Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"Welcome home Mummy."

Well, I'm back. Mummy's home and did I mention the six-year-old is getting bullied at school? "Crisis? What crisis?" I want to gnash my teeth in rage and push someone smaller than me over. I was thousands of miles away and my husband revealed the six-year-old had told him he likes school, he loves his teacher but that "sometimes the other children aren't nice to me." He is heartbreakingly reasonable about it: "Some people aren't nice to other people. That's just how it is." Cor blimey. Maybe the world is like that but you do not want your six-year-old awake to that fact.

We appear to have several things going on. Possibly more disturbing than anything else is exclusion from playground and classroom activities. Children not wanting him to work in their groups, while at break: "Sometimes I don't play. Sometimes I just walk around the playground and sometimes I sit on the bench." This is your cue as a parent to drop your head onto the wooden kitchen table and groan loudly.

I am trying very hard to be as reasonable as my six-year-old about it. Let me make the point, that I am, perhaps, not as impressed as I might be, all things considered, at the level of supervision in school. Separately and almost as disturbing as the bullying, since he started at this teeny tiny church school, he has sustained nine injuries to his head in a variety of incidents, some of which appear to be entirely accidental, some roughhousing and some aggression. The headteacher wondered if he had something wrong with his ears or may be his eyesight. He does not fall over at home; apparently though he is like a young Norman Wisdom at school.

On Thursday, he was swung round and hit his chin. (On the upside, at least he was playing with someone.) On Friday, an older and bigger boy kicked out at him hard enough for my boy to fall over and hit his head. Monday, he had a day off for good behaviour but Tuesday he was pushed over by an older girl in the playground while today he was bitten on the cheek by someone. We now have a little collection of notes home from school. Today's note read that one boy had "hurt" my son's cheek and "apologised" for it. That's alright then. Friday's note bears little relation to what my son says happened. It says he "overbalanced on his chair" and "fell bumping his head slightly." He was standing beside his schoolmate when he was kicked and fell to the floor. This happened at 10.30am. The larger boy along with another girl went on to berate my son at lunchtime for taking the last morsel of something when he was queuing for his lunch. The berating went unwitnessed by staff but after it, my son refused to join in normal school activities. I am being to steam up. Perhaps it is the heat. All this in the last week.

But it is not just the last week. During his time there, he has also fallen over playing horse which won him a massive lump on his forehead; he was hit soundly in the middle of his forehead as he walked behind a boy swinging a rounders bat (another lump); his eye was also cut when the older boy involved in Friday's incident managed to poke a broom into it, (this required a stitch). There was also a bump on the head from a cupboard. According to the cheery note home, my son "forgot it was there". Oh and earlier this month there was another tug of war, fall and bump. It is like the parachute regiment's "P" company for tots. We have had to take him to hospital three times. If these incidents had happened at home, the social workers would have been round by now.

Not that by son is blameless in all of these incidents. Leaving aside the occasional clutz-like walk behind a rounders bat or hapless push-me, pull-you with a skipping rope, he has a nasty habit of intervening in the world around him. He was bitten after telling the boy not to swing on a fence in case he hurt himself. He got pushed over trying to help a younger child get her skipping rope that older girls were standing on, while on Friday, he was only kicked over after the older boy told him his work was scribbly and my son kicked his chair. Fair do's, he would perhaps have done better to kick the chair and run away.

If this was happening at his former East End primary, it would be more immediately understandable. There, classes are crowded and some of the children are from difficult inner-city backgrounds. This is a tiny village church school with a church spire visible across grassy fields. It has fewer than 45 children in the whole school - five in his class. We are hardly talking a culture of hoodies with knives here.

I have always taught my son to take responsibility for his own actions and that he has a duty of care to his little brother and baby sister and to look out for younger children. Big mistake. His father wants him to slide into playground oblivion. Stop telling other children what to do for a start. But I do not want the sort of boy who turns into an adult who crosses the road when a teenage gang picks on a young mother waiting with her buggy at a bus-stop. I want Henry Fonda in "Twelve Angry Men." I wonder if Henry Fonda got bullied at school. How to survive at school? They should give lessons in it. How to teach your child to survive at school? They should give lessons in that too.


ChrisJ said...
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Steve Schewe said...

