Teasing/Bullying At School

Updated on December 19, 2011
S.C. asks from Seattle, WA
17 answers

My nine year old is in fourth grade and is very shy. He's never been one to have more than one or two friends. This year he has been spending a lot of time with one boy in particular. I can look past the weird clothes and strangeness, but I don't like the negative attitude that seems to be rubbing off on my son. This boy has taught my son a number of swear words as well and was encouraging him to use them. We put a stop to that, but this boy just is not a nice kid. I can see my son going down the wrong path if he continues to follow this kid. My son also tells me that another kid at school puts him down by telling him he doesn't have friends and nobody likes him. Other than steer clear of the problem kids, I don't know what to tell my son. He's really a nice kid, but lacks confidence. He's not into sports, so doesn't have much in common with most boys. I've even considered the possibility that he could be gay. I don't have a problem with that, but just don't know how to help him adjust if he is. I'm planning on speaking with the school counselor, but what else can I do?

I haven't read all the responses, but I will. I just wanted to say that I do not equate not liking sports with being gay. It's just something that's been on my radar for awhile. I am not the only one who feels this could be a possibility. I'm not going to provide a laundry list of reasons I feel that he could be. I really just want advice with how to help him not succumb to peer pressure and feel good about himself. He just doesn't seem happy to me and that worries me. I am also quite reserved and grew up being the 'nerd'. I don't want that for him. I've learned over time how to connect with people and it's still a struggle. I really looking for advice on how to help him be more confident and self-assured. My husband is also pretty quiet, so he's got it from both sides. Our middle child doesn't have these issues. He seems to have lots of friends and does playdates frequently. It's hard with Isaac because he's in fourth grade now. I don't know the parents, as most are working, so I just at a loss. Thank you to those of you who offered constructive criticism and advice.

Edit: I was referring to the other boy when I was talking about the strange clothes and bad attitude. He does look a bit goth and wears the same outfit day after day. His Mom has told me that he actually has five pairs of the same pants and shirts. I don't know if it's a good idea to encourage the friendship, but I guess I have to. My son has told me that he doesn't have any other friends. He says he will try to tell the 'friend' a story and he will cut him off and say "negative". He just could do so much better than this boy. Thanks again for taking the time to help a fellow Mom out.

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answers from Eugene on

He's 9 years old. This is the best time for him to study music. Help him to decide what instrument he's going to learn and then take him to class weekly and see to it that he practices. As he learns the instrument and music it will build his confidence.
He will in less than a year be able to play with other kids if he wants or to be a soloist who enjoys hearing his music.
Take him to concerts and to hear professionals play the instrument he is learning. CD's and experience will help him find himself through music.
One summer my grandson took private lessons. When we showed up at the teacher's house he asked my grandson whether he wanted to learn classical or jazz. He said jazz. That's what he did all summer. He had been with that instrument for a year at that point. Prior to that he had learned another for a year when he realized it wasn't the right instrument for him.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Clearly this other kid needs a friend too and they have both found acceptance with one another. It sounds like you have taught your son "right from wrong" and with those core values he will make good choices. The good in your son will also rub off on his friend, it goes both ways. Trust in your son and continue to love, support and reinforce the right thing...it's a winning combo. The majority of kids that have these things growing up come out on top and don't give in to sex, drugs and rock n' roll. The swearing IS not a very desirable thing to us parents, but common to hear at that age. He's just trying to fit in and do what is acceptable or "cool" to others. Remember, our jobs are to guide and love, not to judge or dictate. I'm not saying you're doing that now, but it sounds like you're around the corner from that. Has he tried guitar lessons, martial arts (Krav maga is pretty fun), swimming for water polo/diving/relays, art (college evening campus or community). It sounds like he needs some social guidance, and if you have a similar personality (shy) you could enroll him in a Social Skills Group. I just did a search for your area and the first one that came up was www.befriended.org. Check it out, it will be worth the investment. Good luck to you.

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answers from Washington DC on

YIKES!! Some mamas have been harsh!! And people on here call ME mean?! WOW!!! Sorry - guess some mamas are forgetting the compassion they say we need to have!!!

Get your son enrolled in a martial arts class - Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Juditsu, etc. - these things REALLY do increase self-esteem and help a child see their potential.

Please give the boy some slack who is standing by your son right now. You never know - your son may be rubbing off some good behavior on him. Invite him over to your home. Get to know him. Show him the way expect a young man to behave.

