Our oldest started kindergarten this year. That meant a whole lot of new big things, school, routine, and friends, just to name a few. Because both my husband and I work 40+ hours a week out of the home, we put our son in an afterschool program.
While he was used to daycare in the past, this was different. This was a scary step. He would be interacting with kids older than him on the regular, in a less supervised setting and I knew it was something I was going to have to get used to. I thought back to my school days, the struggles I faced, and knew that without a doubt, he’d face similar ones at one point or another.
The first week he came home from afterschool care and things were great – he loved it, loved school, awesome – all was well.
The first day of the following week he finally opened up to my husband and me about a boy his age at afterschool that was bullying him when the center staff’s attention was elsewhere during the first week of school.
The next day I called the center and asked what they had seen and what was going to be done (and of course questioned why I had heard nothing about it from them). I learned that the child had been temporarily suspended from the program as he was acting this way towards a number of other students.
For reasons I don’t have to justify, after discussing how to keep safe with our son, we made the choice to let him return to the program. We hoped that since the staff was aware of the issues, they’d be paying more attention to the interactions of the students.
Months passed and we heard nothing from the program or our son regarding the child and any interactions between them.
Then one day during the typical afterschool chat, my son reviled that he and his friends at the program played keep away from the child who had hurt him months ago. This was apparently a regular occurrence and they would never let him play with them and avoid him at all costs. In fact, we learned from our son, that the parents of the other children that were targeted by this child explicitly told their children they were not allowed to interact with the child. This broke my heart.
Whether your child went to some sort of center/regular care before entering kindergarten or not, it is a huge shift. Schedules, new people, more time away from home, the opportunity to be around older students and a boat load of other new experiences make this a mentally and physically exhausting time for all involved.
In addition to managing the stress of this huge shift for our children, we as parents have to keep everything else that is already going, moving forward. Knowing that this child was making the shift from whatever situation he was in previously to his first year in a school, we knew he was facing many of the same changes that our son was.
The difference, we knew about every other factor in our son’s life and knew nothing about this boy.
With this is mind, we thought about how we can only control our own home situation. No one knows what this child went home to or didn’t go home to every day. To be clear, I am not excusing the child’s behavior, I am simply implying that there are a number of factors serve as bricks in the road to a situation. We wanted to teach our son not to be one the bricks on the path to bullying.
I remember it being implanted in my brain during my school years and to this day in the work that I do, that there is a cycle to abuse and we have to stop it. Bullying is similar. Ask a bully if they were bullied or targeted by another child or person at one point or another. I bet more often than not, they were.
By asking our son to give the child who bullied him another chance, we are helping him do his best to end the cycle. It only takes one drop to start a wave of change.
So again, we sat down with our son. We relived our conversation about keeping safe and then we asked him to give the child a chance. We asked our son to engage with him and play at afterschool. We told him we didn’t expect them to become best friends, but that he needed to be nice, even though the boy wasn’t nice to him. We explained that if they didn’t get along, or if the child continued to bully him, he could stop and tell the staff.
But we urged him to give the child a second chance. And I hope this is just one step towards breaking the cycle.