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Our son is 6 years old. One of the other kids in his class is a bully.

This other boy (we'll call him Walter) likes to sneak up on my son, and physically hurt him. Sometimes Walter will punch him in the belly. Other times Walter will grab my son's hand and bend it back at the wrist.

We have discussed this issue with one of the assistant teachers (the teacher is rarely there when we are), we started with "our son claims that another student has been punching him. We told him that he should tell the teacher, and he says that he has, but that the other student then tells the teacher that my son was the one who was misbehaving." The assistant teacher responded with "Is it Walter?" to which we said "yes." She then said "I'm not surprised. He's sneaky". So it seems very likely that this isn't just a "he said, she said" type of situation. We've also heard similar reports about Walter's behavior from other parents.

We've spoken with the teacher repeatedly, and she tries to keep them separated, but that seems to be the extent of what she's willing to do. They'll be leaving to go to different schools soon, so attempts to escalate the matter within the school are generally met with "it will resolve itself soon".

My wife and I have been working with my son on how to handle it, and we've started him on martial arts classes to give him more physical confidence, so I'm not worried about that aspect of the issue.

However, Walter's father occasionally tries to be social, and has invited my son to Walter's birthday party. There's even been talk of play-dates.

I've listened to this man brag about how well-behaved Walter is, and how smart he is for knowing to keep what he's learned from his wrestling lessons out of school, so it seems his father is completely clueless about Walter's actual behavior.

There's no way my son is going to Walter's birthday (I asked him, and he doesn't want to), or over to their house to play.

I'd really like to let this guy know what his son is really like, and describe some of the bullying behavior. What is the best way to broach this subject with the father?

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    I hate to say it, but having been in this situation myself as a kid, a good punch to the face might stop Walter... Maybe the martial arts training will pay off. – user2191 Aug 21 '17 at 15:09
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    @AlexCommon That's exactly what we've told my son. – Beofett Aug 21 '17 at 15:16
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    @MontyHarder Generally speaking, parents sitting in the classroom observing student behavior is discouraged :) That being said, when we first brought this up with the assistant teacher (the teacher is rarely there when we are), we started with "our son claims that another student has been punching him. We told him that he should tell the teacher, and he says that he has, but that the other student then tells the teacher that my son was the one who was misbehaving." The assistant teacher responded with "Is it Walter?" to which we said "yes." She then said "I'm not surprised. He's sneaky". – Beofett Aug 21 '17 at 18:47
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    @AlexCommon when I was the one being bullied, grabbing the bully, slamming him up against the locker and telling him "Don't F**k with me!" did the trick. [A teacher was right around the corner, heard what happened, and wisely didn't interfere with this resolution of the problem.] The bully and I went on to become quite friendly with one another once he knew I wasn't someone he could pick on anymore. Sadly, in today's world, doing that will almost certainly get Beofett's son labeled the bully, and suspended/expelled. – Monty Harder Aug 21 '17 at 19:01
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    Can you ask the school to speak to Walter's parents? I am not saying that you shouldn't, but it's really their responsibility to inform his parents if he has a conduct issue and it also appears it's not only with your son. I am not sure where you are, but here you can call a meeting with the principal and the other parent if you desire so, etc. I think you are totally justified in talking to the parents, but I think the school is supposed to be the first face of this out of obligation since the problems are happening on their watch. – threetimes Aug 21 '17 at 19:31
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I think you should disclose that information to the dad as you inform him that your son will come to neither the play-dates nor birthday party.

Given that the father states that his son doesn't use his wrestling training at school and him inviting your son, I assume that he is genuinely not knowing what happens, especially since the school seems unlikely to have reached to him. Maybe the mother knows, if there is one, but however you turn it, the dad doesn't seem to be dishonest.

Therefore, you may both benefit from you exposing him the situation, clearly and objectively:

  • Your son won't attend the said events.
  • That is because he is scared of being in Walter's vicinity.
  • Because he gets already beaten and hurts, in quite creative ways by the way, while there are other children and several adults around, and is more than anxious at the idea of being - eventually alone - with him in his own house.

If you keep it objective and informative without putting the blame on the father, chances are that he may be receptive to the information, especially if the school can confirm - finally doing their job. Since you wouldn't be provoking the facts but merely reporting them, a rational father would surely be glad that you brought the issue to his attention so that he can begin to do something about it.

As long as you keep it non-confrontational, it may work, especially considering that he is proud of the fact that his son doesn't misuse wrestling, it may not seems a lot by from that I assume that he would be against his son fighting out of the wrestling lessons and contests, especially against untrained opponents. Besides, keep in mind that every time the father brags about his son being so well-behaving and responsible regarding his wrestling lessons, he is going to feel dumber when you reveal the truth to him. You are currently aware of a fact that he isn't aware of and you haven't yet shared that information with him.

The sooner you invite him to be a part of the solution, the best it is for everyone involved.

I hope your problem reaches a resolution soon.

  • In the conversation, you may want to add: You may not know this, but ... – Jan Doggen Aug 16 '18 at 8:26
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Telling a parent that their beloved child is less than perfect is fraught with unpleasantry, but I think the parent needs to be told.

If you want the father to actually hear you, though, you have to keep from putting him on the defensive right out of the gate, because parents interpret their child's bad behavior as reflections upon themselves (just as they take good behavior as a positive reflection of good parenting.)

