5 Jul 2008

A bully strikes

Duncan is growing up. He has changed again since his eighth birthday. I still have to be very careful in many circumstances, and he still can, um, surprise me by, for example, finding a pot of poster paint and decorating his trains, getting more than a little splashed around the bathroom in the process. But, I tell myself, it is so much better than when he would never have considered, as he now does, trying to avoid messing up the carpet. And there was a time when it was a substance more unpleasant than poster paint that I sometimes had to clean from various surfaces and objects.

But he is desperate to be allowed to ride his bike like the other children, up and down our street. I used to walk alongside him as he rode, fearing an impulsive foray into someone's house or worse, onto the road, but that was when he was on a smaller, slower wagon. More recently I have been able to stand outside our gate and watch him as he goes, shouting for him to turn and come back when he goes far enough. I wonder what the neighbours think sometimes. This used to be a quiet street until my children started to ride around and seemingly unearthed a host of other kids to bomb up and down the street with, pretending to be a police-dog-rescue-squad, or whatever. And then there's me guldering (as we'd have said out west where I grew up) orders at my son.

One day a few weeks back, I was talking with a neighbour as Duncan rode, and he went out of sight for a minute. Our road sweeps around in a crescent, making it fairly safe as only people with dealings in these houses have cause to drive here. I went to fetch him but couldn't see him or his bike. I called out and shortly a teenager came out from one of the houses asking if I was looking for a little boy, and one matching the description I gave turned out to have popped into their house to use the toilet. Oops! I apologised and for once gave the autism explanation, which she understood since she said, her best friend has autistic brother.

Yesterday some of our neighbours came round for a very informal dinner. The children were in and out and all about. Duncan got out with Lady and came riding up the street proudly bearing a creme egg. Where on earth had he got that? Thankfully he was able to explain it was from one of their friends' houses. The dad told me later, when I was once again apologising, that Duncan had quietly come in, opened the fridge, helped himself, politely said "thank you" then left. He did this twice too. Ah well, at the time I was feeding their kids some hot-dogs!

Earlier this week Thomas convinced me to take them to an indoor soft-play place as these same friends were going. It's a nice place, with a decent cafe and comfy chairs to entice the parents. I lost sight of Duncan almost straight away and climbed to an upper level to look for him. I spotted him streaking out of the cafe place, with a pink doughnut in his hand. I ran down and caught up with him. "Sorry Mummy! Mummy go pay for it," he said, showing me he knew that what he'd done was wrong. I paid for the already eaten pastry, and I don't think the busy staff had even noticed the little Artful Dodger's pilfering.

Anyway, my three children enjoyed their play, especially so as they had a few other friends there too. Just when I'd decided to give them ten more minutes, they all came to me supporting a distraught Duncan, bearing a red, sore looking eye and a face full of tears and snot. A boy had punched him right in the eye! Thankfully Duncan was with his siblings at the time so I was assured that he was blameless, and also that the transgressor had been noted and sternly spoken to. I cleaned him up and followed Lady to meet the thug, who was no more than five years old. I told him that he must not punch people, that it hurts and is very rude. The boy said that Duncan was being rude to him, which Lady denied, and I reiterated that it doesn't matter, he could go to an adult if he thought someone was doing wrong, but he must not hit them and hurt them.

I told one of the staff about it all then we went home. Poor Duncan's eye was red for a while. It's shocking to think that such a small boy would decide to just punch another child like that. I wondered Duncan ignored him, or appeared odd in the way he wandered around talking to himself, making this boy feel it was OK to punch the weirdo. Gordon was worried when I told him, saying that such ill treatment is just beginning for Duncan. I refuse to accept that. I will work on Duncan as best I can to help him learn strategies to stand up for himself and stay safe, but I will also do what I can to change the prevailing attitude that difference should be feared and punished.

When I was talking to Duncan about it all later, he reminisced about the doughnuts and the "turntable" (roundabout thing) and then about the "naughty boy punch Duncan." He wasn't too upset, because we all helped him know that the other child did wrong, that hitting and hurting is bad, and we don't want anyone to hurt our boy.


