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Boys Being Boys?

Last Sunday, one of Simon’s school friends had a birthday party at a trampoline gym. At times, the party looked like this:

That’s Simon tossing a ball over to friends J, R, and M. That part was all good.

I also could have chosen a picture of S, A, or J, three girls in his class, happy to see Simon and greeting him with a hug. That part was all good, too.

Unfortunately, the third option for capturing the party would have involved two boys tackling Simon at the same time, pinning him down, and making him cry when they wouldn’t let go of him after he asked. Needless to say, that part was distressing for both of us.

I’ve seen this dynamic before. Last year and in years previous, it popped up with preschool boys who were more interested in rough play than Simon and didn’t understand that Simon was serious when he said “No, stop. I don’t like it when you do that.” The teachers helped out, and we avoided or limited extra-curricular play-dates with these boys.

This year, Simon suffers from similar treatment coming from two quarters. One is a good friend in class, the other a boy who is part of the after-school playground group. Sometimes other boys will join in the pile-on (like a pack of dogs, I tell you), but the primary instigators are always the same. One has a parent who intervenes but not to the degree I’d like; the other had a parent who doesn’t seem to notice or care what is going on.

I was upset enough by what I saw at the party to take action:

Step 1

Write the teacher and get the full story on Simon’s in-class interactions. Is he getting bullied in class? Is he a target? Does this happen during recess? Thankfully, the teacher was surprised to get my note. No, this does not happen in class. No, it does not happen during recess. And no, Mr. Sowder has not seen any indications that Simon is a child who gets selected for rough or unkind treatment. Was I talking about older boys from other classes? His theory is that this is how these boys like to play, they know Simon won’t fight back, and they know they can’t play this way within sight of a teacher. But if the parents chalk it up to “boys being boys”—and many do just that—opportunities arise. Mr. Sowder explained how he disciplines and attempts to illicit empathy from the perpetrators in these instances and offered help going forward if I needed it. Whew! That made me feel better already.

Step 2

Illicit parental help where I can get it. Two days before the party, I chatted a bit with another mom on the school playground. She had noticed the rough play, but hadn’t noticed how often Simon ended up on the receiving end of it or how much it upset him. Her son plays only moderately rough, and he’s happy to be at the bottom of a pile and have to wrestle his way up. At the party, she saw what was going on and made sure that her son was not part of the pile-on. Then Monday she told me about a chat she had with her son about not liking what she saw and expecting him to help out if a friend is in distress. The bystander effect is powerful, but I’m grateful to this mom for tackling it.

Then yesterday, on the playground after school, a dad asked me how Simon enjoyed the trampoline party. I told him the truth: He liked it very much, but the beginning was rough because a couple of boys kept tackling him and wouldn’t stop when asked. His son was one of those boys, but I didn’t use names. I did notice, however, that when soon after the same boy ambushed Simon from behind, dad was very quick to intervene and did so more thoroughly than he usually does. So I think I got my message across.

Step 3

Help Simon choose more appropriate friends. Some of this, I have to say, is on Simon. For three years I watched him mostly ignore a very nice boy with whom he had much in common. The couple of times this boy came over to the house (when the mom needed child-care), they got along beautifully and had a blast. Then school would resume, and Simon would head back directly to the one or two boys that were most likely to push or grab. It was maddening.

I can’t really choose his friends. But I can help grow some friendships and not others. The nice boy from last year? We’re getting together this weekend. I’m also helping Simon develop friendships with one boy from soccer and another from a different kindergarten class, both of whom are quite compatible with Simon and share his love of sports. Thankfully, Simon’s absolute best friend in his class is another nice, non-tackling boy with parents who keep a close eye on him. His best friend outside of school is the lovely Caroline, with whom the dynamic is completely different.

Step 4

Develop his strengths. It’s odd that Simon is so often the tackled. He’s older, taller, and faster than most in his class. Actually, I take that back. Many are faster than him over short distances, but Simon has terrific endurance from all his soccer and tennis. He’s also well liked. I really think it’s owing to him being well liked enough to play with and non-aggressive enough to be a soft target. At the beginning of the party, this spelled disaster.

By the end, it was a completely different story. When the two tacklers came for Simon, he outran them every time. They were pooped; Simon was just getting started. And if Simon saw them headed his way, he didn’t just wait to be grabbed or hit with a dodge ball. Twice he drop-kicked the ball clear across the room and hit the boy right in the chest. And once or twice he did the same with a football toss across the room. The kids looked frankly stunned; they had no idea Simon could do that.

Step 5

Organize his time and wait it out. I don’t want to micromanage, but a little management is a good thing. This doesn’t happen in one-on-one play. It has never happened at soccer or tennis. It has never happened with a girl. And interestingly enough, I’ve never seen it happen with older kids, most of whom are happier to play organized or semi-organized sports. I’m cautiously optimistic that with time and parental intervention, this problem might resolve itself.

One Response to “Boys Being Boys?”

  1. Amanda says:

    Some boys are like puppies. No off switch. They need a figurative swat across the nose with a newspaper (figurative for puppies too, don’t hit dogs!)

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