Sunday, March 29, 2009

On Bullying.. Part Two

This is going to be a difficult post for me to write, as part of me still feels that by taking less of a 'jump right in there and fix it' role in resolving the situations I am *abandoning* Salamander, so be patient with me.

First off, I fully understand that the way Salamander and I have (collectively) decided to go about dealing with this situation is going to make some people crinch, other people shake their head, and more people shout out 'what the heck is she thinking'.

And I'll be honest, attempting to resolve the situations between Salamander and the other boy (I'll refer to him as T from now on) in the fashion as I'll describe is making me nervous. Very nervous.

You see, my first instinct, when anybody messes with either of my kids, is to *go nuclear, swoop in for a good ole' mauling, and then do the fixing FOR my kids*. So I was *less than pleased* when my very wise friend C.R. suggested that going about things my usual way may not be in Salamander's best interest anymore. That it would be much MORE in Salamander's interest, considering how far he's already come in navigating the social arena, and considering that he will find himself in *bullying type* situations many more times during his life time, to actively teach him how to cope and to then let him put what he's been taught into practice.

At first, I so was NOT hearing what my friend had to say. I wanted this situation resolved, I wanted school to take action, I was going to tell school exactly what they needed to do to *fix* things.

Thank goodness it was Sunday afternoon and there was nothing I could do today, except for just being with what she said. And then it hit me. Here I am, always talking about how it is my job as a parent to teach my kids the tools they need to live happy, productive, independent and fulfilled lives. But me swooping in as Ms. Fix-It is so not teaching them one dang thing.. beyond dependence on me that is. And that is not what I want, for either of my kids.

Salamander has progressed so far, he is becoming quite savvy socially and it is time for me to take a few steps back (stretching that umbilical cord again), to still help him find the best path to take, but to then let HIM be the one to start walking that path (instead of me bulldozing down anything in his way to clear the path for him).

Salamander and I talked for a long time this afternoon. The longest conversation we've ever had I think. And I do want to put out there that there is no way I could have had a conversation like this with him a year ago. And that my decision on how to proceed with this situation would have been very, very different then.

I started with telling him how incredibly proud I am of how he's handled the situations between him and T so far, of how he's tried to deal with and fix the situations on his own, and how I completely understand how distressing and difficult and FRUSTRATING things have become.

I then explained to him, that unfortunately, this probably won't be the last time that he finds himself in situations like these. That these will probably come up in Middle School and High School. That in fact, he'll come across people acting like total jerks for the rest of his life (heck, I come across 2 or 3 or 4 on a weekly basis.. but maybe that says more about me.. LOL).

I also to him that, although I very much want to make this whole situation go away and fix things for him, that I want to make sure that he never finds himself in a situation like this ever again, unfortunately life doesn't work that way. And that because these kind of situations will happen again, it is MY job as a parent to give him the tools needed to best cope and deal.

We then talked about the specific situations and confrontations that have been happening. And together came up with strategies to try.

For example, the next time T gets in Salamander's face and then body slams/body checks him when Salamander tries to create personal space and walk around T, Salamander CAN speak up and say: "T, that's dangerous and destructive behavior. Please stop." We talked about the fact that it may be necessary for Salamander to say this a few times, and that it's OK for Salamander to raise his voice if he needs to repeat himself. And that, when a school staff member comes over to investigate, it is OK to disagree with T when T says "We're fine. It's nothing". That it is completely appropriate to then say" "Actually, I'm not fine. T has been slamming into me/body checking me and I've asked him to stop. I need help to make sure T actually stops."

T also has gotten into the habit of using another boy, whom I'll call C, as a messenger. C will come over to Salamander during recess time and say: "T needs to talk with you." This typically happens when Salamander is in the middle of a recess game with other kids and of course he doesn't want to stop playing. And back and forth C will go, to the point that Salamander will give in and interrupt what he's doing to listen to what T needs to tell him. And T always insists that these conversations take place in locations where school staff does not have a direct view on them.

Salamander already understood that the first thing that needs to happen is to get C out of all of this. So the next time C gets sent over as messenger, Salamander will say to C "C, really, if T wants to talk with me, he should just come over and tell me so himself." We then talked about that Salamander does NOT have to agree to T's insistence to have a conversation away from where school staff can see them. That it's OK to say: "T, I'm happy to talk with you, but we are going to talk right here. I want for the teachers to be able to see us as we may need their help."

Salamander quickly caught on to the fact that just because T makes a request/demand and/or acts a certain way, Salamander does not have to go along with it. That standing up for yourself and pushing back (in a polite, based on facts way) is not 'tattling or telling on a person'. We did a lot of role playing (and had great fun doing it as we could make the situations really exaggerated and silly), and it was really wonderful to see Salamander's confidence in himself grow. I do hope that, in the *under fire* situations, Salamander will be able to remember the strategies we talked about and not fall back into old patterns. Time will tell.

There is more I need to/want to say about this, but that will have to hold until tomorrow. It's getting late and I need to be up early tomorrow morning. And I am still far from completely recovered from my illness (I am doing a bit better every day, but it'll be a while before I'm back to baseline).


