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Help my son is being bullied!

Mr. Paul,

I found your email address on your Stop The Bullying
web site. I liked the few snippets of information I read and I am seeking any additional advice you may be able to provide.

My son is 4 1/2 years old and we have been battling neighborhood bullying for the past 6 months. We have two children in our neighborhood, unrelated to one another, who are a year younger and a year older than my son, respectively. These children taunt, hit and name call my son and another child on the street. The two separate sets of parents are inattentive and have been heard saying things such as, “if there isn’t any blood, I pretend it didn’t happen” or, “I just don’t bother to address the conflict because I hear it all the time, I just don’t pay any attention to it anymore.”

Initially, if my son was pushed or, if they would not allow him to play, I would just comfort him and tell him it was ok, they did not mean it and I would wait for one of the mothers to intervene and discipline their respective children. However, as time went on, I realized they were not going to take any steps toward disciplining their children. In the mean time, my son lost his patience and started fighting back. I would immediately stop him and tell him that hitting is not allowed under any circumstances and, if he hit he would have to go inside and sit out for 4 minutes. I followed through each and every time and did make my son go inside for hitting back. One day, as I saw an incident brewing, I headed over to try and stop it but, I did not move fast enough and my son hit back. I told him he would have to go inside and take a break. As we headed inside the bully said, “see, I can make him go in.” Well, from then on, since the bully was intentionally trying to make my son have to go inside, I realized that I had to change my strategy. So, since he was being intentionally set up by this other child, I decided to simply continue to tell my child that he was not allowed to hit and separate him from the bully.

Subsequently, we started doing conflict management puppet shows with our child. We used the puppets to show the difference between bad hitting and accidental hitting (like bumping into someone by accident) and then to show him how to handle each situation. I’ve tried to explain to him that we never hit first. And, that if we get hit then the first thing we try to do is walk away. I had one puppet hit the other, on purpose, and then had the puppet that got hit simply say, “hitting is bad” and walk away. I really had no idea what other skill to give him. I know that we have had some success with this because I see my son using the technique to the best of his 4 year old ability.

We are continuing to work out conflict situations with the puppets and my son’s responses to each of the situations we present to him seem to be socially appropriate and he even offered solutions to the situations I presented. For example, when I had one of the puppets try to take away his toy he responded by saying, “wait, I will get you a train too.” Then he went to the toy box and got another train and gave it to the puppet.

Despite all of our efforts the bullying continues. We recently had to sit our son down and start to talk to him about the difference between mean people and nice people. I told him that kids who name call and hit and say you can’t play are mean and we don’t play with mean kids. We only play with nice kids, naming off some of his other friends. And that children who hit or name call are not really our friends because they don’t treat him nicely or play nicely with him. He did seem to understand the majority of what I was saying.

I really just didn’t know what else to do at this point except to begin talking openly about how to choose friends. In some ways he is too young to understand this but, nonetheless, I have to start introducing this concept to him. I want him to begin to learn that he has the power to choose his friends. And, that he should choose nice people to be his friend.

In addition, my husband and I have made a decision that our son can no longer play with these two children. Obviously, this is a very drastic and difficult stance to take as we live in a cul de sac. When the offending children are outside playing I tell my son that while he cannot play with them, I will take him anywhere else he would like to play with anyone else he would like to invite. This seems to be working.

If you have any other suggestions or strategies that we might employ, we are interested in your feedback. Also, if you have any recommended reading we would greatly appreciate that type of information also.

Thank you for your time and attention.

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