Maddy said...

I also find the bullying / teasing particularly difficult to stomach.
Best wishes

kristina said...

Oh dear, sounds like Duncan got through it ok. Were the other child's parents not around?

Sharon said...

Hi Maddy, it's hard to think about people causing them suffering.
Hope your lot are not too annoyed my our dismal weather.

Kristina, the parents must have been around somewhere but it's a big place so they might not have noticed. I didn't want to face a confrontation with them, I just wanted to take care of Duncan. I thought he needed to see me tell the little puncher that such behaviour is hurtful, to know I was on his side.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is, it is never right to hit, but you certainly don't know what happened unless you were there. To assign "bullying" to it when a smaller, younger boy hits your child (rather than just a lack of impulse control, anger issues, or any of the other much less malicious likely reasons) may be a bit of a jump.

At least my autie gets very, very upset about "nothing." And has been known to hit or punch when he feels threatened - and being threatened can involve someone breaking a "rule," getting too close to him, making too loud a noise -- I'm sure you get the picture.

Of course, I wasn't there, either.

Allie said...

Oh dear, what a shame. I have to confess that I find that those indoor play spaces often have a rather edgey, over-wrought atmosphere. My nephew was pinned down and bitten hard in the depths of some cage thing once. On another occasion, both my kids dived through some rollers into a puddle of pee. I fully intend never to go to one again if I can help it! I prefer outdoor spaces for wild play as I think children find it easier to sort out space issues. Hope Duncan puts it all behind him, poor little chap.

bullet said...

Poor Duncan with the punching :(. But honestly, I don't think it's unusual that a five year old would punch. Not because the five year old would make any judgements on how they thought Duncan looked or behaved, but because at that age (as you know) children aren't really capable of thinking clearly and rationally. If they are upset then they will often lash out without thinking. You did the right thing, I think, in explaining to this lad calmly why he shouldn't have hit, but he may not have been bullying, just reacting in a five year old way.

Sharon said...

Anon, you are right. I should not have labelled the child as a bully. He may have lashed out in a particularly painful way, but it's not right to call him a bully when he is so young. I know that he did hit out without any provocation, and that is what bothered me. My almost 10 year old daughter was there and I trust her judgement of what happened.

Allie, I know what you mean. I don't take them to those places often for the reasons you mentioned. In fact the last time we went to one, some boys were teasing Duncan, and that time I saw it all clearly. Thomas loves them and persuaded me to go since his friends from the street were going too.

Another thing I dislike about them is that I can't see Duncan for most of the time as he's up in the frame, and I still do need to watch him when we're out.

Bullet, yes I judged him too harshly in writing this. I hope he didn't make a judgement about Duncan, but I'm not as sure as you that even young children don't see that there's something different about Duncan. I wrote about our last trip to one of these places when 2 smaller children mocked and even kicked Duncan, after talking to each other about how he was like a baby.

Club 166 said...

...I lost sight of Duncan almost straight away and climbed to an upper level to look for him. ...

Don't you love how we all instinctively acquire the skills of a frontier scout? :)

...I will work on Duncan as best I can to help him learn strategies to stand up for himself and stay safe, ...

Now there's the rub in our house. How to teach someone who has poor impulse control, and often misinterprets other's intentions to protect and defend himself from real hurt?


Sharon said...

Scout Sharon, that's me!

I'm trying to teach Duncan to tell people that they must not hurt him, that it's wrong, and to seek adult help. But he's not able to manage all that on his own yet. I can see how perceptions of actions can be mistaken sometimes.

leila said...

I feel your pain... The little ones can be bullies for sure. My son was slapped in the face the other day at the pool by a 4-year-old peer that didn't like my boy copycatting him. Then on 4th of July a 5 year-old was making fun of my son's flapping. He also teased my kid by destroying his Lego sculptures because he knew my son would get upset. Reality is, this is pretty normal NT behavior, but we as mothers get our hearts broken the same way.