Monday, February 17, 2014

I Am the Parent of a Bully

Hot button topics seem to be in abundance these days. Most seem to be of a political slant--Obamacare, gun control, gay marriage, etc.

I am not going to voice my opinion on the political.  I will just say that I am conservative.  I think shooting guns is fun. I don't like that my health insurance changed this year--but it had nothing to do with Obamacare, so I would hate that part anyway.  And I have friends and family who are gay--where the most controversial topic on that one that I have ever voiced was to a good friend of mine after we had a lunch date with another friend of ours who happens to be a married lesbian that went something like this:

Me: This is going to sound weird, but I don't 'get' lesbians.  And yet I sort of understand the draw for gay men.
Friend: That is because you are heterosexual.
Me: Oh. [pause] That totally makes sense.
Friend: Of course it does.

But those topics aren't what I wanted to write about. Nope.  The topic I wanted to discuss is much nearer to my heart. And sanity. And every grey hair on my head that you would be able to see if I didn't get it colored by the lovely Lori every 8 weeks.  Like clockwork.

The topic for today's blog is 'BULLYING"

Ah.  Overdone you say?

Perhaps.You will hear people yelling STOP BULLYING constantly.  You will read articles about how awful it is for the life of the bullied child. How we can stop these bullies. How we need to teach them the right way to behave around others. There is A LOT of literature and helps and media access about being bullied that can help those in that situation.

My take is a bit different than that.

I am the parent of a bully.

I am also the parent of a child who is bullied--but thankfully not by my other child.

So I live both sides of the equation. And while I completely understand the fervor in which people discuss how to stop bullying and how awful it is--I do understand, it is a sad state that we live in where kids empathy for other kids is non-existent in some. Where suicides can be linked back to bullying.  It is sad and scary and we all want it to stop.

But I want to talk about the other end. We don't talk much about the bully. Or being a parent of a bully.

Frankly, it sucks.

I have this cute kid who has no empathy and no grasp at all of consequences.

And sometimes that cute kid turns into YOUR child's nightmare.

For no apparent reason.

And that right there is the hard part for me.  He doesn't single one kid out and pick on him or her. He can be best friends with the child he bullies.And then in one quick instant he hurts or teases or yells at that friend.

And then 10 minutes later he is back to wanting to be best buddies.  Not realizing that what he did those 10 minutes ago makes it so the other child really wants nothing to do with him anymore.

And I get a phone call to come get him from school.  And he is mad and pouty for a long time after we get home--especially since he knows the drill.  Suspended from school?  No relaxing day off for you, my friend.  You get to help me with all my housework jobs. Some I didn't even know I needed to do today. Any other punishment will be discussed when your dad gets home from work and he and I figure out what to do this time that might actually make you pay attention next time and make the better choice.

And I hope beyond hope that I don't get a visit or phone call from the other kid's parents.  Because usually they are--rightfully--angry, and want to fix blame on someone.  But instead of blaming the child, I get blamed for my lack of parenting skills. (In their mind...and probably in most people's minds when they hear about a bully)

Now, I agree that there are some parents who do nothing to stop their kid from bully tendencies. Parents who see aggression as a good thing. Parents who think the other kid was probably 'asking for it'.

Or my 'favorite'--"Not MY kid. He/she would never do something like that."  The head-in-the-sand parent who doesn't believe the teachers, administration, students, neighbors, random strangers, that their kid is the problem.

Those parents are hard pressed in my book to ever be part of the solution.

However, there are some parents, like myself, who have done everything possible to ensure that this kid who is a bully, figures out how to be a productive human being. We try therapy.  For both him and for my husband and I just to figure out how to raise him right. We have him in special after school tutoring programs independent of public schools, to try and raise his competency in schoolwork and his ability to focus on tasks, so that maybe in an ideal world this will start to sink in and he will not be distracted by others and he will learn that he can do his work and not have to be drawn into everyone else's business.  How to make GOOD choices. We involve him in competitive sports to try and get some of that energy out so, frankly, he is too tired at the end of the day to put up much effort to be a bully. And, most importantly, we praise him like crazy when we catch him making good choices.

Seriously, if my child could learn two things we all seem to take for granted, his life would be so much happier. Empathy and consequences.  HUGE difference in his life if those two things would 'stick'.

And that part right there about his life being so much happier?  Well, most people don't think about the bully as the one who is unhappy and having problems and needing positive help. We see the bully as the instigator. We see their victims.  But we have difficulty ourselves in having that same empathy toward the bully.

It is always harder to like the mean kid.

And it is an easy way out to blame the parents. Or the lack of parenting. Or the media. Or Obama. Or gay marriage.

Blame doesn't help. Finding the solution helps. Not jumping to conclusions about the parenting skills of the bully helps. Helping the parents of the bully if they DO lack the skill necessary to redirect the hard to raise child.

I have 6 other children. This one kid takes more time and money and effort than any of the other six combined.  I am not sitting around hoping he grows out of it. (I did that when he was in his 'terrible twos'..then his three's--figuring he would grow out of it when he was four--then five--then six...then we realized it was a figure it out or he ends up in jail someday type of moment and we worked like crazy to figure him out enough to hopefully help him)

So with all my therapy, and learning curves, and advice (asked for and not) that I have been given over the last couple of years, what have I learned that I could possibly share with other parents who are in my same boat? Because you know there are a lot of parents out there who are in my situation--if there weren't, we wouldn't have all the anti-bullying campaigns.

