Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

My four year old, Dylan, has been attending VPK for the past month, and so far the experience has been eye opening. Mostly for us. I can say without bias that Dylan is a sensitive, smart, and well behaved kid. So, it came as a surprise, when I came to find out that he had gotten into a fight at school. When my wife went to pick him up, a teaching assistant handed Dylan over to her in the carline. “Was Dylan good today?” she asked. After a pregnant pause, the assistant said that Dylan was extremely good, but his classmates, however, were not. On the way home, when my wife asked Dylan what happened, he said that another kid in his class, Brett, hit him. Dylan said that Brett started throwing slaps at him and kicking him for playing with a toy and that all Dylan did was put his arms up to try and block some of the blows. Thankfully, Dylan wasn’t hurt. My wife got tearful and immediately talked to the teacher. The first response is always shock, then anger when it comes to bullying.

When I found out, I, too, was angry. I was angry with Brett, the other four year old, for being a little monster. I was angry with the teacher for not doing enough. I was angry with Dylan, for not fighting back. It was the knee-jerk response I had when I heard that my son was hurt. For any parent that has been through an experience like this, the emotions can be initially overwhelming. My first gut reaction was to yell at Dylan for not doing more, but that would’ve been the wrong way of handling it. By yelling at Dylan, he would’ve shut down and shut us out of the conversation. It’s important to remember who the victim is when it comes to bullying and to have an open atmosphere for the victim to feel safe to discuss the problems. When victims don’t feel safe and bottle up their experiences, it will reveal itself in other ways. Victims may act out, may exhibit signs of depression, have a drop in grades at school, develop insomnia or loss of appetite.

These days, bullying has many different faces. It isn’t just the big, bad wolf taking advantage of the hard working, little pigs. It can take the form of a physical bullying, where there is a physical altercation, or it can take the form of an emotional bullying, where there are psychological daggers thrown at the victim. The typical example of this type of bullying is the “mean girl,” the girl that fat shames and makes passive aggressive remarks about other people. In some ways, this form of bullying is much worse, as the psychological implications to a developing child’s self esteem can have repercussions felt for years. In our modern Facebook, Instagram age, social media has become a tool for bullies. In the past, victims of bullying could take a break from the day in and day out barrage of insults. There was time to recover, to allow the victim to remember that they are loved, that they are valued, allowing them to “toughen up.” Now, there is no relief. Victims can’t toughen up because they have no time to heal. Bullies are unrelenting. Ultimately, this can lead to low self esteem, behavioral problems, depression, anxiety, and potentially suicide or homicide.

When I asked Dylan why Brett attacked him, he didn’t have a good answer. “I guess he wanted my toy,” he said. Bullying can be just for the sake of bullying, where there is no good reason as to why a person will do this. Maybe it’s because a victim looks different, or appears weak, or has something the bully wants. In some cases, bullying is the product of bullying, where it is a learned behavior. Violence breeds violence. A child can become a bully because he’s been bullied by a sibling or a parent or an uncle or aunt. Domestic violence is a much larger issue, but can most definitely contribute to bullying.

After my initial anger, I calmed down and sat Dylan down. I told him how much I loved him and how proud of him I was that he was able to tell me about what happened at school. I told him that he didn’t deserve what happened to him and that it wasn’t his fault that he was bullied. It’s always important to make sure that victims understand that it is never their fault that they are bullied. Their confidence needs rehabilitation, and the first place to start is by placing the blame squarely where it belongs – the bully. I told Dylan that he did the right thing. Dealing with bullies can be a challenge. On the one hand, by fighting back, the violence maybe escalated. On the other hand, doing nothing will usually lead to nothing. Bullies don’t stop bullying until they are confronted. I told Dylan that if it should happen again, push the bully away and make it known to the bully that he should stop. Confronting a bully can be in the form of a parent or teacher correcting a child, or it can be in the form of a system, like the police, if the harassment escalates to that point. I Dylan that the best way to stop bullying is by becoming friends with everyone. Not everyone may like him, but acting civil towards a fellow classmate is one way to avoid a problem.

Ultimately, it is always important to remember that children become adults. Teaching children to act like adults begins in childhood. Responding to a bully with violence will only lead to more violence, but confronting the problem head on is sometimes the only solution. Dylan takes karate lessons, and the first principles they teach him are respect, honor, and discipline, not how to throw a punch. Every child is different, but proper guidance is really what should be consistent. Understand that there is a difference between fighting a bully and fighting back. Sometimes, trusting in the system is the answer. When the system works, there is no reason to fear the big, bad wolf.

By: Dr. Juan Borja
Original post: https://yourdoctordad.com/whos-afraid-of-the-big-bad-wolf/

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