Dear Wifey,

Glad you're back, and hope you had a wonderful time. We were getting a bit frantic reading the latest hallucinations from some of your other fans and wondering when you'd return.

I'm sorry to say that 1st grade can be Darwinian, particularly for kids who are perceived to be outsiders. You might consider asking the teacher which of the other boys in the class might be potential new friends for your son, and then talk with him (or their mothers) about inviting them home to play after school or on the weekend. Church school may not be the 'hood, but it still helps if someone has your back!

I Beatrice said...

Granny in the South says:

I was distressed to hear about your son's bullying problems. How well I understand the particular agony you must be suffering. My daughter suffered all the way through her school life; partly because she was always the cleverest in the class, and partly, it has to be said, because she was extremely confronational herself. I'm not confrontational (my husband is); so it was vain for me to tell her just to shrug and walk away. She had to stand her ground and fight back - and suffered torments at home with me, afterwards. Only when she was at secondary school did the scale of the problem come fully to my notice. Then, she wrote in her diary one day that she would "rather be dead than go to school again".(I didn't normally read her diary, but these were exceptional circumstances). The bullying, with her, was not of the physical, but the psychological sort - whisperings, taunts, mocking references to "Jane the brain"; ostentatious silences when she was around, and gales of cruel laughter when she left - that kind of thing. (And this was not at some east end comprehensive either, it was in the rather rarified atmosphere of an independent girls' school in Putney). Finally, I was driven to approach the head about it. She was a sensible woman, who thought it "an outrage" that a clever girl should suffer at the hands of others in such a way. She took steps immediately - though not overtly, as my daughter had said it would only get worse if the girls knew that teachers had been involved.
My daughter looks back on her schooldays now with great dislike, which is a pity. She's confrontational still - it has served her well in her battle with the local authority to get the right education for her autistic four-year-old. Her own 6-year-old daughter is not like that. Sometimes she says that no-one plays with her in the playground, it's true (and like your son, she explained to me that "that's just the way it is"). But she seems to have learnt the wisdom of sometimes keeping her head down beneath the barricades. We haven't tried to teach her that - it's just something she has arrived at for herself. So, I do know what you're going through right now! The secret in handling it seems to be not to go in with too many guns blazing - but not to do nothing either.... that is certainly not the way! Further than that, I wouldn't dream of trying to advise you, but you have my profound sympathy.

Anonymous said...
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Erica said...

That's a catalogue of incidents, I'd be woried too.


ShelaghG said...

My daughter had a similar experience after we moved from a city to a village. She never had any of these problems at a big inner city school and I think it's because there was such a huge mix of kids there that the one thing they were tolerant of was being different because everyone was different. Going into a village school at 8 years old, where all the kids had formed their friendships and cliques was very hard for her. It's an awful situation to be in as a parent, the urge to go and string the little sods up is almost overwhelming! Go and read them the riot act and I hope things improve for your little lad.

Nikster said...

I am so sorry, what an aweful thing for your family to face right now, on top of all the other adjusting you are having to make. All I can do is offer my prayers that you are able to support your son and get the back up you need at the school to tackle the bullying. All the best.

debio said...

Oh God! I am with you every step of the way...

My daughter has experienced bullying both at prep school in UK and here in Dubai.

Girls do it differently - her face is ugly, her hair is the wrong colour, her accent is wrong, and worse. They even took to insulting me to her - difficult for any child to take.

But, even a worm will turn - she told the bullies to f*** off and was hauled before the Head.

Having made several visits to the school(s) to draw their attention to the bullying - my daughter was not the only victim - I asked them what they expected her to do. I told them that whilst I did not approve of the words used, I fully supported her in standing up for herself.

The apathy and lack of supervision displayed by teachers can be breath-taking.

Sophie King said...

Welcome back, WITN. And what a sorry tale about your son. I think being a newcomer in a very small school must be difficult and it doesn't sound like the teachers are helping much with the integration process. Frankly, children can be pretty vile to each other and as long as the teachers stand back and make little effort to encourage them to co-operate with and be kind to one another, the kids with bullying tendencies will view this as tacit endorsement of what they are doing and continue to do it. I would take a firmer stand with the school if you feel that there is systematic bullying going on. As a Church of England establishment they should be encouraging the very highest standards of behaviour amoongst their pupils, and with so few of them in the school it should be easy to spot the miscreants. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Oh, no!

