Reece, my 7-year old son woke up today with a neck pain. We know it’s legit because it’s Saturday and his football practice kicks off in two hours and that boy would not miss it for the world. After ruling meningitis out, we gave him something for the pain and tried to figure out what could have happened. That is when Nick, my husband suddenly connected it to the incident at school the day before when he had picked Reece up.
Reece was on the football field when his father fist spotted him – with a boy holding him by the hair and shoving his face down. The boy is a classmate of his and they sometimes hang out so while Nick felt concerned he decided to just observe. Reece escaped the grasp and carried on with the game when the boy did it again. Reece, again escaped his grasp and spotted his father. He ran off the field to get his bag. The boy (oblivious to the fact the Reece’s father was there) ran after Reece and did the same thing again. This time he seemed even more aggressive. Nick ran to him and shouted ‘Stop, why are you doing this’. Now, Nick rarely ever shouts. When he does though, it’s not exactly ‘Sound of Music’ material if you understand my meaning. The boy must have panicked and answered, ‘But he hit me first’. Before Nick got the chance to reply, some older boys on the field butted in with ‘No Sir, he’s lying. He has been hitting that boy since we started the game’.
So, obviously we have a little issue on our hands and I finally decide to write this piece – something which has been on my mind for quite a while.
In 2016, bullying finally earned its rightful place on our list of ‘things to discuss’ in Seychelles. The topic made its way to the National Assembly clearly stating it had become a national concern and people were demanding some solutions. Now this is great and of course it got parents who had never really thought about it before to become aware and sensitised. Still though, there has been something which has constantly bothered me about it being a one-sided issue. As parents it is normal, biological even that our instinct would be to protect our children. Which parent hasn’t clicked on the ‘Top 10 signs your child could be a victim of bullying’? All of us have done it. But, has anyone come across the ‘Top 10 signs your child could be a bully?’ I’ve never seen it. Whenever bullying comes up everyone talks about their roles as parents to protect their child from being a victim but never protecting their child against becoming a bully. Now the bullies in our children, as far as my intellect which is not exactly in full abundance allows me to analyse, are not born at the age of 12, 13 or 15. I will though at this point stop and stress that I am not talking about cases where children are verbally and physically abused in the homes. These cases are far more complex and I’ll leave it to professionals to address. But I have learned that bullying is not something that is nurtured in a specific group of families. Some kids come from families with loving parents and somehow along the way little signs are ignored and before you know it you have a 15 year old who thinks it’s OK to scare an 8 year old.
I mentioned earlier that I had been wanting to write this for a while and the main reason was because of my son Reece – and it has nothing to do with the incident yesterday, though an obvious link to it will eventually be made. Reece is a sweet, gentle and caring boy. But don’t take my word for it. His first ever report card at the age of 2 and ½ said it and in every single report card since then the teachers have mentioned it. Evidently it wasn’t just an observation from one particular person at one particular time. It’s part of his personality and as his mother, I am immensely proud of this. Something happened though during the last term of P2 last year which sparked a little cause for concern. It started off pretty innocently. I picked him up from school one day when he complained about a classmate who had said something ‘not very nice to him’. Perhaps we had a 5 sentence exchange about it, where he told me he had not played with the boy and the boy got upset and that was that. The next day, the same thing happened. The third day, the same thing happened. The fourth day, the boy himself came to me, in tears and said that Reece didn’t want to play with him. When that happened, I started paying attention. I sat Reece down and explained to him that I just wanted to understand fully what was happening. He was not in any trouble but I just wanted to see what I could do to help since it wasn’t nice for anyone to feel sad or left out. He agreed me on that and started telling me in greater details about the incidents. A pattern quickly became obvious to me. In each incident, he had been in the company of Jim and Tim (names have been changed of course) and collectively they had decided that the other boy would not be part of their play. Now the situation was not so simple to me. I didn’t feel that I could force Reece to play with someone he didn’t want to. I explained that to him but I also mentioned that there is a way we speak to others and that we also have to bear in mind at times how other people feel by how we treat them. At the same time, I didn’t feel it was right to just blame this on Jim and Tim. I also didn’t want to tell Reece at 7 to stay away from anyone because they were ‘bad’. I was acutely aware though that as lovely as I am sure Jim and Tim were, collectively with Reece they got up to some questionable behaviour. At the end of it, I wanted Reece to decide. I kept reminding him if he thought what he did was nice and got him to think about it. The situation was not immediately solved overnight. During the weeks that followed there were good days and not so good days. There were days when I found myself talking to that boy himself telling him that perhaps Reece and him just needed a little time apart so that they would miss each other and would soon play together again.
Before I knew it, the December holidays started and everyone had close to two months to spend some time apart and perhaps grow a little and be better towards each other. As it turns out, Reece’s love for football grew exponentially over the holidays and now all he wants to do is play football after school which means he now hangs out with much older kids on the football field (my poor heart). None of the incidents of the previous term re-surfaced and when I have picked him up I would see him playing with Jim and Tim and on other days with the other boy. I did however notice little things about Tim – one of which was when I caught him teasing a much bigger boy who turned round and slapped him several times in the head (at which point I alerted a teacher). I recall telling my husband about this and how I was alarmed that Tim did not seem bothered at all by the incident.
This now brings me to the incident yesterday. Tim is the boy who was pulling Reece’s hair on the field. My husband and I are now sure of the fact that there are issues there but at this point where our son’s neck is in pain, we have to put his well-being first and we have now told him to stay away from Tim. I look back to the incidents of the last term and I can’t help but feel that Tim did not (does not) bring out good things in my son. I am glad I spoke to him and that he was able to handle that situation by own terms. I have also realised that the sweetest kids can turn into bullies if we ignore little signs. We must always talk to our children, guide them and allow them to figure who they are out in a healthy, non-judgemental way. Above all, they must always be secure in the love we have for them.
I remain Reece’s biggest fan and will always be and that means that I just don’t get to cheer on the side-lines but I also get on the track and help him get up when he falls.