I talk to them about how to make the right choices in playmates; find someone who is nice to you that you like to play with. I also tell them to find an adult who can intervene.

    • Anonymous

      Good skills to teach them – I need to remember to add the “you can find an adult to help if you need it” to my spiel.

  • Jenn

    Also, if I see it, I will intervene. I normally do not have to say anything to the bully, just my presence is enough to make them stop the behavior while I am watching. But if it gets to the point where I have to intervene, then I will do it as if I was discipling my own kids. I do the “what if” scenario with the kids, putting the bully in the bullied shoes and if it makes a difference, great, of not, oh well.

  • tettie

    Well, as a helicopter mom, (lol) I have no problem telling another kid to knock it off. I would have followed her in the playhouse if I saw that kid going in there as well. Sometimes just me being there, all 5’3″ of me is enough. But I have been known to yell at other ppl’s kids. I have no tolerance for mean kids. Mean kids grow up to be mean teenagers and mean adults.

    • Anonymous

      Agreed – mean ones never tend to change. I know that many times it’s because of the environment they are raised in, but it’s sad to see them going down that path. It was interesting for me to sit back and watch how Lily handled the situation herself – but rest assured, had he attempted to start hitting, etc, I would have helicoptered my way over for sure!!

  • We had a similar experience last week with our first bully too! Ours unfortunately was actually hitting and pushing. The first time I saw my 3 yr pouting I had a talk with her told her that there will sometimes be mean people but to avoid the kids that play mean and play with the fun nice ones. I told her to shake it off and go back and play. The second time the same child came at her, I took her hand and asked the little boy to point out his mommy and did some tattle telling.
    I will stand in the middle for the play ground and call out a parent if your child is hurting mine. A bully at this age (my kids are 3,2, 9months) can only get away with as much as the parent allows.

    I will say that last week was glimpse into the future that I didn’t like! I realized for the first time since my babies were born that the real world was indeed waiting for them. And that there are somethings I can’t protect them from such as bullies, and hurt feelings, and heart ache.

    • Anonymous

      The real world… it’s so true, isn’t it? It’s so scary to think that after all of our time spent keeping them safe and cozy, they have to go out in into the big scary world. And of course, there are many more good and wonderful things out there than there are bad – but that doesn’t keep a mom from worrying, right?!

      I’m glad that the bully boy at our park wasn’t hitting (though dumping the small child off her toy was certainly physical). But it was certainly interesting for me to watch Lily in that situation to see how she handled it.

  • Cathy Roberts

    I was reading this post and was like – wait – this must be Plains Park. And then I was like wait, I was there yesterday. Slowly figured out that you were who Aimee was meeting (I was talking to Aimee when you walked in). Had I pieced it all together, I would have said hello then as I enjoy both of your blogs. Small world! And oh, I hate playground bullies and unsupervised playground kids. Was keeping someone elses kids off the seesaw so they didn’t kill themselves and helped rescue a girl who decided she was scared of the giant slide.

    • Anonymous

      LOL! Well first of all – SMALL WORLD, indeed! It was nice to meet you as well! 🙂

      There were so many nice kids there yesterday – Lily played with a whole bunch of them – just this one rogue boy. LOL Cute playground though – so many things for them to do!

  • Ericanandy

    Was this child with a parent or a daycare provider? If it was a parent I would probably not say something, but if it was a childcare provider I’d probably ask them to keep a better eye on that particular child. If it’s the playground I think it is I’ve had several parents complain to me about the daycare that is now playing there.

    • Anonymous

      Nope – definitely was not daycare/preschool b/c we specifically went when they were not out there to avoid a crowd. There must have been a parent there somewhere, but I didn’t see him with anyone while we were there. (This also happened during the last half of our time there, so I hadn’t been watching him the entire time.)

  • Kathleen Benner

    Devon, I really enjoyed this article. Not that Lily was picked on by a bully of course, but with my boys being 5, 4 and 2 and the weather getting nicer, I know that more playground visits are in our immediate future. And so I am already thinking ahead to how I will handle situations similar to this one. I always hope that what I teach my boys at home (to play nicely, to be a good friend and help each other out) will carry over to preschool and/or on the playground, but you just never know until you are there in that situation. I personally can not stand unsupervised children on the playground and I can not sit back and watch if another child is tormenting mine. But, at the same time, I want them to be able to handle these types of situations on their own in case I am not always there. So, to answer your question, I would intervene, but in a way to model for my children how they can handle the situation in the future!