There goes my image of sweet little rosy-cheeked country boys and girls.

This post makes me fear for my future child, who, should my mate and I have him/her, will be mixed-race. I have just realized he or she will probably be more susceptible to bullying.

I am not a parent yet, but what little is motherly in me feels your pain.

kinglear said...

I'm terribly glad you are back - I was beginning to worry. By the way, it should be "cue" for mother banging head on table.
Bullying is never easy, but usually it is because the child is different. In your son's case, he comes from elsewhere and probably speaks differently. One of the Ms Lears had her "Local talk" for school.
On the other hand he may be bright. If he is, he will be bullied forever in this country or until you get him into eg The Newton School.

Dee said...

Yes they should give lessons in that!
Welcome back WITN and so sorry to hear about your six-year-old's trouble at school. I don't have kids of my own but I remember being bullied myself when I was a young girl and it wasn't much fun. Hope you can sort this out somehow. 6 year olds shouldn't have to deal with these sort of things, you're right.

The Grocer said...

My best advice is to continue to give your children confidence to assert themselves when necessary and the wisdon to decide when it is necessary.
Unfortunately in my experience there is inevitably a degree of bullying at school, whilst as adults we find it unacceptable it is a fact of life for most of our children. Most of them will be bullyed at some point or other. With my eldest son, who is now a strapping 19yr old we took him to Karate (self defence classes) for about 18 months at the age of seven or eight, this was enough to equip him with a degree of self confidence to defend himself when these bullying incidents occured, they also teach restraint and this is as important.
I know of a good local teacher, email me and I will get contact details if you are interested.

Winchester whisperer said...

Welcome back! How was your holiday?

Lena said...

Poor you and your boy!! I started reading your blog the other day with great interest.I can relate to a lot of what you write, having married an Englishman and moved with three kids from another country's capital city to a nondescript no-city no-village no-nothing place in East Midlands...but the one thing which makes me put up with my life here(for now) is the younger kids' primary school, which is absolutely brilliant. My 9 year old daughter hates holidays and weekends because she misses school, and my reception year boy who is painfully shy and who I thought would never get used to noisy and no-inhibitions kids around him, still likes his school due to the wonderful homely atmosphere created by the inspiring headmistress and teachers. He does get hit sometimes, and though his Dad has told him to hit back, he responded by quoting the teacher, who says you are not allowed to hit back, but should just tell her and she'd sort things out.
Anyway, this on top of all your other troubles! I guess in your place, if it's only five kids in his class, I'd invite them all around for some pastry-making party or whatever, to get to know them better and to be able to watch how they interact with your son. Also, if you manage to get them to like YOU, it will certainly rub off on their attitude to your boy. On the other hand, it all can just sort out itself, your son will make friends and it'd all be forgotten. Best of luck!!
(can't understand whether this has been posted or not, will click on 'publish' again, if this is a duplicate please just delete it)

Beta Mum said...

It's heart-breaking when the kids come home with tales of broken friendships, "I like him but he doesn't want to play with me," "nobody would play with me at lunchtime today," "I've broken friends with everyone" etc etc
My oldest is in Year 3, my youngest in Year 1, and it happens intermittently with both of them.
The physical stuff sounds a bit worrying at your son's school. Have they got trained people supervising playtimes?
Have they got a friendship bench?
Do they provide play equipment or do the kids just have to run around aimlessly?
When my kids are sad about friendship problems I listen, make sure they see friends from outside school as well, and suggest ways to deal with things.
My son did the exact opposite of what I suggested earlier this year and it worked. So now he's unlikely to listen to my advice ever again.

I Beatrice said...
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Anonymous said...

My children go to similar size rural school and they are very very tough on bullying HOWEVER I get the feelings 2 new kids who are bluntly very definitely townies are not being accepted into the group......go and talk to the school and keep talking; small school teachers are usually very good at dealing with stuff like that and gutted if they cannot...ask other kids to come and play out of school....

Anonymous said...

On a more practical note have his hearing checked again and also check out his legs and feet - my eldest has always been v accident prone and it seems this may in part come from a) legs slightly different length and b) foot problem which can be corrected by insoles from a chiropodist.

Anonymous said...

Hmm..Maybe the first step is for your husband and you to discuss and agree on what needs to be done. I think the problem is with you here. You seem to have left the town with a rose-tinted view of what the country is like.

