At what age do you think kids recognize bullying? Maybe not calling it bullying, but recognize that a child is being made fun of? I was surprised to learn that my 3-year-old can recognize it. Here’s our story.
Look at this picture, what do you think?
Let me tell you what I think of that picture. It reminds me of an almost perfect day. I was invited to attend a Blogger Beach Bash in Avalon, NJ and that’s where that is–at The Golden Inn Hotel in Avalon. The weather was perfect, it was hot and sunny. The hotel is fabulous and our rooms were subsidized as a part of the event. The hotel is right on the beach, and that is where we had just been, prior to getting in that pool. And that pool? Let me tell you–I was sitting at a table about 4 feet away from that pool and I had just ordered drinks and dinner. Drinks and dinner poolside! Does it get much better than that? It was my first overnight beach trip with my boys, without any help (hubby, mother in law, etc.) and it was going great and we were having such a great time. In fact, we were having such a great time that I wanted to share it with everyone, so I did. I have about 5 versions of that same photo, taken with our cameras, taken with my phone. And I sent one such photo to my mother-in-law on her phone.
So last month, my mother in law was at our house and she was showing phone pictures to my 3-year-old. She scrolled through, got to that picture and she said “Look, there’s you and your brother.” And do you know what he said? He told her, “There were girls there and they were making fun of my brother. That is not nice. It is not nice to make fun of people. They were making fun of my brother.”
Damn, I was having such a good time in Avalon, I had erased that segment from my mind, until my mother-in-law relayed that exchange to me and asked me about it. Yes, that did happen.
My boys were in the pool, minding their own business, just cooling off. Kevin was stimming on the water a bit, he likes to slap it and brush it with his hands. You can even see in the photo that he is moving his hands. Then, two young girls hopped in the pool with them. They were about 5 or 7. Just as quickly as they hopped in the pool, they quickly assessed that my boys were not potential playmates, but that Kevin warranted being made fun of. I couldn’t hear them, I don’t know what they said. But they were whispering and snickering to each other and mimicking his hand movements. It was obvious from their body language that they were in fact making fun of him.
And just as quickly as that happened, just as I was thinking “Do I say something?” they hopped out of the pool. And that was it. I remember actually (overthinking it) feeling sorry for them. For how quickly they went right to making fun of another child, how quickly they got there. How they couldn’t just enjoy the day, as we were. How they just had to be mean. It really is sad, they were young. How does a first or second grader go right to making fun of a kid, within 10-15 seconds of seeing them? Wow, this was Mean Girls like I’d never seen.
Do you know who this cartoon is? Unless you’re a Simpsons fan, you wouldn’t know that it’s the town bully-Nelson Muntz. He is portrayed as your typical bully-male, teen, there are references to his dad not being around or drinking a lot, and his mother is also referenced as being pretty loose and I think a gambler. Their house is run down, Nelson often doesn’t have food, and basically not a good home life.
We’d like to think that this is what bullies are like, where they come from, right? And since I’m not a drinker, gambler or live in a run-down shack, then my kid can’t be a bully, right?
Wrong. If these two cute little girls can bully my son, then any and every kid is a bully. And it’s time to really own that and start having serious talks with our kids about it. Because it’s not just the Nelson Muntzes of the world that bully.
We know that most statistics tell us that a child with special needs has a greater than 90% chance of being bullied and their siblings is greater than 75% I think. I’m not naive, I knew this is something we’d be tackling during my kids’ childhoods. Just didn’t realize it would be when they are 3 and 5 years old. But if 90% of them are being bullied, that’s a lot of bullies, isn’t it? For all those parents thinking “not my kid” well, if not yours, then who? Who is doing all this bullying?
Parents, all parents, talk to your kids about bullying. Ask them if they do it, and why. Give them a comfortable atmosphere to talk about it. Ask them if their friends are doing it; talk to them about peer pressure and how to overcome it. These kids at the pool were just cute little kids who should just be enjoying the beach, not enjoying making fun of a child with disabilities. I’m not trying to be pious or a jerk. If I wanted to be a jerk, I’d post one of the photos I have with the girls in it, and call out their parents. But that won’t solve anything. They could be anybody’s kids. They are anybody’s kids … and everybody’s kids. Some day I’ll have to have this conversation with my kid(s). I don’t know of any child who has never made fun of another. We need to work together.
I never said a word to my 3-year-old about it, or anyone else for that matter. Our food came, we ate, we swam more. We visited SandMan Matt on the beach to see his fabulous creations. Like I said, that picture has wonderful memories for me. It’s one of my best summer memories. But now, six months later, when my 3-year-old sees that picture, the first thought that pops into his head is the bullying. That’s really something, isn’t it? I’ve never spoken to him about making fun of kids, it hasn’t been an issue. We talk about taking turns, taking toys from other kids, talking back….but never about making fun of kids or bullying.
I would have thought (or hoped) that 3 is too young to talk about this kind of bullying. I guess not. Thankfully, I think Kevin was in his own little world enjoying the water and wasn’t subjected to the effects of bullying.
If we all work together, we can eliminate bullying.