Are you relating not liking sports to being gay? There are MANY sports figures that are gay. So don't do that.

If you think your son lacks confidence, then speak to the school counselor and see if they can talk with him. Give him someone 'safe' to talk to...don't judge him and don't "guess" his sexual orientation.

If this were my son? I would start doing more things with him and a friend or two...get him involved in things and hobbies. And TALK with him. Don't come out and say drill him - start with how was your day? anything special happen? can I tell you what happened to me today? COMMUNICATE with him!!!

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Have you asked your son why he likes this boy and wants to hang out with him? Can you also provide us with some examples of how he is not a 'nice boy' - I think that would help us determine if he really is a bad influence beyond the language and "weird clothes".

Really, at 9 - your conversations with your son should be about guiding him to make his own decisons and having him start putting 'thought' behind why is making the choices he is making of who he hangs out with, what clothes he wears etc.

Your title indicates there are some bullying issues? You don't go into that in your post.... is there more going on?

They did a HUGE self-esteem study a couple years ago and it pretty much said that the only real way to increase self esteem is to put kids in situations where they can solve a problem or complete a task well, based on their interest and strength levels. In the study they had one group in a "self-esteem" class where they had to list all the good things about themselves and each other. The other group did math problems or participated in a cooking lab. At the end of the 6 month study.... the kids in the 'classes' where they established a pattern of successful completion of tasks or problems had jumped in self esteem WAY above the other group.

So - I agree with the mom who asked to find out what he DOES like? If he's not athletic, would he want to learn to play the guitar? Or join a youth group? Or a fishing club? Reading club?

Helping your child adjust is no trickier than just helping him feel good about whoever he is.... regardless of who that turns out to be. So, if he feels like he "should" be in sports but he's not... that will make it harder for him to love and accept who he is (or who he will turn out to be)... etc etc.

Rather than start with the counselor, I would start with his teacher. he teacher sees his behavior on a daily basis and will be able to tell you if she's seen a change since he began to spend time with this one new friend. She can also be on the lookout for this other boy who told him no one likes him. Sometimes the teacher can be a much more valuable resource than the counselor.

Good luck!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Wow. I'm sorry but I've gotta say that I'm sorry your son is not fitting into your idea of what YOU consider "normal" And as the mother of a soon to be 9 year old boy, it makes me sad that you are so quick to judge the kid that has helped your son to stay afloat in a hostile environment. You know, all those "weird clothes and strangeness"? You're kind of acting like a bully yourself.
And because he's not into sports--he's gay and needs help coming to terms with that? Not all boys are "into" sports!
My son is almost 9 and I can assure you, he knows what "gay" is, but I highly doubt he could express if he is or is not at this age.
So, how about looking for some redemption in your son's buddy?
How about reaching out to your son's friend and getting to know him?
How about teaching YOUR kid NOT to use swear words no matter who says it's OK?
How about asking your son IF there's a problem and if HE would like to talk to the counselor? What I am reading in your post is that you have decided he is gay and needs help coming to terms with that.
What you ought to be focusing on is ways to increase your son's social involvement through the avenues he has right now. And ways to expand it. A Lego club, AV team, scouting, martial arts, music--there's lots of other things besides heterosexual baseball and soccer, you know!
Teach him (through role playing) to make strong "I" statements when he feels he's being picked on or bullied.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Charlotte on

I've read the other responses on this thread, and I've read your question through twice. Maybe I'm not reading your post in the same way others are, but I read the remark about the weird clothes and strangeness to be about this boy who is influencing your son. Ladies, I don't think that she is saying that her son wears weird clothes and is strange.

Regardless of who is most likely Mr. Goth here, kids try to find an identity that sets them aside from others, IF they either don't want to fit in with the majority or if they CAN'T fit in with the majority. You've seen the comic "Zits", right? The boy's friend wears all the body rings all over himself and has the weird hair. You may be concerned that your son hangs with this boy because he may be gay, but it might just be that this boy has sought your son out because your son is willing to accept him for who he is, rather than reject him like other kids.

I have to say, with your son on the young side in 4th grade, and with a compliant personality, this kind of stuff is going to happen. Not every child has confidence and not every child is a leader. You are his best friend in the realm of getting him to find confidence in himself so that he won't be led down the wrong path. You mention that you put a stop to him swearing - did you sit down with the other boy and talk about it with him? Have you tried to "mother" the pair, or has your son walked away from the friendship? You can't prevent them from being friends at school behind your back, so perhaps it's better to try to manage the friendship than outright ban it.