Grow up ! Boys will be boys. This is not the 'elf and safety' paradise which other parts of the country are becoming. Your son is an 'outsider'.

He is going to take a little time to fit in. You have to work on that and for goodness sake don't go steaming in like a townie to the headmaster asking him what is he going to do. Ask yourself what are YOU going to do.

You mention the 'dreamy spires' as though people in the countryside are all lovely and soft-focus. For Goodness Sake ! Haven't you read that chapter of Laurie Lee where a rich emigrant to Australia returns to show off his wealth in the local pub ? They take him outside and kick him to death in the snow.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. I am more concerned that your son is not playing with others than a few bumps and bruises. I was a bit of a 'loner' when I first started at school, and you do need to be sure that he is making good chums.

Why doesn't he invite them back to your house ? Is he worried about what you might say ? That you might fuss if they fall over and break something ?

It is a special privilege having sons, as whether a society does well or badly depends a lot on the quality of the menfolk - since the women seem to steady the ship come what may.

Much as I love this blog, if it is coming between you and spending a few hours chatting to your young man, maybe you should take a day off every now and then.

Lots of love, and welcome back.

Ali said...

Poor son - in a school of crowded classes and different backgrounds at least there is room for variety.

Sometimes small but homogeneous groups are much harder. He seems to be finding that out.

Being six can be really shitty sometimes. But at least you can be proud of him and he can know he is doing the right thing. Hope it passes soon.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Oh yeah ! Go nuclear !

Like that is going to work !

Grow up ! You have to solve this working WITH the school.

If you don't like the countryside and the fact that things have been done that way 'for 280 years' why the f**k are you living there ?

If you want all that trendy inclusiveness push off back to London !!!

This is like people who move to the countryside and then want farmers to stop spreading sh1t on the crops - YOU are the outsiders, get used to it.

Anonymous said...

reality of life in small rural schools - government initiatives, roles such as subject co-ordinators etc all have to be spread amongst 3 or 4 people not 10 or 20. Head has to teach as well as do all the admin and unlikely to have enough release time - yet the admin again often as much as a big school. Pay is less so deputy head seeking headship not going to gain by applying to a small school (think it made £3 of difference for one person I knew). So small schools have lots of pluses but the teachers do have a lot more to do than in a larger school. Fact.

Helena said...

Poor you, what a horrible thing to come back to. I have no solution at all I'm afraid. Well, no solution apart from the one my inner Italian would provide but that's probably illegal and horse's heads are hard to come by....Luckily it sounds as if he's dealing with it really well.
If my grandfather were alive he would blame it on the location. When I told him I wanted to go to Durham University he wrote to me saying that "the North of England is a terrible place and anyone that tells you otherwise is a liar."

Cathy said...

The school system stinks. Just my totally biased opinion(and don't get me started on why.)

But your husband may just be right. Perhaps your son needs to lie low for a while until you have all been up there a little longer. People coming in to small communities never have it easy.

Lizzie said...

Oh dear, that's very upsetting. I suggest you make an appointment with the Head, taking with you a log of all incidents. Ask what the school's policy is on bullying and how they intend to implement it in this instance.

Enrol your son at a karate class - tomorrow.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Well going nuclear worked, you know. It had the slightly undesirable side-effect of making all the teachers absolutely terrified of me, and ducking into classrooms to avoid me, but they became enormously supportive of my children. The more so probably because they recognise it is not easy having a termagent for a mother.

Well I think there have been good things happen in the last 280 years that are worth cottoning onto. Like oh, electricity. And aspirin and antibiotics. And the abolition of slavery. And universal suffrage. And railways. And universities. And red wine for all, even countryside dwellers. I think inclusiveness is right up there with all of those good things.

You rumbled me. Yes I do like the countryside and I confess that I do have a preference for organic waste to be spread on fields. Silly old me. I know better now. Real people shit in fields. I've got it now.

Tell me, when you come across "outsiders" do you use sticks or stones to beat them up with? Or are you one of the restrained ones who thinks that just spitting on them gets the message across without dirtying your hands? After all, the knuckles must have taken a lot of damage over the years.

Do you have any more enlightened ideas to share? I'd personally be very very interested in your views on asylum seekers. Bloody scroungers, are they?

AlisonK said...

