We are used to hearing about the problem of bullying and how parents and schools need to intervene. But here’s how Anushka Ganguly’s son learnt to befriend his bully, to set an example for many young boys like himself.
1) Tell us a little about your son. What does his day at school look like?
Last year my son was in the first standard. He used to wake up at 6.30am and catch the bus at 7.30am after a fulfilling breakfast of his favourite food and fruit. He is a foodie I would say with very well developed taste buds. He loves to carry khakhra with chaat masala in his school snack box. He always carried a box to share with his friends. He loves sharing his home and food with friends, During the break he eats and shares his snack with his friends When he was in the Junior KG he was a quiet boy. On parent teachers, his teacher told me told “He’s too quiet, not confident, not focused and easily distracted!” He was 4 years old at that time. That’s when I taught him Anapana Sati Meditation. Within six months of teaching it to him, the teacher described him very differently. He was now making friends, participating in class, and very focused and confident. My son’s journey back home in the school bus begins as 1.10 PM and he reaches home by 2.45 PM. Sometimes children tease him or as he says harass him in the bus.
2) When did you first find out your son was being bullied at school?
My son has been travelling in the bus with the boy who bullied him since Senior KG, when he was 5 years old. The boy wasn’t in his class then, just on his bus. Literally on the first day of first standard, children were shuffled, and this boy found himself in my sons division. That was the day he said that the boy was hitting him and bullying him. Every day since that day, he has complained about being hit by him.
3) What were the telling signs that he was being bullied?
My husband and I have always had an open relationship with our son. He freely shares everything with us. We didn’t have to look out for signs because he came and told us himself. What we did do is communicate with him about this issue on a daily basis…asking him what happened and how he reacted. The meditation I had taught him earlier was a tool he used to deal with the bullying. Everytime there was an incident, he would complain to the teacher and to us. And each of us reacted to it… Seeing that we heard and believed him for what he said, and acted on it, helped in the situation too.
4) How did you and your husband react to it? And what steps did you take to handle it?
The first day he said the bully hit him I told him “Tell him it hurts and that you don’t like it… use your words, not your hands!” He did that. But my husband said the opposite… “Hit him back!” Standing up for himself was important. Using the right way to do it was important too. Despite doing that, he came home everyday complaining of the same incident.
I decided to approach the boy’s mother, who confessed that she had been taking her son to a counsellor. He was suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). She promised to talk to her son, because she understood where I was coming from too.
My husband and I, after consulting our son, enrolled him to learn Taekwondo. Not to hit other children, but to learn how to defend himself if not act offensively, and feel equipped to do so.
5) Did you and the other child’s parents meet face to face? How did the school administration handle this overall?
We did meet face to face with the boy, but at the time he well-behaved. When we met at birthday parties where he was usually accompanied by his mother, my son and the bully would play like best buddies, because he didn’t hurt my son publicly. It was then that I realised… the problem was not with the child, but the lack of parental attention he was receiving. He was acting out in school and with his peers as he craved attention. Whether the behaviour was negative or positive, it did not matter. Sometimes, when I saw my son stand next to this boy, I was shocked at how this tiny boy, 1/3rd my sons size was managing to bully him. But my son expressed his anger and distress in words alone, never using his hand like the other boy.
My husband and I wrote several emails, met the principal and the school counsellor and coordinator of both the 1st and 2nd standards. The school tried all they could to discipline the bully and stop him from hitting my son. The thing we discovered through my son’s communication was that he started hitting my son when there was no adult around or when their attention was elsewhere, so no one would see him and he would tell them that my son had hit him. The class teacher said the bully could not sit in one place in the classroom and would escape from his desk by crawling under it and running to the other end. He was also a compulsive liar and the principal, class teacher, coordinator and counsellor had a tough time dealing with the stories he cooked up. My husband and the bully’s father also decided to meet several times, but it somehow did not work out.
6) What is the situation like today? How have you/ your son equipped him to deal with situations like this in school?
One day my son came and told me that he had accomplished what my husband and me had been unable to achieve. He had somehow made friends with his enemy. We might never know how that happened, or even understand it. But maybe children understand each other better and are far from forgiving than us as adults. My husband and I decided to support our son, and have the boy over at our place once in a while. So I am planning to invite both mother and son over to play with my boy once in a while to see how to develop friendship between the two, the path that my son taught me to take.
The boys are going to be on the same bus route for another 10 years, unless we moved our residence or the boy’s parents did too. My son still doesn’t sit next to him in the bus, because he teases him or bothers him sometimes, therefore we have instructed the didi on the bus to keep them separated. But he does not hit him or bully him anymore.
7) What is your message to parents who are dealing with similar issues on how to handle their child being bullied?
Firstly, empower your child. You cannot protect your child all the time. Teach them techniques of self-defence and self preservation. Teach them non-violent communication. Teach them meditation so they can respond and not react and they do not get marred and scarred by the ups and downs of life, which are going to be there regardless of how much we are there for our children. Prepare them at a young age to deal with the vicissitudes of life in a balanced, realistic way. The insight I have had from my son being bullied for a whole year by a boy 1/3 his size was that the bully was seeking adult attention, not my son or another child’s attention. Both his parents were working long hours and would only see him awake in the morning. When they came home at night the boy was sleeping. The child was taken care of at home by his ageing grandparents and servants. When this boy was sent to sit the whole day at the principal’s office, 1st and 2nd standard coordinators office or counsellors office, he was most happy. It was when he was sent home in the middle of a school day is when his behaviour started changing. Even when he came over with his mother he behaved fine. Bullies are often children starved of their parents’ attention.