Instincts to protect our little ones are strong. There are times I have found myself channeling “The Matrix” with my ability to intervene during typical childhood injury-inducing events. For instance, while peeing with a full audience, I was able to leap mid-pee to catch one of my little cubs after an ill-advised jump off the counter. This from a woman who trips over air. Instincts are powerful.
Ensuring the physical and emotional safety of our kids becomes increasingly difficult once school starts. There is a large chunk of time when Mama Bear is unable to anticipate issues or soften the blow. This sudden lack of motherly control has never been more evident than with my child’s first bully.
My son had just entered first grade. He loves school and thrives on social interaction. That’s why when my little dude got off the bus looking defeated, my Mama Bear instincts started growling towards the surface.
I sat down with my boy, plied him with snacks, and asked him about his day. His first response to me was that his day was “terrible.” Unfortunately, he must have read the concern on my face and quickly recanted. It wasn’t until Papa Bear came home that he was ready to spill what his sweet heart was carrying.
Sitting together on the couch my son started talking about another child who was being cruel to him. Giant tears rolled from his large brown eyes and long lashes. He had curled his tall, lanky body into a ball so small he almost disappeared in his father’s arms. He expressed feeling rejected, isolated, and bewildered.
My temper boiled. I did my best to be supportive and calm but internally, I was screaming. All I could think about was my overwhelming desire to tear apart this child and his parents for raising such a butthead. Obviously, this violent knee-jerk reaction is frowned upon, so I did my best to keep my composure.
We talked with our son about all the basics when it comes to dealing with a bully. Standing up for himself, staying with his positive peer group, and talking to a teacher when needed. We told him that both Mommy and Daddy were here for him always and we would go to bat for him when needed. We also found ourselves talking about how some kids have problems we don’t know about. Lastly, we talked about how he would find that he won’t be friends with everyone, but he still needs to be respectful and kind.
As the evening progressed, his emotions calmed. It’s amazing what a few rounds of family foosball can do for a 6-year-old’s emotional state. At bedtime, we recapped our conversation. I fielded a few questions about why people are mean to each other that I struggled to answer to his satisfaction. I kissed him extra and hugged him until he begged to be released.
I went downstairs and vented my fears and frustrations to my husband. My husband is a known calm in a storm and was able to calm this Mama Bear to a point where I was no longer seething. I worried throughout the night and dreaded the idea of sending my son to school in the morning. Luckily, in the AM he begrudgingly accepted a pep talk and extra hugs before rushing off to school.
Of course, my own worries continued throughout the day. I eagerly waited for school to get out so that my son would be safe with me once again.
Luckily, my fears were unfounded. Little Dude got out of school and gushed about what an amazing day he had. I let him ramble about the day’s events for quite a while before I asked him about the bully. He looked at me thoughtfully and said he didn’t have any issues. He described not engaging with the child when he acted out. My son stated that he told the child that they didn’t have to be friends but that there was no need to be a jerk (his words… possibly taken from my own). He said from that point their interactions had been civil.
Obviously, in the world of 6-year-olds, bullying is typically manageable. And with the social memory of gnats, these two kids may very well end up as lifelong friends. As an introduction to the implications of bullying, this situation was admittedly benign but my hope is that we handled it correctly. The goal of parenting is to raise good people who can also handle themselves. Teaching our son that not all social interactions are easy but that he needs to still act in a respectful manner is part of that. I want him to feel supported and to have the self-confidence to stand up for himself.
As for me, it was good practice in keeping my mama bear claws in check. Fighting the instinct to aggressively defend your young is hard. This instinct can blind a mama to their little one’s need to learn to independently function in social situations. In this case, I was able to practice pulling back my claws while still giving out all the bear hugs he needed.