I will be 43 next month and the fact that I was bullied at primary school is still affecting my life and the way I interact with others. Like another commenter's daughter, I was picked on for being "too" clever - I used to get my reading books from the older children's class, for example, and it was these older children who then made my life a misery. It largely took place as we walked home (unaccompanied - those were the days, eh?) and was not physical, just name calling. I say "just"! The effect was to make me, ever since, do all I can not to stand out and I also know I do far too much people pleasing - even to the extent of wanting people I will never see again, to like me. Makes taking things back to shops or complaining in restaurants very difficult!
I've considered blogging, but don't think I could stand to receive negative comments....
I did OK at school later, when I could have done really well. I kept my head down. I chose a 2 year HND rather than a degree goes on.
My parents tried to help - my Mum told me "sticks & stones.....", my Dad said if anyone hits you, hit them back (as I say, I don't think it quite came to that; maybe I've repressed it?) They saw the Head, but I was terrified the kids would find out and that it would make it worse and I remember begging them not to go. (They did, but I don't remember it doing any good). Gradually, I became one of the oldest at the school and it was OK then, but by that time the damage was done.
I have gradually become (a bit)better with age and with coming to understand what is making me so unassertive, but I do feel it affected my education, so I urge you to do all you can to change matters for your son. I'm not really surprised that the problem has arisen in a small C of E school - that's exactly where I went (there were 8 children in my age year. That's right, 8. Including me. So much for the baby boom of the Sixties!).
The kids at the East End primary have probably seen more different people already at age 6, than the kids in Northumberland ever will. In such a small place every tiny difference is magnified (his accent, for example?).
I don't know what to recommend. I am never entirely convinced by what I read and hear about schemes to stop bullies. But please do all you can. (My gut reaction would be to move school, or even pay for private school if you can, but I know that where you are living choice will be limited).

Anonymous said...

It's a tad worrying that you can blog the bullying so tongue-in-cheek.

As one who was bullied at school, many years ago, I can tell you that - in years to come - your little one will probably mention other litle incidents of which you know nought yet.

As an adolescent, I watched my own parents wracked by the sudden understanding that my schooldays were so much worse than they had imagined, and the wish they had perhaps done more about it at the time.

Get in there and, without being unreasonable at all, let it be known that you do not like what you have learned and will not accept a continuance.

The child will benefit now. You will benefit as well, of course, but the years will be kinder to you if you can recall that you did act firmly for the lad when it would have made a difference to him.

southern gal said...

is there another school he can go to>? it sounds as if this is irreverisble - the other kids have targeted him and to avoid it hanging on forever...


Why don't you join the PTA or Board of Governers or something? Get in a position where you can bring about change? Speak to the mothers about what is going on and make it clear you are not happy with what is going on. Try to do it under the guise of friendliness, True, they'll probably avoid you after that. It may also be the case that they are not aware exactly what is going on. Little Jack, my son says: go into that school and tell 'em, Don't you bully my son....which may work if you deepen your voice like a man.

Ms J said...

it is one of my main worries too - school bullies come in all shapes and sizes and i will only know of the situatio in school if my son is open enough with me. i fear that he will only talk to me about his bullying problems when it is too late, when he comes home with a broken nose etc. he is only 3 months old right now but already, i am best with worries.
i guess the most importnt thing is to not refeclt your fear/disappointment to your child..

Harold said...

My only comment would be that it is necessary to be assertive with school - even if tough - because inaction by Headmasters is sometimes a much easier route for them than tackling any problems. Someone in my family ended up moving school (age 7) when the Head failed to deal with the issue.

I worry you are telling us a bit *too* much given that you are not anonymous.


Just Me said...

I'm really sorry your little boy is being bullied.

I was bullied all through school and as a result I ended up being educated at home after having a complete confidence meltdown in my first term of high school.

It was mostly name calling and teasing, which started from reception onwards, I was shy and a tomboy so I became an easy target for both boys and girls. I remember though never really letting my mum know how much it upset me because I didn't want to upset her and I think perhaps why I ended up so completely terrified of being at school by the time I was 11.

I think it's great that he's able to be assertive and speak his mind, that was a quality that I never had, but I personally would still take it more seriously than he is letting on, without letting him know too much that you're worried. Especially considering he sounds a little worse for wear physically aswell.

I'm sure you've got it under control! I hope he's feeling happier soon.