I know that a lot of boys in certain schools are funneled into sports. Not every school is alike in this regard, and I don't know what yours is like. However, the ladies are right in that not all boys are interested in sports. It is good for you to get him into something that helps him develop his body and a regard for group activities. I agree with trying to get him into some area of martial arts. Some kids hate getting thrown to the mat, so do your homework and find one that you think your son can stomach.

As far as the gay thing is concerned, there is a reason you said it, and lots of people are jumping to conclusions about why. I don't know that you saying it has anything to do with him not being in sports, or if he is a bit effeminate, or what. We're not privy to what your son is like, and you don't tell us enough here. So I just want to say that the best thing you can do is love him and guide him in regards to taking care of his body, just as if the thought that he is gay hadn't crossed your mind. Start teaching him the facts of life, telling him how important it is to respect his body.

I would not tell the school counselor that you think maybe that he might be gay. You don't want a counselor who is biased against gays to approach him with that in mind. (Yes, there are counselors who would do that, just like there are teachers and principals who would.)

Other than what I have said, and I'm sorry this is so long, I would get your son involved in out-of-school activities as much as you can, that don't interfere with his studying. This way he will meet a lot of different people and can start widening his world in terms of meeting friends. If you can, have "get togethers" at your house, pizza night, s'mores night (or Saturday afternoons), movie night, etc. Never only invite just 2 people - 3-somes don't work well because two people end up hanging and the 3rd person (your son, maybe) is left out. You need at least 5. Having a good time with this will give your son confidence, and eventually he'll have a bigger group.

If he can sing and join the choir, those kids are great to tap for this. Also, when he gets to the point that kids are doing some acting, he can help build sets, and get to be friends with the theatre kids. Those types tend to be outgoing and want to do stuff together. And they love kids who will take the time and effort to build sets or work lights. It takes a big team to do this and the actors don't have the vehicle to act if someone isn't building sets and doing lights, so they don't look down on those kids. I doubt you have this in elementary school, but you probably will in middle school, so keep this in mind.

Good luck, with this Mama. If you help him through this, he'll have less of a chance falling in with a "bad" crowd, and perhaps you'll also be helping this other boy to not be a bad apple.


6 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

A couple of random thoughts for you....

Different families have different attitudes toward swear words. The mom of my college boyfriend had an unbelievable potty-mouth but was also an uncommonly loving, dedicated mom. She said something like (I'm forgetting the phrasing), "This is the tongue God gave me, and G*d**it, I'm going to use it." Her son wound up being a smart, interesting guy, he apparently just swore like a sailor from a young age. So swearing, all by itself, can mean different things to different people. From your post, I get the impression that this one kid is your son's social mainstay, and it's really important to have that. There are a lot of "wrong paths" out there, and a kid who's cut off from his only close friend can be at risk for severe isolation and depression. I say, grit your teeth and put up with this other kid.

More generally, if he isn't into sports, so what? What IS he into? Does he play an instrument? Interested in art, or science? Big Harry Potter fan? Whatever it is, try to find him a network of other kids with the same interests, even if they go to different schools. Ask your local librarian, his music teacher, whoever is relevant, for recommendations.

Best wishes, and sorry to ramble,


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answers from Minneapolis on

Don't assume because he's not a jock that he's gay! It sounds like he has enough problems already. Labeling or jumping to conclusions without proof can make things worse. If he's not saying he's gay, then he probably isn't.

I personally think going through a school counselor should be the last resort. Privacy is important. Get a private therapist and keep school out of it unless he is in danger at school. He'll be better off and will have more options to change and blossom in the future, if he can tackle problems away from the place that seems to be the source of all of his problems.

Seriously consider changing schools. Sounds like the environment there isn't very good. New surroundings may do wonders. He might even thrive better homeschooling. He'll meet a different caliber of kid if you participate in programs and join a co-op or support group.

Sports are important to homeschoolers, but so are academic pursuits and cultivating genuine friendships. The kids are usually more empathetic and less driven by peer pressure, trendiness and competition. And things like athletics and striving to fit in with the pack aren't so important for day to day survival. Just some food for thought.

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answers from Portland on

I volunteered for playground duty and I take exception to your statement that most boys are into sports. Most boys are not into sports. Both boys and girls run around on the playground a lot. Both boys and girls, in nearly equal numbers play games such as kick ball. I don't consider that a sport, tho.

