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The Prayer a Special Needs Mom Says After Her Child Is Bullied

It’s bedtime in our house. Teeth have been brushed, books have been read and it’s time to turn off the lights and tuck my son, Ben, into bed. Ben prepares to say his nightly prayers. For the past few weeks, his prayers have taken on a new fervor. Tonight is no exception. “God, please help tomorrow be a good day. Please help me be good. And please keep the bucket dippers away,” he pleads.

“Bucket dippers” is his term for the kids at school who dip into his metaphorical bucket. His class read a story called “How Full Is Your Bucket” by Tom Rath. The story talks about filling people’s buckets by doing nice words and deeds, and how doing mean things and saying unkind words dips into someone’s bucket.

Ben encountered a group of older kids, aka the “bucket dippers,” at school during the after-care program. It’s the time in the day when kids from different grade levels mingle in the gymnasium. Due to the loudness of the gym, Ben wears noise-cancelling headsets to help him deal with the sound. On this particular day, they pushed him down and tried to take the headsets. And when he started to cry, they called him a baby.

Heather Zink.2-001

When Ben told me what happened, I immediately talked to the teacher and the principal. The adults intervened right away. The boys had consequences. We created safe spaces and new options for Ben in the gym. And, to the best of my knowledge, these “bucket dippers” haven’t physically or verbally bothered Ben in weeks. And yet, every night Ben still prays to God to keep the bucket dippers away.

As a classroom teacher I’ve certainly dealt with situations like this in the past with my own students. I’ve mediated in cases of bullying and have dealt out consequences to the bullies while counseling the victims. And yet, it wasn’t until my own child was on the receiving end that I have realized just how deep the psychological wounds can scar.

I never considered until recently just how much a child, such as mine, who tends to perseverate and focus on something over and over, will relive the hurt and pain again and again to the point where even if the actual bullying has stopped, it is still alive and real in the person’s mind. This is the part of bullying I never considered. I’ve spent lots of time talking to kids about how to handle the actual event, but not nearly enough time thinking about the after-effects. The part where trust is rebuilt. And this was a one-time incident (I think and hope). I can only imagine how bullying impacts the child who deals with this every single day.

The situation with the bucket dippers has opened up many conversations about how Ben can stand up for himself in a strong but respectful way. We read the book “A Bug and a Wish” by Karen Scheuer. The book was recommended by my friend who happens to be a school psychologist. The book talks about telling the bullies what “bugs” you and what you “wish” they’d do instead. We practice saying those words so that if the situation arises again, Ben will be ready. We’ve talked about going to the grown-ups for help when necessary. We’ve talked about walking away. We’ve talked about all of those things, and yet he still worries and he prays.

As I snuggle next to my little boy, I wish I could shield him from this world, a world that isn’t always a friendly and welcoming place and getting scarier and more uncertain by the day. Unfortunately, the road for him is even more challenging because his differences are magnified, both in the way he speaks, the way he reacts to difficult situations and the tools he uses to cope with his world. Even though as a society we preach embracing differences, the hard fact is that many people are scared by differences. People don’t know how to handle different, and so they keep it at an arm’s length or poke fun of it.

I naively hoped my son would be spared from the harshness of bullying. I hoped his differences wouldn’t set him apart and his sweet nature and amazing personality would be enough. 

And so, as I plant a goodnight kiss on his forehead, I say a prayer of my own. I pray for strength to guide him through the days ahead. I pray for the wisdom to know the right words to say to him on those days when his heart feels broken. But, most of all, I pray for a world filled with way too many bucket dippers and not nearly enough kindness.

Heather Zink.3-001

Follow this journey on Changed for Good Autism.

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