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Monday, April 2, 2012

Growing Pains or Bullying? (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    Raising confident children is an important parenting goal for my husband and me. We have been practicing all of the strategies necessary to make this happen.  This includes using praise, having effective discipline, being consistent, providing new learning experiences, working together with the teachers, and many more.  As a result, our 7 year old son is an intelligent, confident child.  However, this seems to be somewhat of a problem too: he is an intelligent, confident child.  Do allow me to explain this paradox.

     Many parents reading this post also have bright, confident children.  For some, this may also present a problem like it is for us.  Our son’s teacher recently put it something like this: “He is wise beyond his years and this seems to create disconnect with his peers.” To this, silently I am going “Uh oh, I had a feeling this was coming.” Interestingly, our son is not reserved or shy, but quite the social butterfly.  Furthermore, he is a caring, honest, and sensitive individual.  He is a well-liked person and gets plenty of birthday invitations (apparently, this seems to be a measure of a child’s likability). However, the “disconnect” comes into play when he enters this “black and white” way of thinking. Although this concrete way of thinking is developmentally appropriate, it also creates a problem. When our son feels he is correct and he may very well be, he cannot let go until the other person sees it his way. Or the other person proves him wrong.

     If this situation arises, he challenges you like an attorney in the courtroom! He will argue his point as if he is in a debate until the other person proves him otherwise. He often says: “Prove it!”  It was quite amusing at first. Now, it is becoming a social liability.  He is being teased at school with some name calling and being excluded from some group activities at recess. He would come home and only report the negative things that happened at school. He would cry afterschool when he would occasionally get on “Red” or “Yellow” at school for “bad behaviors.”  I understand some of this is normal growing pains, but when he came home one day and said “I don’t want to go to school!” my radars went up high. He is an intrinsically motivated child who loves to learn, so hearing this became a real shocker.  He explained that he did not being like on “Red” to which my husband passed this off as a strategy to avoid trouble.  My gut told me otherwise. Therefore, I queried further and he said “No, kids tease me.”  Now enters the dilemma.

     As parents, we have to decide whether this is normal growing pains or is it really bullying?  This will determine the course of action. I describe at length about our son because bullying situations often arise from previous, seemingly innocuous circumstances. I can very well see my child as a recipient of teasing as well as being the perpetrator.  Over time, this can turn into bullying.  I suppose this is to encourage parents to take teasing seriously and get some help.  If you are not convinced, consider what measures we took and the outcome we had.

    First, we listened to our son and empathized with him. Second, we asked if he needed our help with this situation.  This is so important to do because there is so much stigma and negative consequences for “tattlers/snitches.” Third, we explained the difference between telling someone to get help and tattling on someone to get them in trouble.  Fourth, we talked about how to be assertive and not aggressive to solve problems. Lastly, since he had said he needed our help, I emailed his teacher that night. We were very pleased with his teacher’s response.

     The very next morning, his teacher called and said she had already spoken with the children doing the teasing. She reported that our son usually stays away from these peers so therefore, he knows how to ignore them.  To her credit, she reassured me that nobody deserves to be teased.  As a parent, this was comforting to hear because sometimes we may have mixed feelings about intervening.  Furthermore, she has asked the guidance counselor to do another presentation on anti-bullying for the class.  Ever since our intervention, our son has been on “Green” everyday and reports that he has been having great days at school.  It has been two weeks, and we have not heard him once say he does not want to go to school. He is back to being the kid who loves school and his friends!  

     On a final note, my thought on parents’ intervening is that this is much easier to do when children are younger and parents can “nip it in the bud” than when they are in middle or high school years. Further, the social stigma is less severe during the elementary years because parents tend to be more involved in the school scene anyways.  Additionally, the child is less vulnerable to bullying behaviors because they have involved parents who will protect them when necessary. I strongly believe that a proactive approach reaps greater rewards than reactive ones. Happy parenting and remember that parenting is a process with many ups and downs! 


  1. I'm behind in your blog but this one connected with me. My son was having a problem at recess with the same boys running into him. I'm not sure if he was being bullied or always in the wrong spot, but it continued and I started first with the classroom teacher. But, knowing that person isn't outside with them and not having success with the situation ending I went to another staff member (one I knew was outside with the kids and whom we had contact with last year in K). This staff person said she would keep her eye out for the incidents and that she would talk to the kids involved (she seemed to know who it was, so they must have been a problem in general). Since then Alex hasn't come home complaining about being knocked over at recess. Good to see I was doing the right thing!

  2. C: I was behind with my blog too :) I'm glad this post resonated with you. As parents, it is often hard to predict whether our decisions will be the right ones for our kids. You went with your gut feeling to intervene, and it was absolutely the right decision! So happy that Alex is loving school again. Thank you for following my blog!