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To Parents, From the Mother of a Schoolyard Bully

I was called by my son’s school this week to pick him up. He had been suspended from kindergarten – yes, kindergarten! – for punching another child in the face. Granted, 5- and 6-year-old boys hit. But my son is strong, sometimes stronger than me, and he has fantastic aim. These qualities that make him well-suited for sports also cause injury to his schoolmates. Sometimes, he really doesn’t mean to hurt the other child. Sometimes, he does.

Unfortunately, this behavior is not new for my child. He was expelled from two preschools before I was able to find a fantastic special needs preschool for him that could adequately manage his behavior. Now he has graduated to mainstream kindergarten and, despite many efforts, we have not yet established a 504 or IEP.

I’ve heard other parents talking about schoolyard bullies and, let me tell you, I never once thought I’d be the mother to one. My husband and I have a lovely, stable home. We both adore our son and work hard to parent him properly. My husband is the perfect model of a kind and gentle man. We don’t yell, hit, blame or humiliate.

I know the parents at my son’s school are concerned. They don’t want my son around their kids. He is already being excluded from birthday parties and playdates. And, when I’m supervising him on the playground after the dismissal bell, lots of the moms won’t look me in the eye or talk to me. Whether it’s real or not, I feel judged and blamed. They must wonder: What am I doing wrong to make him behave this way? Why don’t I do something to stop the violent behavior?

His violent behavior is completely unacceptable. And I tell him that. He knows in his head what he is supposed to do and what he isn’t. He understands how it affects people. But he just can’t control his impulses. Deep down, I see the scared little boy who is desperately trying to connect with his peers the only way he knows how.

My son wants to be a “good boy.” I remember one day when I was driving him home from being suspended from his second preschool. He looked at me with sadness in his eyes and told me, “I don’t want to be a bad boy.” It broke my heart.

It still breaks my heart because I know he still feels this way. He wants to please others. He wants lots of friends and needs to be loved just like any other kid. He is only a few months into kindergarten and I fear he’s already being labeled as the “bad kid.” And that is going to affect him deeply. It may even motivate him to act like the child he is being labeled as.

So I want to tell you this: I am working so hard to help my son. I have read so many parenting, psychology and special needs books. I’ve looked for online resources and guidance. I’ve taken parenting classes and asked countless questions of the instructors. I take notes and practice the techniques that I am taught. I’ve taken him to so many professionals: doctors, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists… you name it, I’ve probably consulted with at least one of them. I’ve completed countless questionnaires about my son’s development and behavior. I worry I’m being too hard or too soft on him, and I ask the professionals about my discipline. Is it appropriate? I’ve recorded conversations with my son about his behavior so I can play them back to those same professionals and get advice. “Did I do that right?”

I’m the mom of the schoolyard bully. Granted, I don’t actually think of him that way. But I know other parents do. And I’m scared, lonely and angry. Probably that’s what my son is feeling, too. I’m scared I’m not doing enough to help my son. I must be doing the wrong things or his behavior would’ve improved by now. I realize this isn’t exactly true. But that knowledge doesn’t protect me from a pervasive guilt. I feel lonely because I don’t have many friends amongst the parents of my son’s peers, and few parents really “get” what I’m going through. When I meet a new mom, I feel the need to apologize. When we’re at the playground and I hear a child crying, my first thought is to wonder if it was because of something my son did.

It’s affecting my work. I have to leave my office at a moment’s notice to come to pick up my son after an incident at school. If the nanny is sick, I have few resources to call on and must take time off of work. My boss thinks I’m unreliable. I could be climbing the corporate ladder, but my energy is rightly focused on taking care of my child.

So what do I want you to take away from this? Please be kind to my child. I’m so, so sorry if he hurts your child. We will help him make amends. Know we are working with him and numerous professionals. He’s a good kid. Really. His heart is good. And I’m guessing he makes your kid laugh a lot. He’s funny and charming.

And please be kind to my husband and me. If you blame us for our son’s behavior, please stop. I blame myself enough and I don’t even think I deserve the blame. If you’re not judging us, thank you. Thank you! Ask us how we’re doing, how we’re holding up. Offer playdates. My son does much better in small groups and one-on-one than he does on a busy playground.

If you’re involved at all in a school, advocate for services. Our public school system is despairingly poor, understaffed and under-serviced. Keep fighting for all of our kids to have the best possible education.

And, please understand this isn’t as simple as my kid hitting yours. There is so much going on emotionally and physically. He’s only 5. He deserves for people to see the best in him and help him make the right decisions. Thanks.

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