At 3:21 AM, March 30, 2009 , Blogger Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

You're giving Salamander skills that will serve him the rest of his life - great job!

At 8:42 AM, March 30, 2009 , Blogger Petra said...

Thanks Tanya. I so hope I'm doing the right thing for him.. He hopped on the school bus this morning, feeling confident and secure in his strategies (we did a quick review this morning). Me? A nervous wreck.

Teaching him this stuff is essential, I so get that. Just like having him try this on his own and, potentially, make his own mistakes is essential.

I just hope that school staff today will give Salamander a chance to get HIS side of the story out (what's been happening on that front will be part of another blog post). What I AM afraid of is that if staff does not give him that opportunity (and I specifically requested in my email of last nite that they DO let him tell his side), he'll *shut down*, and loose confidence (in himself, in the school staff and in me).

It's such a balancing act with our kids, isn't it? Where do you draw that line between helping them become more independent and at the same time protecting them when they need to be protected. And with our kids, that line moves from day to day. Heck, it can move from minute to minute..

Sitting back and waiting to see what unfolds is NOT one of my greatest assets. Combine that with a fiercely protective Momma Bear instinct, and the risk for becoming overprotective, overbearing, smothering is definitely there. I'm aware of it, and I'm working on it.

At 12:08 PM, March 30, 2009 , Blogger K Fuller said...

Very good job! If only the other childs parent were part of the equation. You have made the right choice to turn this into a teaching time. Because your son is so high functioning his feelings come into play and make things so very hard. I hope his adverssary becomes his friend.

At 2:12 PM, March 30, 2009 , Blogger Petra said...

Thanks K. I haven't heard anything definite from school yet, but I'll go under the assumption for now that 'no news is good news' (which is incredibly hard for me - goes back to my earlier comment that sitting back and waiting to see what unfolds is not one of my assets).

Sad thing? T and Salamander used to be best buds. They have been together since 1st grade. They supported each other, no, clung to each other for survival...two lonely and misunderstood spectrum boys in an oh so alien world.

I haven't completely figured out yet what soured the relationship. Some of it is part of growing up I think. Another part, unfortunately, and I am speculating here as I can no longer *look inside T's head*, is anger and jealousy over the fact that Salamander now IS part of the larger social scene at school, while T is still very much hanging on the periphery.

T is being bullied by other kids, I know this from what Salamander has told me. So I am pretty sure that what is happening between T and Salamander is an expression of T's frustration and anger over what is being done to him. And as Salamander cares for T and very much wants to help him, in some twisted way, Salamander has opened himself up to become the target for all that is eating T up inside.

My heart is breaking for T, it really is. But thing is, T is not my responsibility. I've tried in the past to be there for T (he came over for play dates, I took him with me and the boys on day trips, etc). I've also tried to reach out to T's parents in the past. But I got no where (T's parents are very nice people, but so so so overwhelmed by T's challenges in addition to that of raising a bipolar teenage daughter).

As I said, it breaks my heart. I can so understand where T comes from. But my priority has to be Salamander.

At 7:14 AM, March 31, 2009 , Blogger Renee said...

You are a strong, strong woman! I'm not sure I could have the fortitude to do the right thing - which you are. I hope that Salamander gets through this, stronger and more confident than ever!

At 9:07 AM, March 31, 2009 , Blogger Petra said...

Renee, thanks! I am sure though that when you find yourself in a situation like this with your boy, you would find the fortitude to do the right thing too. But it'll probably be a very different *right thing*. So much of it depends on our children, and what works for my Salamander may not work for another child on the spectrum.

My reasons for putting what we are trying out there are two fold: 1) I process by writing about things. If I didn't have the *writing outlet*, I'd go stark raving mad (of course, there are plenty folks that already think I am.. ah well..), 2) our experiences may help another person.

Salamander had a good day in school yesterday (per his words, "T didn't bug me today".. LOL), so I'll let that be my guide for now. And we'll see what today brings.

Salamander is turning 11 today!!!

At 1:13 PM, March 31, 2009 , Blogger K Fuller said...

Your talk with your son empowered him, I bet his body language shifted, telling the bully...NOT TODAY!

At 4:55 PM, March 31, 2009 , Blogger Michelle O'Neil said...

In A Friend Like Henry, the mother taught the boy how to say F-off forcefully. Perhaps S. isn't at that age yet, but I tell you, it isn't beneath me.

At 9:23 AM, April 01, 2009 , Blogger Petra said...

K - I think you're on to something. Yesterday was a good day for Salamander too, from the 'not being bugged' perspective. He told me that there was one situation, where T tried to launch into one of his old predetermined patterns. And Salamander used the strategies we had talked about beautifully and maintained the 'upper hand'. He felt quite good about it too.

Michelle - Salamander is already familiar with the F-word (school bus is the devil's playground, and then I've been known to let it slip too). He's gotten in trouble at school a few times for dropping the F-bomb when he got really, really frustrated (and I probably would have let it fly too in the situations he found himself in). But for now, I think I'll stick to teaching him the more 'cool, calm and collected' way of dealing with difficult situations. May I need to revisit this and teach him a few 'choice expressions' once he's in Middle School or High School? Absolutely. And no, it isn't beneath me either..LOL


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