To The Parents of the Child Who Is Excluding My Child:
Do you know that my child is hurting? You are parents also, so I am sure you understand it when I say my own heart aches when my child is hurting. You may not even be aware of the pain that your child is causing my child at all. No, your child is not physically hitting or abusing my child. He’s not even calling my child names or threatening him with violence. No… what your child is doing is different. It’s bullying in a passive aggressive way. Your child and his friend are socially excluding my son. Not in the sense that they are ignoring him. They are flat-out telling him “My mom says I can’t play with you because of safety precautions.”
Did you know that this is a form of bullying called relational aggression? Relational aggression is defined as ‘intending to harm others through deliberate manipulation of their social standing and relationships.’ (see source below). This type of bullying is most commonly seen in adolescent females.’
I am sure that your goal in keeping your child away from mine was not to intentionally hurt mine. I know that my son is old for his class grade (summer birthday fail), is mature in his interests, involved in contact sports, and usually liked by all. When I say that he is also well-adjusted socially, I say it not to brag on him, but to infer why him having ‘social’ issues at school has come as a shock to his father and me. Examining the characteristics of our son’s personality, it seems the only reason you could find to warn your child to stay away from mine, is that he might be perceived as dangerous due to the dynamics of his personality and character.
Since you are only assuming things about him to be true, I just wanted to shine some light on some of the other facets of my son:
He’s a first-born of three boys. Naturally, he falls into the leader position of his brothers. But in that leadership, he is a tender, stoic soul. His baby brother (age 4) looks to him for comfort first, before his dad and me, whenever he falls down and scrapes a knee. Our son is the often the only person who can talk reason into his hot-tempered red-haired middle brother (age 6). He’s the first to get a bandage, or help someone with reading a difficult word, or to assist in buckling a seatbelt.
He loves people. He thrives in a social environment where there is cohesion, laughter, and communication about all things. He truly desires to be friends with everyone, despite their differences.
He has a hilarious sense of humor. He can tend to be sarcastic, but his humor is witty and puts us all in tears sometimes.
In the past year he has changed schools, moved homes, and left his neighborhood friends. He has handled it like a champ and barely complained. He adapts to new situations well.
He is strong. Emotionally. Never ever gives up. In fact, the word ‘PERSERVERANCE’ is next to his name on the wall at school.
He is confident. In our neighborhood, our church, and on his sport’s team, he’s a leader. Charisma is one of his giftings and most people- kids and adults– really enjoy his company.
He’s curious. So very curious. He is not settled until a resolution to a problem is found.
He seeks justice. He cannot stand for someone to be hurt or treated unfairly.
He feels things. Deeply.
So when he gets in my car and says “Mom, ________ and _________ said they aren’t allowed to play with me”, he isn’t saying that to tattle or to cause strife. He is saying that because in his tender nine-year old heart, he truly doesn’t understand what he could have done wrong to cause someone to be forced to stay away from him. He feels anxious about returning to school after a long weekend because he feels like he has no friends. He gets in the car after school and says “Mom, _________ and ____________ leave school early every day. I wonder if it’s because they are scared of me?”
My sweet, loving, tender nine-year old son, whom you perceive as dangerous, is worried about your child being scared of him.
So, parents of the child who is bullying my child, I am sure this was not your intention when you carved out space between our children. You know that it hurts you when your child is hurting. That pain is something I hope you would never inflict upon another person. I am sorry my child is different from yours. I am sorry those differences cause fear and the need to protect. Maybe someone like my son intimated you as a child and so you fear him for your child. If that is true, I am sorry that you experienced that.
At the end of the day, we would honestly like to thank you. At the age of 9, he has now learned how it feels to be the outcast. He has felt the pain of being excluded. This has taught him, early on, that he does not want others to be treated this way because of how bad it hurts. The good news about my son is that he is adaptable and flexible. We have never been over protective of his environment so we know that he will bounce back from adversity. He will make more friends. He will continue to be a leader and use that gift for good.
Thank you for teaching our child this hard lesson at a young age.
Passive Agressive & Relational Aggression in Kids
To further explore the topic of relational aggression and how it plays it out in children, we highly recommend the book NutureShock by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman. One would quickly assume that a child who watches tv shows like Star Wars and Power Rangers would be quick to bully and be aggressive due the their exposure to the violence in these tv shows/movies. But actually, according to studies, “the more educational media the children watched, the more relationally aggressive they were.” Some of examples of ‘educational media’ they used were shows like Clifford, Calilou, and Arthur. Shocking, right??? It was presumed that children who watched these type of educational shows would not only be less aggressive but more helpful, kind, inclusive, etc. But the opposite was proven.
In shows where actual violence is observed like Star Wars, He- Man, or Bat-man, there is always a clearly visible resolution to conflict. The good guy always wins and the bad guy looses. But in “educational” shows like Clifford or Calilou, relational aggression is modeled at a high rate. In these shows, the majority of the program is establishing conflict between two characters and then there’s only a few minutes left at the end to resolve it. The study showed that children have a difficult time grasping the big picture and ‘lesson’ because they can’t connect all the information presented. Conflict is presented as bickering, exclusion (“You can’t play with us”), manipulation, and bossiness. It’s difficult for young minds to grasp how conflict is solved, if it ever actually is.
The irony is not lost on me that this is indeed a passive aggressive article on the topic of passive aggression. My hope, readers, is not to point fingers or force a change in the specific situation. The goal here is much more with a bigger picture in mind. I have been on the receiving end of this type of bullying and I have also been the dealer. I am sure we all have. But my hope is that other parents would read this and ask questions of other children rather than making assumptions, call other parents and inquire rather than shutting off communication, and teach our children to agree to disagree. This is a big world and we are not doing our children any favors by keeping them from every single thing we are afraid of.
Definition of relational agression: Steinberg, Laurence D.; Reyome, Nancy Dodge; Bjornsen, Christopher A. (2001). Study Guide for Use with Adolescence. McGraw-Hill Higher Education. p. 100. ISBN 9780072414615.
NutureShock: Bronson, Po; Merryman, Ashley (2009). Twelve Hatchet Book Group. p. 179-181. ISBN 9780446504126
Pixie Abbot Photography