By: Heather Desmond O’Neill
I experienced angst when my son entered Kindergarten this Fall, but I never thought it would be because he was riding the bus.
I work in a public school and know that riding the bus causes many issues for students, including bullying, anxiety, harassment. I never thought my fun-loving, sweet baby boy would be dealing with it. I didn’t want to contact the teacher or the school because, again working in a school, I didn’t want to be “that parent.” And, I know my son. I’m sure he wasn’t innocent in this, but kindergarten kids punching each other in just the first few days of school was something that didn’t sit well with me.
Then he came home the next day and said it happened again.
So, I emailed the teacher.
First, let me tell you how wonderful she was in handling this and following-up. I am thankful everyday that he has such a wonderful, caring and proactive teacher. She reached out to me on her personal time to check-in and see how he was doing. This may not seem like much to some people, and most people expect their child’s teacher to reach out to them, but I get it – she has a life, a family, obligations that begin when the school day ends and don’t necessarily end when the school day begins. She’s a parent too, and understands how important communication is. I truly appreciate that.
Things were going well for a few days, and we seemed to have remedied the situation.
And then one day he said, “No one tried to take my hat today.” What? Why were kids taking his hat? Apparently they made a game of taking and throwing his baseball hat. To my surprise, JP went on to say how his father had demonstrated how to block kids coming in for his hat. Not a punching or hitting tactic, but simply a block that would stop someone from reaching in and taking the hat. My husband had instructed him to say, “No, this is my hat and you will not take it.”
I was proud, yet conflicted. I want to instill in my children that they need to be kind – to everyone. I want them to be compassionate, considerate and kind. I know that through genetics, they probably will not be small boys, and I don’t want their size to dictate their actions. I certainly don’t want them to be bullies. On the other hand, I definitely don’t want them to be pushovers. I want them to be able to stand their ground, be assertive and stand up for what they believe in. Hearing my son tell me how he had role-played with his dad, defending himself and his property, made me proud yet concerned. Why does my Kindergartener have to learn this now, at five years old, on the bus nonetheless?
I chose not to contact the school because I felt that as a family, we were working on what we could do to empower JP on the bus.
And then he came off the bus one day in tears. Someone had ripped his beloved “John Deere Tractor” backpack. Ripped the strap right off. My heart broke. How could this be happening? What was happening on this bus?
Again, I reached out to the school. I felt that I was becoming “that parent,” but I needed to advocate for my son. His teacher was again great and helped us work through this situation. But I felt I needed to seriously arm my son with tools to protect himself and his belongings.
We’ve had many discussions at home about proper bus behavior and why it’s important to sit in your own seat, on your bottom, facing forward – and as much as I want to believe he is doing all of these things, I can’t guarantee it. We also began role-playing what to do when someone hits, punches, kicks you. He knows that he is not to strike first, but that it’s ok with his parents if he hits back. Many parents won’t agree with this, and I’m fine with that, but I wonder if their child has been the target of offensive behavior in a situation where there is no one there to protect their child.
Just last week he came home saying that “Charlie” had hit him in the face. My first question was “What did you say to make Charlie want to hit you?” (I don’t want to jump to the conclusion that my son is completely innocent – he is, after all, five and in that “copy everything anyone does” phase. It can be quite annoying.) We reiterated the striking back clause and the next day he came home telling us that he sat with Charlie on the bus. When asked why he sat with Charlie if he knew he was most likely going to be hit he responded, “I wanted to practice hitting back.”
If anything, he’s learning early that it’s ok to defend yourself.