Monday, July 9, 2012

Something about bullies

This may or may not help those of you who have problems with bullies, but let me give it a try. Here are four  vignettes from when my family was young, stories about bullies. There's a lesson to be derived from all four stories, taken together, but I'll leave the lesson for you to figure out.

First story:

When my oldest son was almost three years old, and my oldest daughter was about a year and a half, we moved to California. We lived on a cul-de-sac with three other houses. Sometime during our residency there, a young family from Texas moved into one of the other houses. This must have been a year and a half later. They had two boys, about the same age as our children. We thought they would play well together.

Well, one day my daughter came into the house crying. She'd been playing with the younger boy, and he had decided it was time to dump a bucketload of sand over her head. That same day or thereabouts, my son ran into the house, not crying, but obviously frightened, because the older boy had been threatening to hit him with something. After we made careful inquiries of our children, we found out that these boys had been displaying a increasing pattern of aggression and bullying.

Second story:

For various reasons, we did not want to approach the parents about it. It wasn't out of cowardice. We talked it over and simply decided that that wasn't the right thing to do.

I had grown up with an older sister who liked to bully me. As a child, I had been on the scrawny and uncoordinated side, so I got picked on at school, too. I don't know if I'd actually call it "bullying." If it was bullying, it was really lightweight bullying. But I had resolved that, when I grew up, my children would never have to submit to bullying.

I had just finished reading Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. The book had convinced me that, in matters of self-defense, a pre-emptive nuclear strike was much more effective than a graduated response, when it came to stopping a bully. So the next Monday night, for family activity night, I taught my four-year-old son and three-year-old daughter how to punch a bully in the nose. I showed them how to cock their fists, and how to throw a good punch. I had them practice on my arm until they could really make it hurt. I showed them where to aim, and taught them not to worry about any body part except the nose.

Third story:

One Saturday I heard a child's screaming from the direction of the cul-de-sac. Looking out the window, I saw the younger Texan running for home, screaming bloody murder, and my daughter sitting calmly on the curb, playing with her dolls.

I strolled out to the curb, sat down beside her, and casually asked her what had happened.

In a calm, matter-of-fact voice, she said, "Cody was being mean to me again."

I asked, "So what did you do?"

In that same calm, matter-of-fact voice, she replied, "I punched him in the nose."

I patted her on the head, said "Good for you," and went back into the house. She kept playing with her dolls. Never even looked up.

He never bullied her again. I'm not kidding. True story.

Fourth story:

Would you believe it? A day or two later, I again heard screaming from the cul-de-sac. This time I raced to the window in time to see my son chasing the older Texan back to his house, my son's right arm extended straight out in front of him, with his fist extended like a cavalry sword. (The screaming was coming from the Texan.)

Not exactly the technique I had taught him, but okay. It worked.

When my son eventually came back in the house, I asked him what the screaming was about.

"Travis was being mean to me."

"So did you punch him in the nose?"

"No, he ran away too fast."

You know how there are times in your parenting when you're not allowed to laugh, or make that little snorting noise, or even show a tiny smile? Yeah. This was one of those times. I think I managed a calm, "Oh. Okay."

And just like in my daughter's story, the boy never bullied my son again. No kidding.


Natasha Gwynn said...

I happened upon the post by following your link from "The Weed". This was HILARIOUS. While not what I would imagine to be a typical thing to teach little kids (how to punch someone in the nose), I just love how it turned out. I think it very effectively points out that sometimes violence IS the answer - when used in just the right situation. I'm curious to know if your kids ever used this technique at inappropriate times? Like when they were mad at their siblings or friends or you, when they weren't being bullied?

Zyzmog said...

I'm glad you asked about that! We ended up with five children, and they got along great, their whole lives. The older two never bullied the younger ones, didn't even really boss them around. If anything, I think they were ready to defend their siblings if the occasion required.

They never even engaged in contact sports (except for church basketball, I guess). Somehow, at 3 and 4 years old, they understood the appropriate use of violence. They both became distance runners.

Oh yeah - my son took a boxing class in college and really enjoyed it. :-)

One thing that I observed is that these two children never lacked for poise or confidence, the whole time they were growing up, and this has served them well in adulthood. I've often wondered how much of that stemmed from their learning early that they didn't have to worry about bullies.