Something happened this week that completely shook me. I received a call from the school’s psychologist telling me that there had been a bullying incident involving my son and three other boys. My heart skipped a beat upon hearing those words. So many questions immediately flew into my mind:
“Is he hurt?”
“Did he do something to another child?”
“Was my son the bully?”
“Is he in trouble?”
“Was he ganged-up on?”
I waited with bated-breath for her next words: your son is fine. I exhaled. She went on to explain that normally the principal would be calling me—as is done when anything bullying-related occurs—but she wanted to talk to me herself. She was very impressed with my son. She told me that he handled himself wonderfully, and that he expressed his emotions in such detail and with such clarity for a seven year-old that she wanted to tell me herself how impressed she was with him.
My eyes welled with tears.
For the duration of the call, my emotions remained on a roller-coaster—I was elated that a she was complimenting my son, and yet I was still on edge as to what had actually happened. In the end, I was struck speechless, unable to formulate a single question. We hung up after just a few minutes, and I returned to my work. My nerves felt raw, and all I could do was repeatedly glance up at the clock to see if it was time to go pick him up—the minutes ticked by so slowly.
For the next two hours, my mind drifted to images of an older version of my son. I saw him as a teenager, and yet the picture became hazy when I tried to imagine him being confronted by bullies. Even at the young age of seven, I had already spent many hours talking with him about bullies: how they might act, what they might say, and what he should do in various scenarios. During this brief time—as I wondered what had happened—I realized that it’s possible that I have had a false sense of security when it comes to my son.
He was born in November and is therefore older than most of the kids in his grade. He is also bigger than children his own age—and many children who are older than him—not just in height but in his overall physical strength. Because of this, I have always felt it was important to talk to him about being kind, especially to those who are smaller than him. He has also been learning taekwondo for almost two years, and has his high-red belt. This sport has taught him self-defense, fighting techniques, and—most importantly—discipline. In the back of my mind, I have always thought these things would protect him as no one would be crazy enough to try to hurt him.
But there is more than one way to be hurt by someone. I started playing the conversation with the psychologist over again in my mind. She told me what my son had told her about the incident: he explained that when his heart feels broken by what someone does, he reacts with anger. He went on to explain that once he is able to express his feelings, then he just feels sad and will sometimes cry. My son is incredibly sensitive, and not just in reaction to what people might do or say to him. When he recognizes that someone around him might be sad, stressed, angry, happy, hurt, or worried, he feels it and wants to do something to make it all better. He feels what others feel, and it affects him deeply.
More than anything, I wanted to go to the school to see for myself that he was okay.
I was finally able to hear what happened when I picked him up a little while later: he and two of his friends were fooling around while walking back to their classroom after recess. Another boy wanted to join in, so he decided to kick my son’s friend in the butt, thinking that it was in jest. The boy was taken off-guard, and was understandably angry at being kicked. My son and his friends began yelling at the boy, which led to shoving and a lot of heated emotions.
When I knew he was fine—not permanently scarred by the incident—I cried in relief. My son’s main concern was that I would be angry with him—which I assured him, I was not. He told me that everything was fine with his friends, and he “just wants everyone to get along.”
It’s possible that I may have overreacted—it’s been known to happen. That being said, I am thankful for the reminder that I need to talk to my son more about the emotional fall-out of bullying, not just the physical. If I were to give advice to my son at this moment, I would say that people—especially children—often say things they don’t mean when they are angry. He should never take these words to heart, no matter how much they might sting. I believe that cruel words come from a place of insecurity, and that he should feel sorry for the person saying them rather than ever let them affect how he thinks about himself.