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The Neighborhood Bully

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I have a nine year-old-boy, who "goes into his own world." He loves fantasy play-acting, has excellent drawing talent, and takes acting lessons -- a typical ADD child with OCD patterns. In addition, he has an auditory processing problem. At school he does well; his main problem is forgetting to turn in homework and he sometimes gets lost in his thoughts. As far as interacting with peers, he tries but his maturation level is about six months behind.

Some friends in the neighborhood invited him out to play. One of the boys playing is the neighborhood bully. He locked my son in a dog pen, threw pine cones at him, and made fun of him. As a mother, I immediately wanted to confront the boy's parents. I have tried to teach my son that everyone is different and that when people act like that he should 1) walk away, 2) tell an adult, or 3) if 1 & 2 did not prevail, stand up for himself. He immediately went to item 3. He shoved and pushed the other kid, without any luck. Other kids joined in and got him on the ground and started punching. Luckily, no one was hurt because one mom saw what happened and gave the, "you should play nicely" speech. My son came home upset but mainly mad. He told me he knew he shouldn't have started it but he had enough. I did not punish him. My son will not (and don't want him to) change. The boy's mother has had complaints before about her son. In her defense, she has tried to talk to her son, without any luck. How should I handle the situation? My son wants to fit in with the group. Should I call the parents or just advise my son not to play with this other kid?

A: Your son's encounter with a bully and the violent pack behavior of the other boys was an humiliating experience for him. His anger and embarrassment over this incident far exceeds any physical harm he suffered.

I would not call the bully's parents. I would talk to your son about what happened, why it happened, and how to avoid future confrontations with kids like this. Given your descriptions of your son's personality and interests, he may very well be an easy target for other boys steeped in the popular macho culture of boys and men. He does not need to feel less esteem about himself by having you fight his battles. Unless and until your son is in physical danger or is showing continuing emotional distress, I'd suggest you allow him to learn these life lessons without your running interference for him. Stay on top of the situation by occasionally asking him how things are going in this area. Giving bullies like this the responses they want is their reward. If they can't get those responses there is no pleasure taken.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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