Bullying Affects Everyone

Bullying  Affects Everyone, including our family. Today, I am taking a detour away from kids’ room design and sharing a personal story.  Bullying has been in the headlines in all media’s.

Flipping the channels to various news stations you see special reports just about every day. On the Internet there is a constant of tweeting, websites and linking of reports on bullying.  If you have never been directly affected with bullying, these clips are scanned or clicked over.  I use to be one of those parents, wondering how this even happens.  My boys were happily attending a private school with no problems.

My 3rd child is deaf.  At the age of three he was given the benefits of a highly technical hearing device called Cochlear Implants.  Cochlear Implants give him a full range of hearing.  This allowed him to be streamlined into a regular hearing school.  I went to the private school my first two children attended during grade school and middle school, explained Ethan’s situation, and they agreed to allow him into Kindergarten.  Within weeks Ethan was advancing at a rate that surprised his teachers and the hearing specialists who were monitoring him.  This began a wonderful relationship with this private school.  By 1st grade Ethan received an award for “2nd highest Academic Achievement”.  This kid was thriving in a classroom size of about nine kids. He was building close friendships with each class mate.  Without problems, Ethan was well-adjusted. He had friends, stability, consistency, and a teaching style that was growing him in academics.  He was an honor student, loved by his teachers, and very much thriving beyond what anyone expected.

Anyone who has ever had a special needs child knows the importance of consistency and structure for our kids.  Halfway through 3rd grade a new student came into the class.  Ethan’s’ love and passions for school changed.  He was no longer the first one up and dressed for school in the morning. He wanted to stay home. His stomach hurt.  He told me this boy was hurting him when no one was looking.  It did not take long for the teachers to learn that this new boy was picking on Ethan.  He would push Ethan when no one was looking and tell Ethan that if he told anyone he would hurt him more.  My husband and I were proactive with the school principal and with his teacher.  The teachers were aware of this child’s aggressive behaviors towards Ethan.  Our son had a severe “accident” with scissors when the teacher was not in the classroom.  This boy had harmed Ethan, while Ethan was using scissors.  The teacher apologized that she had stepped out of the room briefly.  The teacher and the principal communicated that he was aware of the problems with this boy and that it was noted he could not be left without adult supervision. Yet the bullying continued.  Only, to be honest, I had not ever used the word bully. 

We asked the principle to schedule a meeting with both sets of parents that we may attempt to work out a strategic plan.  The other family insisted it was all my son’s fault. Please note not once had there ever been a problem with our son in this school. No meetings with teachers, outside of school report time.  Not one problem with Ethan.  One night, I got a call from the mother of this boy. She told me her husband would be meeting me the next morning at the school, and tell me what I can do with this situation.  I was now scared. I did not know this man. My husband and I called the school and were in the principle office together the next morning.

A school we love. Kids and families I loved. I was that mom, who was the weekly volunteer in various situations and field trips.   I was the elementary soccer coach for these kids. I loved this school and we loved the kids and families. My boys were all doing well and loved by a team of teachers that have been there for many years. How could this be happening to our family? Why is nothing to be done to stop this kid? The school has written policies that are clear on the behaviors that merited removing a kid from school and yet somehow this boy was immune to any rules or regulations.

Sitting in the principle’s office my husband and I finally got our answer. The principle acknowledged how severe this problem had been for the school.  Yet there is a bigger issue that tied his hands. The principle hands were tied?  How is that even possible? “David and Elizabeth, the grandparents of this boy have been long time attendees and supporters of this church.  I have to be very careful how I handle this.” My husband and I made eye contact.  My husband, a gentle and mild-mannered man was doing everything to contain himself.  This matter was not being resolved, based on school policy and proper disciplines because the church had family supporters, grandparents?  Our son and the constant bullying he received, behaviors that the school was aware of, were not being handled or taken care of?  I cried that morning. I cried alone in my car. I cried to think that Ethan and his precious life was now  going to school in constant fear of this child.  I love kids, and I did not look at this kid but more to the parents. The parents calling me late at night and bullying and threatening me.  The power this family was given by not being accountable to the behaviors of their son.

My husband and I were told that perhaps this school was not a good fit for our family.  Did we leave? Yes we did.  Ethan struggled the first few months in his new school. He went from an honor student to failing, and being pulled back a grade.  Bullying, it effects kids on every level. It was not just Ethan who was pulled from the security of his school. It was his younger brothers who had built relationships.  An entire year has gone by and Ethan still asks about his “school”.  We were honest with him.  We were honest in saying that the principle did not know how to help this boy or his family, and he would keep hurting you. It is our job as parents to protect you, and Ethan understood. This did not change the affects this has impacted our family and his young life.

A few weeks ago, a parent from the school we left was sitting on my sofa. Weeping over the treatment her child received from this boy all year.  She did not know Ethan’s story.  I shared Ethan’s story.  She shared how her child was in conflict, and that it was passed over time and time again.

Why did I remain quiet on this issue until now?  I do not speak ill will of others. It’s never been my style. I am the one who says, “never say or do anything to cast a shadow on the character of another.”   Hearing this mother’s heart in pain over her own child is what has me writing today.

Bullying happens.  It has affected my family.  When teachers cannot speak up and hold families accountable, they give a free pass for the bullying to continue. They give a free pass to the parents that this behavior stems from.  Perhaps if I would have spoken sooner, another child could have been spared this heart ache.  This child’s mother who shared her story, like our family, had been at this school for years. Her children loved this school.  They have since left the school too.

I don’t have answers, however I have to share that Ethan did go into a lovely class and has made good friends. He still misses his old friends.  There is a boy in his class that has tangled with Ethan a few times.  Both the teacher and principle stepped in at once.  Ethan, being handicapped might always be an easy target for kids, who are feeling insecure. I believe it’s through those insecurities, whatever they may be, that children bully.  The behavior of this boy was nipped, as soon as the teachers were aware of this.  Now Ethan and this boy are good friends. 

How has bullying affected you?  What are you doing about it? More important, how are you empowering your child to be open and talk about it?

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