Monday, September 3, 2012

playground bully (or, mama bear wanted to punch a face)

To enjoy the break in the slight drizzle outside, G and I headed to one of our favorite playgrounds at our local library. We go here probably at least once a week because it's so close and easy to pop in and out. Plus, G loves this playground. It has wide, open walkways where he can run in a large circle, many slides, and several different sets of stairs. Really, if the place had some swings, it would be perfect.

When we arrived, a father and son were playing with some toy (a slingshot, maybe?) in the empty parking lot. G proceeded to do his thing, screaming happily and running in circles. I tried to engage him in a game of tic-tac-toe, but he became distracted by the boy walking into the playground area. His dad stayed in the parking lot, playing on his phone. The boy seemed to be about four years old, about a head taller than G. He said "hi" to G, and I asked G to say "hi" back - of course, G only waved. He's starting to notice other kids more and more, so he watched the other boy for a bit.

At one point, the boy jabbed a finger into G's chest. Now that I think about it, it was probably to move G away from the top of a small set of stairs that G was standing nearby. G looked at me and back at the kid and back at me, like what was his problem, mom? G didn't seem hurt, so I told him it was okay, to go ahead and keep playing.

The boy went down the set of stairs, and G wanted to follow. G headed down a few steps before the boy rushed back, telling G, "You can't go down these stairs. No stairs. No slides. You can't get on the ground." He said this over and over.

I thought, okay, we've dealt with this before. Some kids get possessive over certain parts of the playground. I told G he could go down the stairs if he wanted. But there were other steps to use to get down as well. I pointed him toward another set, but he felt like being a little stubborn and standing his ground. I wasn't about to discourage him; G is notorious to giving up ground to any kid who even walks past him, so the fact that he wasn't running away was a huge step in the right direction.

I told G to just wait his turn and let the boy get off the stairs first. The boy did, but again, as soon as G tried to go down, the boy would rush back and yell at Grayson. At this point, I was encouraging G to just use another set of stairs and he decided to agree. G started to walk off, but the boy followed, still talking about what G could and couldn't do. He was getting right up in G's face, and G was really started to get unnerved by this boy. I told the boy, "You need to leave my kid alone."

The boy started to stomp close to G's feet like he was trying to hurt him. He was grunting, swinging his arms around, trying to intimidate G. I put my hand up, saying, "Do not touch my kid. If you touch my kid, I will not hesitate to push you away." He continued to stomp and make threatening gestures at my son.

I looked for his father who was oblivious and called over to him. "Sir, you need to come talk to your son. He is bothering my kid."

The man started walking over. "What's he doing?"

"He's not letting my son play. He's being a bully." Yeah, I used the b-word. But it was true. It was bully behavior.

The man looked at his son, who had backed off. "If you can't play nice, we're going to leave." His kid started whining and saying he hadn't done anything. When G tried to go down the stairs again, the boy immediately tried to prevent him from going down. His father (I'm assuming here) stopped him, saying, "Okay, we're going home." The kid took off, yelling. The man said, "Come get your shoe." It was on the steps and he was too large to get it; I actually went and got it for him, eager for the kid to go.

This continued for a while, with the father telling his kid to do something, and his son repeatedly whining and saying no. Once, the kid ran off saying "Don't hit me, don't hit me!" and the father replied, "I won't if you leave the other boy alone." The father eventually gave up, though he did hover nearby on the ground, finally keeping an eye on his son.

G relaxed and began to run in circles along the top platforms. The boy began to chase him, following about half a circle behind but slowly catching up. G would notice and start running faster, trying to get away from him. When G would run over to me, the boy would stop and yell at G to keep running. OMG, seriously!

After a few rounds, G got upset, making the noises he makes when he's scared. He didn't cry, but man, he was close. He came over and clung to my leg, staring at the other boy like he was psycho. I told the boy, "Leave him alone. You are scaring him." His father came over to say basically the same thing and demand that they leave. Of course, the kid refused.

At that point, I held G close to me. Either we were going to leave, or they were. The father eventually managed to catch his kid, hoisting him over his shoulder and carrying him back to the car. The kid screamed bloody murder the entire time he was being strapped into his carseat, and I could hear him still screaming as they drove out of the parking lot and onto the main rode.

Why are some kids this horrible? The boy couldn't have been older than 5 at most, and he was probably more like 4. We've met some pushy kids before, including two I've had to physically block from touching G. But this is the first time I've come across an actual bully. It was like he smelled blood in the water, and as a shark, he was compelled to circle. Or maybe something about G just screamed easy victim. Or maybe he was bored and G was the only other kid around. While his father tried to control his kid, he was mostly ineffective. Following through with your threats when you first make them is kinda Parenting 101. I can't help but blame the parent for at least part of the kid's behavior.

I wasn't sure how to get G to handle it. I've always told him, "Do what you want. Take turns, but don't let someone push you off your toy." But he's just passive that way. At the mall that morning, he asked to leave the play area after some more kids arrived because he couldn't be assertive enough to use the slide. Being passive is just part of G - it's a large reason as to why he hasn't started talking much yet. It's part of his kind and gentle nature.

