My son, Enrique, has always been aggressive.
Still, he’s one of the sweetest and most affectionate boys you’ll ever meet. He cares deeply about others and is learning, one day at a time, to express his emotions in a more gentle way. Although, even his hugs and kisses often lack a gentle touch. When he was younger, before he started school, I used to joke that I was raising the Kindergarten bully. I was worried that by the time he got to Kindergarten, he’d be the class bully. He can be pretty rough. However, in his two years of preschool, I never heard of him hitting another child in his classroom. I suppose that doesn’t mean he never did. Perhaps there was some small instance(s) that were not reported to me. I’m beginning to wonder.
By Enrique’s third week of Kindergarten, he’d already hit another child. It was more of a defensive slap. He was having a very difficult day and a sweet little girl in his class approached him to ask if he was okay. He was already in tantrum mode and as she reached out to him, he slapped her arm/hand away. She wasn’t hurt and later he apologized and asked if she was okay. Still, it worried me. I don’t really think of Enrique as a bully, but the truth is, he fits the description. This is how Google defines bully:
- 1.a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.
- 1.use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.“a local man was bullied into helping them”
Enrique is a bully. In fact, so is Andres.
Enrique intimidates. Sometimes that’s exactly what he means to do. Most of the time, it’s not. He’s just a little boy. He’s a good boy. He likes other children. He just gets overwhelmed. It’s much harder for him to recognize his own emotions and deal with them appropriately when the crisis is coming from the inside. He does much better when dealing with other people’s crisis. Sounds a lot like most adults, wouldn’t you say?
A while ago, I was at his school and saw him lined up in the hallway with the rest of his class. A little boy and a little girl who were standing in line behind him started hitting each other, with serious aggression. Enrique turned around and put his arms between them and immediately starting telling them we don’t touch other people. “Be gentle! Come on guys. What’s the problem here?!” he said. His instinct was to problem-solve without violence. He saw the situation from the outside looking in, and was able to react rationally and positively. Enrique might be a bully by definition, but he’s also a “poster-boy” for anti-bullying. We have to stop labeling children as bullies, so early on.
So far, I’ve written a slew of contradictions and right about now you might find yourself really confused. Well, that’s what life is like for Enrique. It’s very confusing. He wants to be a good boy. He is a pleaser. He likes to help others and see people happy. Unfortunately, he can personally go from happy to irate in a single moment.Enrique and his triplet siblings have Autism. Transitions (a change in routine, going from one activity to another, and anything “unexpected”) are very difficult for them. Very. While transitions are hard for all of the triplets, they each deal with them in different ways. The start of the upset that led to Enrique hitting another classmate was because he was pulled out for testing. At the time, the class was working on writing. By the time Enrique got back to his classroom, writing time was over and Enrique didn’t get to finish. Not only was he upset about the unplanned testing, and not getting to write, but he gets super overwhelmed when he doesn’t finish something. This was a really hard moment for him. Many almost six-year-olds could handle this without tantrums and violence. For Enrique, it was just too much. I’m not trying to make excuses, but I have a lot of empathy for Enrique. He’s doing the best he can, right now.
I’m guilty of labeling children as bullies, in the past, too. We have to stop. I accept Enrique for who he is and he is an amazing little boy.
Still, I’m Sorry.
I’ve always said that I’d feel terrible if my children hit any other children in school. It doesn’t matter that it was a small slap. I feel terrible. I feel terrible for the other parent(s). I feel terrible for the little girl. I feel terrible for the Teacher. And, I feel terrible for Enrique. I’m sorry. Enrique is sorry, too. I mean, as much as he can be. He might say sorry, because he’s been taught to do so, but it’s very hard for him to really understand just how wrong his behavior is, sometimes. I guess that’s why I often find myself feeling twice as sorry. Yet, as sorry as I truly am…
Mostly, I Feel Empathy.
I would like to think that this is the first and last time something like this will happen. That’s unlikely. I’ve been working hard with the teacher and school administrators to figure out how to best support Enrique and his siblings. Each one has different needs. They might be triplets, but they are individuals and we have to address each child individually. This is not easy for Enrique, his classmates who have to listen to and be distracted by his tantrums, his teacher who has to tend to him and the rest of the class, or the parents of the “victims” in his classroom. I’m sure, if you become aware of this situation, you’ll feel some frustration. I would feel the same if I were you. My children have been hit by other children and I’ve been upset. I encourage other parents to approach the parents of any bully with any questions or concerns, with an open-mind. Be solution focused and not just blame-focused.
If You Don’t Feel Empathy, You’re the Real Bully.
My son is not a bully. I’m the bully. I’m the one who almost slapped that label on him.
And everytime you look at a little boy or girl and think, or say, “what a bad kid,” it makes you a bully. It’s shaming. I will not shame my child. Instead, I’ll support him. All children exhibit bully-like behaviors, sometimes, but that alone does not make them a bully. Often, bullies are cornered into their routine behaviors because others don’t expect more from them. They don’t believe in them. They don’t nurture them. As a society, we are quick to look at children and label them as bad before they’ve ever had a chance to change their approach to life. So, the one thing expected from them is the only thing they know. Whether you are the parent of a child who has bullied others or the parent of a child who has been bullied, we can start the change with some Simple Solutions.
- Set the example.
- Be empathetic.
- Stop calling little kids bullies.
- Look for their strengths.
- Compliment them on their good qualities.
- Provide them with positive reinforcement when they make good decisions.
- Be patient.
- Have open communication with teachers and other parents.
- Give your child on-going tools to build on their conflict-resolution skills, starting at an early age.
We can all do a little better, and it starts with teaching our children to have empathy for others. This was not easy to teach Enrique and it’s something we work on every day. But, it IS working. That’s why he instinctively intervened in the fight that was happening in the lunch line. While I mentioned my children’s Autism here, that’s not the focus because all children deserve empathy, whether or not they have a “diagnosis” that inspires us to show compassion. I try to put myself in the shoes of other children and their parents who might be on the receiving end of one of my children’s breakdowns. I will do this regardless, but I hope you’ll do the same. I’m not just trying to make the world a better place for my children. I want to make it a better place for all children. As parents, we can be the change!