“He cried again today.” A matter-of-fact statement from one boy to another in the back of a car. We were giving a friend of one of my sons a lift home from school.
My ears pricked up. “Who cried again today”, I asked. “Andrew!” came back clearly from the back seat. “How come? Why was he crying?”
“Marcia was being mean to him again.” I shook my head a bit. I was confused. “Marcia? Is she mean to him?”
“All the time”, came firmly from the back seat. “She sits next to him in Maths, and all through class, says mean things in his ear.”
“What sort of mean things?” “Well, his best friend Max just left the school, so she sits next to him in Maths and says, ‘your best friend is gone, and you don’t have any other friends, you must feel really bad now’”
“That is really mean”, I said. “And it’s upsetting Andrew?”. They said yes it was, since it was the fourth time this week he’d been crying, and he’s not normally a boy who cries.
I asked if he could get away from her, and was told that they sit on the same table in Maths, which was two periods a day, and he felt trapped. His normal teacher was away, and the casual replacement didn’t seem to know what to do.
I asked if they had spoken to him, and they both told me that he was very, very upset, and not really open to talking.
It stayed in my mind when we got home. I didn’t know his parents. I couldn’t find their names on the parent contact list, and my son told me he had never seen them at school.
My son said he was the only Asian student in the group, and he seemed under constant pressure from this girl.
I decided that when one child is bullied, and is affected, then it is an issue for all those around them. These two boys in the back of our car were talking about what was happening, the pain of their friend, and their uncertainty about how they could do something about it.
I decided that because it was a pattern of behaviour, and because it was upsetting a child, it was important to act. And I know exactly how to deal with school bullying so that it stops.
I wrote to the Head of Primary Well-being letting him know about the conversation in the back of our car, and about what I had learned about Marcia’s behaviour, and the impact on Andrew. I said that I was sure he would know how best to tackle the situation.
I didn’t hear back, which didn’t surprise me since I was not a parent of either child, but I was confident that action had been taken because the Head of Well-Being is impressive – both active and empathic.
A few days later I asked my son how Andrew was going. “Fantastic!”, he said. When I explored, my son explained that he was sitting next to Andrew in class that very day. Andrew had been talking about how he had been moved to another table in Maths, how Marcia had stopped bothering him, and how much better everything was now.
He didn’t know anything about my letter, and my son didn’t tell him. That was quite right, I thought. Andrew had no need to know that any other parent or family had taken an interest in his experience.
But I had a smile on my face. Our children have experienced bullying in the past, and I know as a mum how much it can affect them even when they don’t openly show their feelings. But when a child has cried so many times in the same week, I knew that it was a big problem for him.
I felt like a fairy godmother, who had quietly reached into his life to make things better. My son came over and gave me a big hug and said thank you. That was more than enough for me. Just knowing that Andrew was in a better place was beautiful to hear.
Schools are communities. We all have a role in stepping in and helping kids who are under pressure.
What about you? Do you know children in your school who are under pressure from bullies? Is your child aware of friends who are going through a hard time? Is your child experiencing bullying?
* Names have been changed in this piece.
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