And I wonder why you would think he's possibly gay. He's quiet, doesn't make friends and stays pretty much to himself. Nothing there indicates gay. The opposite of not being in sports for a boy is not gay. Is a girl, who is into sports, gay.

I suggest that you stop thinking of him in stereo types and encourage him in doing things that he enjoys. I would plan play dates with peers so that he can have opportunities to learn how to play with others.

Good that you're talking with the school counselor. (S)he will have ideas for you. Perhaps (s)he could arrange to have a friendship group in which kids who do have difficulty making friends could be helped. My daughter and granddaughter were in one and it helped their self-esteem.

Later after reading others' responses. At 9, children are not sexually attractive to each other. Boys naturally hang with boys. Girls have "cooties." Nine year olds are not yet aware of sexual feelings. Sexual identity is not an issue at this age.

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answers from Boca Raton on

Yet another reason why I love homeschooling . . . there is less of a push to "fit in" and more acceptance of the kids with each other. For one thing, the kids are socialized by their parents and families (which is how it has been done through the ages until about the last 150 years) - which tends to increase empathy skills imho. And, because they don't spend all day, every day with each other, homeschoolers tend to appreciate it more when they do get together with their friends.

Are all homeschoolers perfect? No, of course not. But, after being in traditional school for many years, we have had a GREAT experience with homeschooling - on so many levels.

As far as possibly being gay, I would not worry about that yet. I think it's great that you would accept and love your son no matter what.

Good luck, and I hope you can find some good solutions for your son.

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answers from Chicago on

Bottom line we as parents need to do our best to help our kids and protect them. I personally don't think a 9 year old should be swearing. If you don't like the other boy that is a poor influence then your son should have limited contact with him.
You have to be honest with your son. I am sorry "Johnny" but you can't play with "Timmy" because he is affecting your behavior and you are using bad words and have a bad attitude etc...etc.. Some kids go through an awkward social stage and are late bloomers. Be sure you are channeling his interests and keeping him involved in succeeding in school. Let's face it he may never have a love of sports but loves to play the piano and debate club. etc. If he is being teased definitely talk to the counselor.

I dare say that bullying and teasing happen for a variety of reasons, not just because you're gay. Don't assume he is by the way. Look at Karate. That builds confidence and discipline.

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answers from Seattle on

i agree with Dawn below, but just wanted to add a note b/c my sister was really shy (still is). its hard in school to be shy or different. sometimes school friendships/alliances are ppl who help you get thru it- not necessarily ppl you are really like and have a deep connection with. but friends still have a lot of influence, and when you only have a few friends and are not a strong/leading personailty, its important who they are.
i think you are right to be concerned about the influence this boy is having. i would reiterate it is important to try and provide him more places/activities (music (classical, rock, other), youth groups, martial arts/golf/tennis/swimming/distance running or other non-team type sports, art, photography, cooking, drama (behind the scenes) volunteer opportunities, etc) that suit his personality/interests and give him a chance to meet other friends that might also be a more quiet or reserved personality type.
for the current friend, stay or get involved with their friendship enough to see if he's just another kid in a tough spot who is trying to be 'cool' or impress your son or others by swearing, etc, or if he is troubled on a more serious level and you need to do more.
good luck.

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answers from Seattle on

I haven't read all of the other responses but wanted to throw my two cents in with regard to this other boy being a bad influence... I think your best chance at helping your son lays in also helping this other kid. Chances are they both feel estranged from the groups at school (one for being shy, the other for being different) and they've found acceptance with each other. Why take that acceptance away from either of them?

Take some time to get to know this other kid and see what makes him tick. Is he acting out because his life at home is messed up and he simply needs better role models? Is he struggling to get some attention from the other kids at school and thinks that being a "bad kid" is the same as being "cool."

Find ways to help them both feel successful at something, like getting them involved with some volunteer work at an animal shelter, or maybe working on a Habitat for Humanity house with you. See if they could volunteer to read to the kindergarteners at school, or at the library, or help the art teacher with a special project.

And above all else, talk to your son non-stop about what you think is OK with regard to how he should treat people, and how he wants to be treated. Remind him that it's not only OK but necessary to tell his friends that he doesn't like swear words, or hitting, or fill in the blank... Explain to him that sometimes people do things to get attention and that it's OK for everyone to feel like they need or want this attention sometimes, but that there are better ways to get noticed.

