Words That Hurt: When Your Kid Gets Bullied

Annie Valentine essays

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“I hate this place, I hate sixth grade, why did we have to move here?”

I sit in the sweltering Las Vegas sunshine and wonder if I can really handle one more crisis this week.

My son, my wonderful boy who had so many American buddies back in Germany, hates Las Vegas. We have lived here a total of four months. It’s October. He’s in football, band, Boy Scouts plus seven hours a day of public school and still, he only has one friend.

I can handle the miserable heat. I can handle the traffic. I can even handle my husband being on the government’s clock and away from home for three more months, leaving me to fend off the thieves and wolves alone with our four young children.

Seeing my gentle, not-so-little 11-year-old break down and cry in the front seat right outside his school? That’s almost asking too much.

What happened? Who hurt you? How can I make them pay? These are the questions I want so badly to ask. Instead I rub his back and let him cry for a minute, trying to decide what kind of emotional bandaid would best fit this situation. When the tears subside and his nose is drip free, the awful truth comes out.

His best friend called him a fatty.

I feel his humiliation and shame so completely I think my heart will crumble. I was 11 once, I was the chubby middle school girl, I know all about feeling ugly and stupid and, unfortunately, fat. Not every kid goes through that pre-pubescent pudgy phase but plenty do. He’s active and busy and fun, but despite our healthy lifestyle and mostly good eating options, this past year he’s gotten a little bit…stout. A lot of this is genetics, a lot of this is childhood, a lot of this will work itself out in the next few years.

It’s one thing for a kid to get down on himself in the privacy of his own bedroom. But when your best friend points out your love handles and starts teasing you at school, it takes hurt feelings to a totally new level.

I want to call his friend’s mother and do the old standard, ‘’Do you know what your son just said?” routine. I want to drive straight to their house, rap my knuckles on the door and give that kid a piece of my mind.

Unfortunately, those days are long over. It takes me roughly 42 seconds to step back from the ledge and realize that I can’t fix this. I can’t march myself into his life and start shaking my finger at his peers. How is he ever going to learn anything if I fight this battle for him?

As a mother, this is possibly the most difficult part of the job; knowing when it’s time to let go. Harrison is my oldest child, this is the first time I’ve had to start untying strings and giving him space to handle real big person troubles on his own. I can referee from outside the ring, but my little contender is going to have to face his own social opponents without me hovering at his shoulder.

Have I taught him about forgiving others? Have I taught him about setting boundaries? I hope he remembers that he doesn’t have to let people walk all over him, it’s okay to say, “Don’t call me that, it hurts my feelings.”

When he was in 1st grade he had a similar problem with another little boy who called him a baby. My older and wiser sister suggested I teach him to stand up tall, look his offender in the eye and say, “Don’t say that to me, I’m not a baby!”

We role-played it that night before bed as a family. He went to school and managed to eek out his response the very next time it happened. Peer success.

What happens in 1st grade is a world away from life in 6th grade, and having your best friend say something mean is far worse than a bully in the hallway.

We get home and he cools off before I ask him about his plan for handling the problem. Is he going to talk to his friend about it? How did he respond when it happened? Does he think he can salvage the friendship and forgive his buddy? Maybe this is a good motivator to broaden his friend base and take a step back?

That’s when the payoff comes. He’s already handled it. In fact, as soon as his friend said it he looked him right in the eye and said, “That’s really mean, you hurt my feelings. Don’t call me that!”

The humiliation and discomfort from this altercation doesn’t evaporate just because he stood up for himself, and I’ve got my work cut out for me when it comes to helping him find out who he wants to be and how to get there.

But hearing that he had the courage to stand up straight and say the hard thing in a situation where it really counts made all the ear infections, tantrums, toilet training, time-outs, story book readings, T-ball practices and every other tedious act of full-time parenting that brought us to this moment, absolutely worth it.

Our payoffs come in small doses, but they do come.  


About the Author

Annie Valentine

I get parenting. I have four young children between the ages of 11 and 4-years-old and am a full-time mother, part-time everything else. When it comes to writing about marriage and motherhood I have years of printed published experience.

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