Hello, this is a message for Mrs.–, the principal. I know there is nobody at the school right now on a Friday evening, but I’ve just become aware of the extent of a problem. I need Mrs — to call me as early as possible on Monday morning. I know she is busy, but this is important. My son Cameron, a grade two student, is being bullied physically and verbally by a grade seven boy. This boy is also at his after-school care, and retaliates there for any punishment he receives at school. At school, Cameron has been pushed and shoved, yanked around by his collar, called names, had art work ripped up, he says this boy waits for him outside his classroom, and now he’s been pushed down a slide so roughly he tells me he was going backwards. This is not okay at all; we need to address this immediately, before it can go any further.
Cameron was sitting right next to me as I called up the school’s number on my phone, and he listened with wide, incredulous eyes as I left the message. After I hung up, he just looked at me, stunned, for a long held-breath moment before he burst into relieved tears. Mamma wasn’t going to let this go on. Mamma was going to stand up for him.
This was more than a week ago. I’ve been sitting on this post, needing to write it here, but not knowing how to start or what to say. I was stunned over last weekend, then Monday too, as the pieces of the story slowly were revealed. Every adult I spoke with who supervised them had a different story of a time that Cameron was pushed or shoved, or had things taken, or had some other unseen thing happen that had him in tears. Everyone commented that this kid is known to be challenging and defiant, and known to outright lie. Everyone just wrote it off as this boy – let’s call him J – just doing what he does, or Cameron being Cameron. Because Cameron is a bully’s dream come true. He’s different from the other kids, and takes things very personally with big emotional reactions. And while he’s quick to say what Kate’s done to get him upset, when it’s someone else he clams up.
I spoke with the director of the before- and after-school care first. As she outlined J’s behavioural issues … well, yeah I feel a little badly for him. He’s got it rough, big family issues going on and it seems he’s acting out due to them. But that doesn’t make it okay that my kid gets pushed and shoved. It’s not okay that my kid doesn’t feel safe there. She did agree with me, but will not kick J out. She is concerned about what might happen to him elsewhere with less supervision. I wanted to ask, what supervision? How is he getting a chance to get at my kid if he’s so well supervised? She’s agreed to increase his supervision, and they’ll bring in the RCMP to speak with the whole group about bullying. The visiting officer will be alerted to J’s role in this request.
The principal of the school spoke with both boys, and told me that J wants Cameron and his family to know that he really wants to try to be a better person, and that he’ll leave Cameron alone from now on. My BS meter was screaming loudly a this. J has been asked to hang out with kids his age, and to walk away from Cameron.
That discussion was on Tuesday. J was not attending the before- and after-school care last week, and from the sounds of things Cameron didn’t even see him at school. So far, so good. But this week will be the real test, as they’re back spending a couple of hours a day in the same room.
Throughout all of this I kept Cameron up to date on what was going on. Who I spoke with, and the gist of what was decided. I asked Cameron what he would like to see come of this – what consequences should J have? What does he want the future to be like? At first, Cameron demanded that J get lots of detentions, but then relented when he realized that this wouldn’t help his end goal. He wants to be friends with J. So when I told him that J has been told to leave him alone, he was sad. But I think I’ve made it clear to him. For now, and perhaps forever, he needs to steer clear of J.
So, that’s what happened. But, what now? This was hardly Cameron’s first encounter with bullying. Do I just threaten to call the police again and again, every time it happens? Of course not. We need to break this cycle, teach him how to not be a target. It’s a tough thing to do, I mean, every step of the way I tell him that this isn’t his fault, that he isn’t responsible, that he did nothing wrong, that the bullying isn’t about him. But even though bullying isn’t right, his behaviour is rewarding to someone like J, who is trying to get a reaction.
We’ve talked lots about the ‘bucket’ view of things, using Have You Filled Your Bucket Today as a starting point. I need him to see that it’s not himself that is to blame for this. That J is trying to fill his own bucket, but doesn’t know how to do it.
I’ve spoken with the school’s counselor, who just happened to call me on Tuesday, unaware of what was going on. She was just checking in. I described to her what was happening, and she’s going to see Cameron every other week and work on anti-bullying tactics with him.
Cameron’s also got another place for help – his kickboxing gym. Champion’s is not going to let this go, either. I’ve spoken with two of his instructors about this, and just received an email from the third. They happened to have an anti-bullying class last weekend, which I had already signed Cameron up for. Unfortunately, Cameron was stressed and upset, and this came a little too close to what was stressing him out for his comfort. Cue wackadoo behaviour. But he did get some of it. He learned when it’s okay to react physically (never be the first to hit or push), and how to do it, how to talk to a bully, how to get help from adults. We’ve practiced a little at home, role-playing, taking turns being the bully, doing different things that J has done or another kid might do. I know that his instructors are going to take the time to talk with Cameron, keeping tabs on the situation, helping him to learn to stand up for himself in a productive way.