Talk with him openly now and you should be able to keep the conversation open as he's growing and facing tougher situations ahead. And above all, let him know that you love him unconditionally, no matter who his friends are or what he likes to do.

Good luck and don't stress too much mama! If you're confident that he'll find his way in this world, he will be confident too.

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answers from Portland on

From the title of your post, your concern seems to be that your son is being teased and bullied and you are looking for proactive ways to make your son feel less shy, more confident and more integrated with a peer group. That is a huge and tall order and I admire you for taking this key step. I am an educator and my hairs bristle whenever I hear about bullying. First and foremost, I think engaging your son's teacher and/or an administrator is important. Bullying should never be tolerated and most schools have active anti-bullying programs in place. No child should be teased or bullied and he/she should feel safe at school. Secondly, speaking with a counselor to brainstorm ways to build your son's self-confidence and peer circle can be a very positive step. If either of these meetings do not result in positive ways, keep pushing or venturing into other avenues. The sooner a plan is put into place, the better. You want your son's education to go down a positive path. Finally, assess your son's strengths and interests. You may have a mother's intuition about your son's sexual orientation and this can inform your plan to show him that you love him unconditionally whether or not this is true. The fact is that teens most likely to commit suicide are usually gay teens, a fact that truly saddens me. In hearing students speak about why they ventured away from the idea of suicide, it generally was their ability to recognize unconditional love from a loved one. Whatever your son finds interesting whether it is sports, music, chess, or whatever---- encourage him and create the opportunity to make it happen. My daughter is the product of an abusive marriage. I wanted her to have something she could call her own and feel self-confidence in. She asked to play violin and has done so for three years now. There are times she wants to give up, but I push her to move forward because she has been able to achieve a sense of resiliency, constancy, and a community of violin friends at her studio that she might not have had otherwise. I wish you the very best. You are obviously a very loving and wonderful mother. Please keep us informed. Take care!

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answers from Portland on

Martial arts might be a way to help your son build confidence and boost his self esteem. Look for one that focuses on defense and the art of self defense. Some TaeKwon Do do jangs are really good at this, some are more into the sport of martial arts. Tae Chi might be good, it will help improve coordination, confidence, self control, etc. And the nice thing about most martial arts, they also focus on respect of self and others. Some will have kids get signed reports from parent and teachers before testing or promotion, making sure they are keeping up their grades.

Maybe this is something both of the boys could do together. It might be a way to help them both at the same time, give them something in common, learn that respect is not just something mom drills in, build confidence and control.

Just try to reinforce your rules with consistancy and let the other boy know that when he is at your house, he follows your rules (if there is a problem), usually gentle reminders for other kids are enough when they are at your place.

Good luck to you.

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answers from Portland on

I think it is so important to realize that your son might need some intervention early on or he might go down the wrong path, and you seem to be doing this right now. While you cannot force your son to not hang out with this kid, you can encourage him to do other things, where he might meet other people. See if there is some group your son might be interested in joining and encourage him to do so. Keep trying until something sticks. There are many kids in this world who are different, thank goodness! I think the key is giving them the confidence they need and the opportunity to meet other kids who they can feel comforatable with.



answers from Anchorage on

I would first put a stop to your son being friends with this other boy who is being a bad influence on him. I would have put an immediate stop when the swearing began - never would I let that 'friendship' go on. I would also contact the parents of this bad kid, and let them know what their son has been doing, and what a bad influence he is on other kids (not that the parents would even care, they may be as bad as their own kid, but at least you put it out there). I would get my son into martial arts, whether he liked it or not. You say each child is going to do some physical sport (mandatory) and you chose his. In martial arts he will build confidence, strength and feel more powerful. He will attract better friends with his new confidence, and won't need to hang out with the loser kids in desperation for anyone.

I would highly doubt your son is gay at 9, I find that hard to believe, especially based on what you wrote. You could always bring him to a child therapist who will talk to him about everything in private, and maybe shed light on things that he has not shared with you. Also this therapist could maybe help him with his shyness and help him also feel more confident, he probably is not having much support, and has no one to help him with this, so I think this might be a good thing. What does your son like ? Find out his interests ? Does he like acting - sign him up for drama classes or to act in a community show. Does he like art ? Sign him up for an art class. Does he like animals ? Maybe a horseback riding class. I also think having him play an instrument will help with all of these issues. There are many ideas that are not sports that he could not only find a new circle of friends, but build his self esteem in an area that is interesting to him.

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