    • Anonymous

      Hi Kathleen! Oh, I could not agree more. I walk a fine line between the urge to jump in and help or to wait a minute and let her try to handle it on her own. Dealing with difficult people is certainly a skill that she needs to learn and I guess it can start with something as simple as a toy on a playground. Seems so unfair that it starts so early, but I guess that’s life, right?

  • Aimee

    Great post! Very glad that neither of our girls let him ruin the fun (for too long anyway)! They were adorable playing in the house and all around and there were some really sweet kids there, too. Lilly did such a nice job sharing her bubbles, BTW. 🙂

    Good learning experience for us all. Even though my oldest is 7 and we’ve been at this for a while, I’m still never sure where to draw the line. The worst is when your presence *doesn’t* cut it and carefully-chosen words don’t either. Its so hard to stay calm in those situations!

    • Anonymous

      Such new, uncharted territory for me!! LOL I thought our girls did a good job just walking away and then finding other things to do – and let me tell you – when Lily wasn’t talking about Rude Dude on the way home, it was about how nice Maddie was and that she can’t wait to play with her again! 🙂

  • Tricia Flores

    Coming from the prospective of a parent whose child has had some trouble controlling his behavior and sometimes making bad social decisions, when my 4 year old son has an interaction with a child who would be considered a bully I tell him that sometimes people make bad decisions. I try not to label a child and realize that sometimes when children are bullies they might be having a difficult time. I agree that it takes a lot of proactive action from parents, but it saddens me when sometimes parents judge other people’s kids. Every kid has a back-story (autism, sensory processing disorder, abuse at home, etc.).

    • Anonymous

      YES – oh YES. I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree and wish I had remembered to include some of those thoughts in my post. Before having Lily, I was a teacher – more specifically, an autistic support teacher for kids K-3 with Asperger’s. My students brought a wide range of sensory, learning, behavior and other challenges to the table. I think about them often and I pretty much always find myself digging in my bag of patience when there is an especially difficult child in public, because I DON’T know what he/she is going through. I remember a specific incident at Disney this year – you child acting, well, to anyone at first glance just downright rude, bratty, defiant, the list went on. My husband was becoming so annoyed and I knew that he was looking at the child, questioning his behavior, the parenting, etc. I quietly leaned in and said, “I don’t know if it applies here to this specific child, but ya know, there might be something else going on here. He might have the best parents in the world and just have some behavior issues, sensory issues, what have you. Maybe try to turn your anger into compassion and ignore it.” He thought about that for a second and agreed – and told me it was a very good point.

      I can’t speak for our young bully yesterday – but you’re so right that you just never know.

      Sorry to type a novel – LOL! Thanks for sharing!

      • Tricia Flores

        I try to remind myself that too, it is hard even if you know the reason to deal with difficult child situations. On the topic of Disney- they have great policies for helping any guest who may sometimes need special consideration.

  • Totally thought this is about R who torments Ava each time we go to our local park. As one special ed teacher mommy to another, I just keep myself in closer proximity. As his mom was relaxing and reading, he was throwing rocks, laying on a child, pushing ours down the slide and hovering over them as they tried to navigate playground equipment. Every once and awhile he would do something that made me think, hmmm he very well could be one of my students, or maybe not, it’s hard to tell. I realized his mom might be clueless, or she might be doing the best she can, again, very hard to tell from an hour on the playground.

    I handled it like I would my students or my own child, “Bud, you need to wait, let her go down the slide.” We also worked on empowering our kids (both times I have met up with another mom)~ “Please don’t touch me”. “No thank you”. Ava and I have a lot of conversations that include~ some children need extra help. We talk about her strengths and needs, and how some of mommy’s students need help learning to play, making good choices, trying new foods, coloring with crayons, etc etc etc.
    Great post, DEVO!

  • joyafterhealing

    I’m a Sunday school for 3 year olds and I have seen my own fair share of bullies even at church! I am teaching my own children, boy 5 girl 3, that it’s never ok to bully others and when we are being bullied to use our words not our hands. They know that even when they see someone bullying others that it’s ok to tell them “That’s not nice.” “Please don’t talk to me that way, it hurts my feeling” or “Don’t hit me! Hands are for playing not hitting!”, or some of the many other things that’s appropriate to the situation. I want my children to be able to not only stand up for themselves but for others too.

    They also know that if they can’t handle the situation to come and tell me or a trusted adult. Then we figure out if it’s something we have to go deal with together, or if it’s something we can let go. In the end we always talk about how we feel, how the bully might be feeling, question why the situation happened, and I remind them that Jesus loves the bully just as much as He loves us and that we need to pray for the bully, because Jesus is the only one who can change someones heart attitude.