I was bullied as a kid.
Aside from being quiet and shy, which made me a great target, I was also born with albinism. This means I am super pale, even more so when I was younger, and have a difficult time seeing things far away -- which put me in the front of the classroom and drew even more attention to me.
I was never physically attacked, but the name-calling began in elementary school and followed me all the way into high school.
It was difficult and sad and not something I want anyone to experience.
Especially my son, who is beginning to get bullied himself. At just 3 years old.
He's always been pushed around by his cousin, who's just a few weeks older than him. They're family and I've talked to his mom, my sister-in-law, about it, and we're helping them work it out. But the other day at the park another boy, one we'd never seen before, zoned in on my son.
First the boy, who was probably a year older than my son, pushed him on the playground bridge for no discernible reason. Later he grabbed my son's arm and began tugging on him, at which point I yelled "Hey!" and a distant mom said, "We don't touch people." When it happened again, I yelled "Let go!" and when Levi came over to me I said, loudly, "That boy is being mean and we don't have to play with mean people." We walked away and shortly thereafter went home for the day.
I've heard that "boys will be boys" and other junk phrases. I don't buy it. I've also heard that I need to teach my son to stand up for himself, and that is, sadly, not something I thought I'd have to start doing this early.
It breaks my heart because my boy is perfectly content playing alone and doing his own thing. He's independent and a little quirky and is fine just being left alone. So for another little boy to target him and be mean for no good reason is maddening. My son wasn't bothering you, little boy, so why did you go after him?
My fear is that this behavior will continue and follow my son into his school years. That he will continue to be devalued by his peers. That his own self-worth will be broken down by each cruel interaction.
I can't fight his battles for him. No one could fight them for me when I was a little girl. But there are things I can do and will do.
I will teach him how to identify a mean person and to stay away from them. They're pretty easy to spot once you know what to look for.
I will teach him to find the nice people and stick with them. I still believe there are more of these types of people than the others.
I will teach him that he, as a person, is worthy of respect and kindness and does not deserve to be treated unkindly by his peers or anyone.
I will teach him that everyone is worthy of respect and kindness, and encourage him to extend grace to everyone.
And, yes, I will teach him to stand up for himself, but I will also teach him to stand up for others. To speak up when something wrong is happening. To do the right thing regardless of what the consequences may be.
My son doesn't need to "man up." Other kids need to stop acting like jerks. But we don't live in a perfect society, so instead of teaching him to man up, I will teach him to stand up. Stand up against cruelty. Stand up against injustice. Stand up against those who just want to tear other people down.
And I will cling to hope. Hope that perhaps this behavior won't follow him into school. Hope that he will always do what's right. Hope that he will be a difference-maker instead of a deviant. Hope that he will be a loving and kind and respectful person. I think we can all agree that's the best thing we can do for our kids and the future generation.