I don't want my kid to be bullied because he can't stand up for himself. I know it's unreasonable to demand a two-year-old to stand up to a bully, but I won't always be there at his side. I want to teach him some skills now, but how do you do that with a child who doesn't talk? I read something about just teaching them to say "No" loudly, and I'm going to work on that with G.

Our first encounter with a bully broke my heart. I'm glad that I managed to keep my emotions in check, but inside, I was burning with mama bear rage. I had to push aside my angry tears to be strong for G, and to not lose my cool with a kid who was still so young.

What would you do if your kid was being bullied on the playground? Any tips for this mama?


  1. man, I feel for you. but when the bully ran away from his father saying, "don't hit me! don't hit me!" makes me very sad. obviously, this boy's father has hit him before.

    my son was the same way when he was younger - very passive, letting other kids push him away from the toys he was playing with. but he has totally grown out of that in the last 6 or 7 months. he's four now, and is definitely not afraid to state his opinion. your son will stick up for himself in time; laid back kids just take their time.

    we have never encountered a bully before like that, one who would constantly be in my son's face; but I would have handled it much the same way as you did. I'm glad that you didn't lose your cool, because that would have shown a poor way of dealing with a bully. :)


    1. I wondered about what the kid. Since the father didn't lay a hand on him there, I didn't say anything. My mom says we sometimes said the same thing when we got in trouble in public. My parents spanked, but not very often.

      Do you know what helped your son come out of his passiveness? Or did he just grow out of it?

  2. I'm not sure what Alyx would do if someone were to bully her. It makes it less likely since she's already much bigger than other kids her age (and older). She's also very outgoing and assertive, but luckily not aggressive (she tries to be pretty loving towards smaller kids - the caveat being her "mine" stage which seems to be waning). I do know that my reaction would be close to yours. The "rage" while doing everything you can to just be a good parent (and person). I think you pretty much handled it in the moment the best you could. As for future-state, maybe try finding G some books about that kind of situation and how to handle it. Since he loves to read it may be a good way to help him understand how to handle that kind of thing if/when it happens.

    1. Finding some books is a good idea since he loves to read so much! And I don't mind kids being possessive with items; that's only natural. However, this was clearly bully behavior. He wanted G to obey him in all things and got quite angry when G didn't.

  3. Part of me would like to sympathize with the kid. There could have also been a possibility he had a form of Autism. Before I had my son I watched my uncle's little boy. He has a form of Autism but you wouldn't know it just by looking at him. If he would get angry or frustrated he would become violent: hitting, punching, screaming. It was kinda scary, not going to lie, specially since I couldn't get him to verbally tell me what was wrong with him. I believe he was 5 at the time as well.

    As for the father, he dealt with that situation very poorly.

    1. I did wonder about some kind of behavioral disorder, but he definitely didn't have Autism. He said hi when he first passed us, wanted very much to talk to me at first, looked me in the eye many times. Maybe he could've had Asperger's instead?

      No matter what behavioral problem the child might've had, the father should have stepped in quicker and dealt with the problem more quickly than he did. Based on what I saw, he really didn't seen to follow through with his threats in any effective way.

  4. We actually dealt with this for the first time this weekend when watching a boy who was 2x the age of Hannabert. In our situation, he was actually hitting our son on the head with wooden blocks which was very scary for Hannabert. We separated the boys. Hannabert went with my son to watch the ND game and I stayed with the other boy. We had to say lots of "We don't hit in our house." I have no idea what the deal was with the other boy.

    1. In that situation, you did the best thing you could, which was to separate them. Did you tell the boy's parents afterward what had happened?

  5. My goodness. I am so sorry that you had that experience. Facing a bully is never fun. And I am sorry that little G had to. I think my son Wyatt will have the same issues G is having. (he is very -very quiet). I am worried that this will make him an easy target for bullies. I like your idea of firmly saying "no". Please continue to share stories like these - perhaps someone who is the parent of a bully will really be able to see how it effects others.

    1. Unfortunately, being quiet does make you a target. I was picked on often in middle school for being quiet, when really that's just how I wanted to be. I didn't need people constantly bringing it up as though it was a bad thing. I think we need to accept our passive, quiet children the way they are, but do give them the tools to use if someone decides to bully them because of it.

  6. I think that by giving G permission to stand up for himself (don't let someone push you off your toy) you are heading in the right direction. Molly is way more passive than Emma, but over the past year she has developed the confidence to tell her no.... Given that G did tolerate the bully behavior for quite a while, and sticking to his stairs at first, it sounds like he's getting there.

    As for the bully, some kids are just mean. Nature/nurture, whatever, some kids just suck.

    It could have been a behavior disorder, but most parents I know whose kids are diagnosed with behavior disorder (or other mental disorders) are A. Much more attentive & effective and B. Would have apologized & explained to some extent or C. Immediately removed the kid from the playground...

    One of our nieces Cheyenne was thought to be autistic at first, now she is considered to be bipolar (she is ten) initially your encounter reminded me of how she used to act. She would talk to anybody, but she didn't understand how to play with other kids, or toys so she was often harsh & blunt. Then around age 5, her aggression & rage started... Anyway, kudos mama bear for your handling of the encounter & I also vote for books on the subject :)


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