So, if you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know that I was originally inspired to write all these ‘bullying’ posts by my little 3yr old being ‘bullied’ at his nursery. It was a situation with a little boy, who I suspect (but I never got a chance to help the parents, which I would have loved to do) was feeling powerless at home due to having one very dominating parent, and another not giving clear rules/controls. He would also get suddenly bored, which is how come it was difficult for the nursery to predict when the problem would occur, because it was as though he would suddenly switch for no reason.
I applied some changes to the support/challenge in my son’s life at home (i.e where life goes his way and doesn’t) and did puppet role play shows on how to walk away from a situation, and the problem appeared to go away.
However, new nursery, new problem! This one has less of a problem with boredom as it is more structured, and they are stricter, so there isn’t really obvious physical bullying. Instead, we have the more subtle feminine side of bullying, with the use of WORDS and power over who does and doesn’t belong! The kids are brighter, older and much cleverer, so it is a totally different kettle of fish. Now I don’t know them well enough to know exactly what their backgrounds are which is creating their behaviour, but they are definitely looking to create more ‘support’ for themselves at nursery, by creating a ‘gang’ that they can belong in. (Remember, bullies are not ‘bad’ – we all bully somewhere – they are just attempting to fill a need). There are quite a lot of girls, so they are all attempting to work out the hierarchy and displaying signs of ‘power’ and who would be most valuable to ‘belong’ to!
Why has it occurred for Max again? Well, we have just come back from holiday, where I worked for 5 days and Max got thoroughly spoilt. Plus he arrived 2 weeks after everyone else, so isn’t automatically fitting in. He probably walked in a little cocky, expecting it to be like his old nursery where the shouts of ‘Max’ would be everywhere as he arrived. He needs to learn to adapt to a bigger environment, where he isn’t such a big fish. Plus, he needs for life to be going slightly less the way he always wants it at home! (Remember, I’ve talked about the ‘challenge’ of bullying occurring when there is too much ‘support’ elsewhere in their lives).
Now, although I don’t get really ‘upset’ about bullies etc, it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to take some action. So here is what I’ve done so far:
1) Alert the nursery to the fact that I’m totally aware of the situation, and am not willing for it to continue for too long. In my view it is their job to ensure that the kids all understand that it is not acceptable behaviour at school to refuse to play with someone because of their gender/size/race/background etc. If they don’t do that, then they aren’t helping the ‘bullies’ who need to learn some safe boundaries. If they get caught with that sort of behaviour at the up & coming assessments for primary schools, they will be in big trouble! However, of course, they can’t force a child to play with another child, and that’s not what I’m attempting to make them do.
Update: the nursery were great, and admitted that there was a slight problem in the room. They are now being much more consistent and certain about the behaviour expected at nursery. They have also had a whole week concentrating on ‘friendly behaviour’ at circle time, and have even asked Max to share his strategies (see below).
2) Started to suss out the Mums in the playground and found another Mum in the same situation. So we can set up a ‘play date’ where are kids gain some ‘power’ by getting to know each other. I’m going to keep looking and help Max learn how to look for potential friends and remember names (challenging in a larger class of 16 with 2 teachers!).
Update: This very quickly helped both Max and another child facing a similar problem. They immediately understood that it wasn’t personal, and that there were potential allies in the room, so it had an almost overnight affect. Got lots more booked up as well – gonna have to buy Max a diary to keep track ;o)
3) Talked Max through the 4 alternatives to what to do (at his age) when a child doesn’t want to play with him (they told him he was a boy, so he couldn’t play with the girls). Firstly, clearly say that if they don’t want to play with him, it’s not a problem, because he’ll find someone better to play with (maintain his power). Secondly, to check around the playground for someone else who is alone & play with them (Look for opportunities). Thirdly, look for something fun to do on his own (show initiative & confidence). And Finally, in the situation that they want to play with him, but not do what he wants to do, then he can either give in and play what they want, or create a new idea, or make a ‘deal’ to play their game and then his (he is good at deals!).
Update: Not only did he apply these strategies, but I also saw him apply them in a park a few days later. There was a group of boys, with a ‘leader’ who was very clever at manipulating situations. They systematically spat at, kicked, pushed and called Max names. During which time, I clung to the park bench, knowing that I needed to let him handle the situation himself. He was amazing, I was so proud of him, He tried every strategy I had given him (I’m going to blog more about strategies soon), and eventually actually started to create allies int he group. I’m now very grateful to those little girls at his nursery, for their very gentle introduction into a much more severe world of child-power-play.
I have no doubt that the social lessons he is learning here will set him in good stead for when he goes to primary school next year. Plus although the game has upped in intensity/complication a bit, he is also capable of understanding more complicated social situations now. Finally, he is beginning to get his head around the fact that I’ve been telling him that there will always be people both loving and disliking him in life, and that is OK. If he can learn to understand that, it will save him a world of pain in the future, and instead he will automatically just look around for who does like him, rather than worry about who doesn’t.
It’s ironic that I have picked a co-ed school for Max, rather than single sex, which would have a much simpler version of bullying for him! But heh, that is real life, so, and I think that he is capable of dealing with it, even at this age (others might not) and therefore it will stand him in good stead for life. Bear this in mind when considering single/co-ed schools – what would suit your child and their current social maturity levels?