Ask for a few minutes where you can discuss something that needs to be addressed. Start with a short discussion about parenting; if you can think of an honest compliment about Walter's father's parenting ("You and Walter seem to have a great bond" or the like), throw that in. Then bring up how kids often don't learn lessons parents are trying to teach them; if you have a personal example about your son, great! Sharing it will help diffuse the responsibility/blame he will feel.

Then tell him why your son will not be attending Walter's birthday party. Try to frame it as inoffensively as possible, so it will be heard.* For example,

I don't believe that everything comes down to how a kid is parented; kids with the best parents in the world will still make some bad decisions. I think this is what's happening with Walter, and it looks like (Ms./Mr. Teacher, name them specifically for evidentiary value) hasn't discussed with you the problems my son has been having with Walter, which surprises me a bit.

Then outline the nature of the offenses. Keep it short. Start wrapping it up with something like, (I don't know) "Birthday parties are supposed to be fun for everyone, but my son often doesn't have fun with Walter. So he won't be attending."

End the conversation with,

You should probably talk to (Ms./Mr Teacher). This has been going on for a while, and they can give you more details about that. I'm sorry to have to tell you. But as I said, no kid is perfect. No one always makes the best choice. Thanks for listening, I'm sure it's disappointing to hear this. If you think of anything you want to discuss further, just let me know.

*Once anger, defensiveness, stress, or anxiety - any strong negative emotion, really - is aroused, our working memory, that is our ability to hear and remember what's being said, is dramatically reduced.

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    Emotionally - in the short term at least - it would be more satisfying to really let him (Walter or Walter's dad) have it. But as Sun Tzu said, "...the important thing in doing battle is victory, not protracted warfare." – anongoodnurse Aug 21 '17 at 15:38
  • I disagree with your comment - I know some very nice parents of bullies who have absolutely no idea that their children are so mean at school. – wizzwizz4 Aug 21 '17 at 16:16
  • @wizzwizz4 - Fair enough, and a great reason for the restraint advocated. – anongoodnurse Aug 21 '17 at 18:51
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    Actually, as I child I was bullied by others as well and the parents of the biggest bully were completely naive about it. The mother even used to come to help at class outings and once approached me saying "Is that the boy which keeps bullying you?" in a strange "cutesie baby do you get what I am asking voice". 8 year old me looked at her straight saying "Yes Mrs X, your son is an incredible bully." She looked heartbroken, but somehow this got to her more than the teachers and other parents telling her. – skymningen Aug 22 '17 at 7:57
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    In general this sounds like a good approach, but for me your example text, particularly the first block, goes over the top. If someone talked to me like that I would a) want them to get to the point and b) feel patronised. – user2390246 Aug 22 '17 at 8:22
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I suppose if it were me I would use the invitations as the opener to the conversation. I would thank them for the invitation they extended while making mention that when you talked to your son, he seemed rather surprised Walter would want him over. When pressed on the issue, your son explained further about incidents where Walter has been physically aggressive with him and ask if they were at all aware that maybe Walter doesn't actually consider your son a friend. And then I'd wait. I wouldn't make a specific accusation so much as inform them that my child doesn't feel well treated and see if they have any such indication.

If it were my child, I would want time to speak to my child before reacting to such information. I think that is normal, and if they tried to talk much about it, I might say something about that as well, suggesting perhaps they ask Walter about his feelings about this child and see if they can figure out where the conflict lies.

If that got no results, then I would address it again after that, but at first I'd treat it fairly casual to give them an indication that there is an issue & allow them the respect to give them time to process it and investigate it themselves. They may never believe you, but if that is true, they likely wouldn't have no matter how you approach it.

3

Don't tell them their son is a bully

Let them figure that out for themselves, instead. Tell them what Walter does.
Especially since you have the assistant teacher to back you up, tell them that Walter punched your son and bend his hand.

Do this when the father invites your son. Tell him that your son doesn't want to come to Walter's birthday party, since Walter has physically hurt him several times. Tell him that's why your son doesn't want to come and let him draw his own conclusions.

1

No matter how you approach the father it is going to be incredibly hurtful for him and very hard to avoid bad feelings. I would NOT relate it in any way to the birthday party -- Walter and his father are extending you a kindness, and it would be more hurtful to respond with a painful revelation.

As previous posters, the best would be to coerce the school to talk to Walter's parents. Could you get a group of parents together to see the principal? Schools are responsible for bullying.

A second way would be to show not tell. Suggest to Walter's father that he may want to observe his kid. That you have not seen it yourself, but there is reason to think that Walter behaves differently with other kids when adults are not looking. Do not push, quite the opposite, be the first to say that it may be nothing, and admit that you have thought a lot about bringing this up. What you want is to make Walter's father/parents aware that there may be a problem, and no more. The less detail you give, the more mystery, the better. You can also add that if your son was on the way to becoming a bully (can anyone find a milder expression here?), you would want to know. In other times, this would have been put in a well thought, carefully drafter letter rather than said to a person's face. This way, the receiver (Walter's father), can have time alone to react to the unpleasant news.

I would not bring up the fact that the teachers know, or bring in the teachers in any way. Remember you want to provoke investigation, not to present a diagnostic. It's fairly likely that the idea to talk to the teachers will occurs to the parents if they are concerned.

Finally, a third possibility: why not give Walter a last chance by going to the party? It's quite likely that Walter at home is a different person than Walter-at-school. At this age, kids can strike a friendship after one single great experience. Of course, I am not suggesting that you force your son to go. But you can promise that you will stay there in case he doesn't like the party.

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