One of the toughest parts of being a parent is that feeling of helplessness you get when you're trying to smooth the way for your child at school. You can do lots of things to help a very small child: You readily give out hugs and kisses for boo-boos, hold hurting heads steady when they wake up in the middle of the night, sick and vomiting. A hug and a kiss and a cuddle can go a long way toward righting any of the wrongs in a child's world. But from the day L. entered kindergarten, we've had to learn that there are some things we just can't fix. We can strategize for days about school work and homework, and draw up countless responsibility charts and visual schedules, but we can't fix how other kids behave and how stressed out L. is, on a daily basis, about school. We are also having our first real brush with the dreaded B word: bullying.
There are two different schools of thought about bullying. Some parents believe it's an inevitable rite of passage for school kids and that once you have armed your child with some tools for getting past it, you need to sit back and let things run their course. Other parents believe in a more hands-on approach: Kids are just not equipped to handle bullying, no matter how "prepared" you think you make them. Bullying hurts--physically and emotionally--and unfortunately the rocky road through the school years is paved with bullies. I think it's probably safe to say that the majority of school-aged kids end up being on the receiving end of bullying at some point, and it's a sad reality that kids like L. (especially boys), who stand out in different ways from the average third grader, will be victims of bullying even more often. I think the main difference is that, while many kids are fairly well-equipped to handle and talk about bullying at school, a child like L. is not, which makes the task faced by us as parents even more difficult. My daughter will often come home from preschool with detailed information about what happened in her school day: friends who sat with her at lunch, what another child was wearing, what yet another one brought for show and tell. L. has never been able to tell the story of his day. Bits of information come out over the course of the day, but if we aren't sharp enough to read his behavior and push him to tell us a little, we might never know what happened.
Two years ago we implemented a method for getting him to tell us about his day. The concepts of "good" and "bad" have been hard for L. to understand, so when I pick him up I ask him, "Did you have an easy day or a hard day?" If he's had an easy day, then we can usually rest assured that, from his perspective, all went well. Having a hard day can usually mean any number of things, many of which we typically wouldn't think would present difficulties, but something as simple as a kid brushing up against him in the line to the cafeteria can make L.'s day a difficult one. More and more now, he's coming home saying his day was hard, and it's become clear that some other kids in his class are being rough with him at recess. And while my inclination is to make quick voodoo dolls of the kids involved and stick pins into them, I've had to try to step back a little, to remember that the kids are not bad kids at heart, but that they are third-grade boys who need some lessons in behaving better.
I've been researching some strategies: FamilyEducation has some great information and advice on how to deal with schoolyard bullies, and this site and this site specifically discuss bullying and Asperger's. A friend of mine also sent me a link to this book, which I think I will order this weekend. We've been drawing up a plan of action. But I would love some feedback from other parents who have had to deal with bullying at school. I find myself floundering a little in this difficult and uncharted territory, torn between interfering too much and not doing enough. In the meantime, my heart aches for my son, and for how difficult growing up really is, and for these challenging big kid days, when a kiss and a hug can no longer fix almost everything.