The Real Life Spouse Stories Series is part of InDependent’s Wellness Unfiltered™ program. It’s a platform for military spouses to share their struggles with tougher wellness topics. They’re sharing these stories to help with their healing, open up conversations so other military spouses know that they aren’t alone, provide resources to people struggling with something similar, and help the community know how to better help others who are going through difficult wellness issues.
BULLYING CAN START YOUNG
If only I could describe the feeling I had when I found out my son was being bullied at school. It’s something that cuts deep – you immediately go into mama bear mode and just want to find out who is causing your child so much hurt and pain, and then give them a piece of your own mind! But of course, as rational adults, you have to quell that initial feeling to then figure out: what do you do?
I had this experience with my son, who was only five years old. I had not realized that kids could even bully at five. As an educator for most of my working life, I had experience working with kids from the toddler stage all the way to high school students. In my professional experience, it seemed to start at a slightly older age. But things change – kids learn things at a very young age, and they are sponges.
STARTING THE CONVERSATION
My son, who had been in preschool since he was two years old, was not new to going into a structured classroom. He definitely had that advantage as he navigated the first weeks of transitional kindergarten. As soon as he was verbal, he always told his dad and me how much he loved school – all the things he learned and the friends he had. We thought we were doing a great job helping our son grow and thrive in a fun educational environment.
So I was surprised when my son told me that he was being bullied. He told me what was going on. A boy was whispering in his ear, “I hate you.” Putting aside my rage, I asked him questions. “When did this happen?” “Was it just this one kid or others?” “What did you say?”
Through many conversations, my son and I grew closer, and I was able to piece together some parts of the puzzle. My son couldn’t identify the perpetrator; I think it brought him too much shame. I decided to leave it at that and asked for identifying items – what shirt did he wear today?
I spoke to his main teacher and the two teachers he had for before-school care about this. They were very supportive and wanted to find out what was going on. As things took a little longer to get resolved, I eventually involved the principal and the director of the before- and after-school care program provided at his elementary school. It took a month, and he experienced anxiety and difficulty sleeping.
IN THE INTERIM WHILE ADVOCATING
Suffice it to say, the time between finding out my son was being bullied and a resolution felt very long. A lot of anxiety. A lot of what next? A lot of dad leaving and coming home.
So I dug deep. I realized that whoever was bullying my son was also suffering in his own way. He was modeling behavior that was either being done to him or something that he saw. And no one was able to inform him that it wasn’t okay. Hurt people hurt people.
I also did my best to stay rational. Your child needs a rational, supportive adult in their corner. In speaking to all of the people at his school, I found that the more rational I was, the more others listened to what I was saying. I provided facts and descriptions. I kept updating his teachers whenever I had a conversation with my son that had valuable information.
Internally, I kept my options open. I thought of transferring schools, homeschooling, and just waiting it out to see what would happen. I kept these avenues open and pursued a few, partially for practicality and partially for a sense of control over the situation.
PATH TO RESOLUTION
So how did things get resolved? I kept advocating for my child, and I kept the conversations going. Multiple conversations with multiple people. I talked with my son about how his day was at school. The before-school care teachers and his main teacher communicated with one another about my son’s well-being and if they noticed anything that day. The principal checked on him during a recess break to see how he was doing. The before- and after-school program director was kept in the loop as well.
Things changed when the teachers understood my feelings and what my son was feeling. This happened during a parent-teacher conference that, thankfully, my husband was available for. Our son’s teacher could see how much this impacted our son and how, as parents, we were doing the best we could and were persistent in finding a solution in light of my husband’s upcoming deployment. I remember expressing to his teacher within the first moments of meeting her, “we’re a military family, and his father will be deployed for most of the school year.”
One day, his teacher spoke to me after school. They had watched a movie called “Spookley the Square Pumpkin.” In the movie, Spookley is made fun of by the other pumpkins for being square and not round. The teacher told me that my son had cried during the movie. She saw that things weren’t all right. She saw that my son had empathy for this pumpkin because he was feeling the same way.
That might have been the turning point. The teachers realized what was going on and did their best to keep my son separated from the child they thought could have been the bully. Over time, my son seemed lighter and was back to his school-loving self again.
THE ONLY CONSTANT IS CHANGE
Children are resilient, and I saw my son’s slow transformation back to who I knew him to be. He started sleeping better, and his anxiety lessened. I was glad that my efforts were not in vain.
Things change quickly, especially when kids are young. As soon as you get comfortable, they grow and change and you, as the parent, adapt. For military families, there’s the added change of moving every few years and making new friends. What guided me during this time was my inner voice. As long as you listen to that voice inside that tells you what to do, all of it will work out in the end. And if you can’t hear that voice, you always have people to ask for help. I thank his teachers for seeing what my husband and I saw and for caring for our son’s well-being.
Diana Lo Jones is a Navy spouse of twelve years. Originally from Southern California, the nomadic military lifestyle she lives has taken her to Japan, the Deep South, the Central Coast of California, and back to San Diego. A lifelong academic and educator, she has her Bachelor’s Degree from UCLA and plans to attend graduate school focusing on the experience of the Asian American diaspora. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband (when he’s not deployed), her two kids, two cats, and a dog (who thinks he’s a cat).