Answering the knock on my back door one afternoon, I faced a woman new to me. “I want you to make your sons stop bullying my son,” she stated simply.
I was shocked. My children were not bullies. I could see her car parked in the street with her son sitting in the passenger seat. I then saw my fourth grade identical twin sons standing in our driveway looking guilty as sin. Even though I found what this woman was saying hard to believe, I could see in my children’s faces that something was amiss.
“Why don’t we bring the boys together and see if we can figure this out,” I suggested to this mother.
Once we were all assembled on the back stoop, I introduced the boys to Mrs. Brown and introduced myself to her son. My sons Paul and David were more than a head taller than her son John.
“Mrs. Brown is here complaining that you boys have been bullying John.”
Both boys remained silent, looking down at the ground.
“I’m really surprised boys. It wasn’t that long ago that you came home complaining to me about an older boy in the neighborhood who was bullying the two of you. Remember? You were very upset and unhappy.”
“Yeah, and he was the kid who was doing the bullying,” David said pointing to John!
Paul nodded his head in vigorous agreement with his brother. “Yeah,” he said with conviction.
Uh oh. What was I going to do now? Even though my temptation was to turn back to Mrs. Brown and say, “It seems your child deserves everything my children are doing to him” I knew that was completely inappropriate and unhelpful. Instead, I looked to Mrs. Brown for help. She was now staring hard at her own son with daggers in her eyes. I looked at John and saw that he now looked just as guilty as my own sons had just a few minutes before. Paul and David were looking to me, feeling vindicated from all wrong doing. I waited a few beats to see if Mrs. Brown was going to come up with any brilliant thoughts, suggestions or insights to help us all out. She remained silent, looking only at her own son.
“Well, let’s see if we can figure something out here boys. It seems you all have now realized that bullying is not a good idea. And yet, the three of you all live in the neighborhood and will continue to see each other regularly. How about if you all agree to just ignore one another. You don’t need to become friends with each other. You don’t even have to like each other. But will you all agree to just leave each other alone?”
Paul and David quickly and enthusiastically agreed to this solution. Slowly, John nodded his head, briefly looking me in the eyes. Mrs. Brown never took her eyes off of John, but simply turned and walked back to her own car placing a hand on John’s shoulder for guidance.
Paul, David and I all entered our home. I wanted to jump for joy, cheer and congratulate the boys for standing up for themselves by not letting anybody bully or treat them badly. I also was quite aware of how inappropriate this action would be. I was a mother practicing Peaceful Parenting. Resorting to anger, whether in words or deeds was never a solution I wanted to advocate or teach. But clearly Paul and David had figured some things out without their mother’s help.
“Well, that was interesting,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Paul, “and surprising. A few years ago John was the really big kid. He didn’t count on us growing and getting bigger than him.”
Children attempting to exert power and control over other children is nothing new. In fact, bullying is not even unique to children. But helping children learn how to resolve their differences, work things out and develop tolerant and peaceful relations is an important skill parents can and should teach their children. The temptation may be to simply teach your child how to stand up to a bully and maybe even fight back. But when you go for the bigger skill you have children who know how to get along with one another. They become adolescents who get along with one another and then become adults who get along.
Start now helping your children not only learn how to deal with bullying but go a step beyond and learn how to develop peaceful co-existence and relationships. You can do your part to help create a more civil, peaceful home and community.
(To learn more about these ideas and skills please check out my web site, www.peacefulparenting.com.)