I have learned that not everything works every time. One time I can give him an ultimatum or a chance to make a better choice and he will choose wisely.  And the next time I can offer him those same things and he goes hard the other direction.

I have learned that for my son, empathy might have to always be something that he has to consciously consider. It isn't natural for him to have empathy right now. Therapists have taught him how to recognize other people's feelings, which was good.  But honestly, I don't think he actually cares what other people think or feel.  So I have learned that I must teach him--repeatedly, as often as needs be and then ten times more for good measure--that he HAS to consider the other person's feelings when making choices that might affect someone else. Short of tattooing 'The Golden Rule' on his forehead, this one has been tough. But I have high hopes that someday it might stick.

I have learned that people will think I am a bad parent. It doesn't matter what we are doing or have done to help our son give up his bullying tendencies. Other parents don't know what we have done. They imagine we are those other parents who figure it isn't our kid, boys will be boys, grunt, grunt...etc. etc.  They don't know that we have been told by our own family therapist--who is awesome by the way--that we need to pay attention to our son and if we see him start getting wound up or getting himself in a potentially bad situation where at the minimum a meltdown from him might occur, that we need to redirect RIGHT THEN. If my son makes a bad choice, it is already too late for me to punish him in any manner that will be effective. Because my son doesn't understand the concept of consequences.  This one is a hard one. If I send my other son to a time out, or take his xbox away for punishment, he understands why.  He tries to make better choices next time so it doesn't happen again.  If my bully son gets sent to time out, he doesn't get it.  He knows he did something wrong.  He knows WHAT he did wrong. He knows the time out is because of that choice. But he doesn't really get that the choice he made caused the punishment received. And because of that, he also flat out doesn't care when he is punished.

Sent to his room for an hour? Whatever.

So, in order to keep my son from making a bad choice I have to pay close attention to his moods, his environment, etc. and then redirect his focus if it looks like it might go bad. Even if that is a quick, "Hey, can you take the dog for a walk around the block?" Done. He loves to do that and it makes his mind focus away from whatever was starting to cause a break down to begin with.

That is actually harder to do than you'd think. Which is where the people thinking I am a bad parent comes in. My therapist warned me about it.  He is right. Once my son makes that bad choice, it makes no sense to punish him. Not in a way that the outside world thinks is appropriate for a bully. He will get a time out.  He will get another discussion on which choice would have been better. But in our reality, it simply doesn't work. He has to be redirected BEFORE the action. And his teachers at school are all aware of this too--it wouldn't be fair to them or to him if they didn't have that particular heads up.  So we are lucky in that his teachers are great at paying attention to him and they have been known to have my son take a folded blank sheet of paper to the office for them.  To run an "errand"--made up though it is--so that he gets his focus somewhere else and can re-center himself before the bully emerges.

I have learned that some kids are just plain bullies.  And some kids have parents who need a crash course on reality with their child. And it is a pain to be lumped into categories that just aren't the whole story.

I have learned that praise to the child who is a bully goes a long way to getting him into a spot where he is more open to direction.

And I have learned that if you take off a bedroom door, it can no longer be slammed over and over and over.  And over.  While that child tries to make a non-vocal point. (Yes, that he is mad he is being sent to his room.  Again.)

And if your bully child starts throwing things in anger, if you then get to choose anything from his possessions to keep for yourself for each item he throws, he will throw fewer things. (You can't just keep the item he or she throws...they get smart and actually look around the room to throw things they don't care if they have or have to take something, for a little while anyway, that they care about....part of having an intelligent bully :) )

Be an advocate for your child. Find teachers who actually care that your child is successful. If that isn't happening in your school now--find a school that has qualified teachers who aren't jaded and who know how important it is to have your kid find purpose. And someone besides family to back them up.

I don't know if this will help anyone.  But I hope it at least lets someone know that if they are a parent of a bully, they aren't alone.  Not by a long shot.  But also, that there is someone out there who feels for you. Who is on your side and hopes you come out of the 'parenting a bully joy' with most of your sanity still intact. Give up now on keeping your hair color. Grey is the new you. :)  But there comes a time when there are fewer meltdowns. Fewer calls from the school.

I am still waiting for those times...but I know they are there. ;)

Just do your best. Find reasons to praise your child. Redirect behavior. And don't worry about what other parents think.  If you are doing your best and it is working...stick to your guns.  If you are doing your best and you are still struggling, find yourself help. Talk to someone who knows what they are doing. Be open minded--because at least 50% of the time it really is your child.  Don't ignore that fact and fall into the "not my child" syndrome. It doesn't help you or your child to bury your head in the sand and hope he or she just grows out of it.

Bullying is a hot topic for a reason.

Good parents want what is best for their child.

And you are a good parent. So do what you need to do to get a handle on the bullying child.

I am trying to do just that.  Daily.

And I love him just as much with a bedroom door as without. :)


AimBarb said...

Well said! My oldest has been bullied, usually by the other kids in his special needs classes, so I have always had the attitude of empathy toward the bully. And we would teach our son that bullies did that because of something in their life and not necessarily something that was wrong with my son. I wish more people had empathy for the bully.

Altitante said...

I love you. That is one powerful blog entry. As a teacher I feel that I have gained great insight from this. I usually do feel bad for the bully- because I know that deep inside they are not happy. They may not understand their own behavior or be frustrated at their inability to have control over their actions.

Anonymous said...

This program has really helped us:
We started it with a younger sibling, but realized our older child needed it too.