My son is approaching 10 years old, and has girl problems. Most of his friends at school are girls, and he is teased and bullied about it…from other girls! The behavior ranges from teasing that so-and-so is his “girlfriend”, to taunting from other girls that he is “annoying,” “ugly,” and obnoxious; to groups of girls hitting and kicking him on the playground because they want to take away the swing he is on, or do not want him on their side of the playground. How can I help my son respond to these behaviors?
Sincerely, Concerned Mom
Dear Concerned Mom,
First I would like to say that you are an amazing mom, who is raising a son who sounds like will be an amazing advocate for women. It is unfortunate that your son is experiencing this type of teasing. Children at this age tend to tease, mostly because they are all going through awkward developmental changes. Teasing should not be taken lightly if it is approaching the mean-spirited teasing that crosses-over into “bullying.”
It sounds like you have done just what I would do. You’ve taken time to talk to your son and begun the process of exploring what type of teasing is occurring.
During the conversations that you are having with him, is it possible for you to establish this time as a “safe space”? When I suggest a safe space, I mean creating an opportunity for your child to open up about what he is feeling without any fear. I am by no means suggesting that he would feel scared to talk to you, but if it were one of my children, I would advise them that when they are talking to me about the teasing, it is okay to cry in front of me. It is also okay to get a little loud and angry. I would allow my child the space to express whatever emotion is needed. Releasing those difficult emotions is an important step, and it’s also important that your son knows that he can express his whole range of emotions, especially as a young male.
Using some of the therapy techniques I have learned, after he shares his feelings, I would shift gears and I would likely use some sort of reflection when giving feedback to my son about what could be happening when he is being teased by the girls.
For example, if he were to say to me, “The girls are always picking on me and kicking me and I do not know why!”, I would rephrase this to say “So what you are saying is that the girls are teasing you and you are finding it hard to understand why, did I get that right?”
To you, it may seem that all you are doing is repeating the same thing back to him, but what your child will hear is that you are actually listening to what he says, and this will help to build his confidence. It will also help them to identify for himself what actions he may be able to take. (This technique works with adults as well; oftentimes all we want is be seen and heard.)
I would then gather all the information together that my son has given me and we would come up with some potential scenarios and act them out. We could practice him being assertive and telling the girls to “leave me alone!” We would practice how it felt to simply ignore the girls and act like nothing was happening. We would also practice some quick comebacks that are not teasing but that could help my son feel confident without becoming a bully himself. (I always liked “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!”)
Next, I would begin to address some of the concerns that my son has with his teacher and with the counselor at his school. I would ask them to consider having some conversations with the children about what bullying looks like and how we can avoid bullying in friendly relationships. I would ask them to help the children to understand what it would feel like if the shoe were on the other foot. I would ask them to do this in a way that would not reflect negatively on my son, but I would also ask my son if he was okay with me coming to speak to the school about bullying.
Concerned Mom, I am also a concerned mother, and it can be stressful to feel like you have very little control over what happens when you send your child to school. I would encourage you to continue to be your child’s best advocate and know that parenting is a winding road with no GPS. No one does it right, we simply do our best. I hope I’ve helped you with ways to help your son with the challenges of preadolescence.
Signing off as one concerned mom to another,
Andrea Cooke is a 37-year old, married mother of eight (biological) children. She received her bachelor’s degree in social work from the Fort Valley State University. She received her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from the Mercer School of Medicine. She is currently completing her doctorate degree in marriage and family therapy from Antioch University.
She has worked with numerous families who have DFCS (Department of Family and Children’s Services) involvement. She works at the Southern Center for Choice Theory and she has taught parenting classes for fourteen years.
Andrea is an advocate for the conscious uncoupling of relationships with consideration for the mental health needs of children. She also has a strong interest in advocacy for the LGBTQ community. If you have parenting or family questions for Andrea, please email them to: AndreaC@maconcommunitynews.com.