'My heart almost broke': Mum's anguish at bullying of son, 5
My heart almost broke right there on the spot. After all, this 'meanie' never should have been hurting him to begin with.
PAINTING pictures, learning letters and numbers, creating beautiful pieces of art. Meeting new friends, playing games together, fun-filled, happy days. These are the kind of thoughts that spring to mind when we think of the early days of kindergarten.
None of us would ever dream that our children could encounter bullying in their first days of school, but the sad reality is, it happens.
It happened to my son. He is only five years old, and when I think about what he went through during the first weeks of term this year, it still just blows my mind. I had no idea anything was wrong for the first two weeks. But as the days went by, my son's attitude began to change.
His confidence that we had worked so hard to build up during his preschool years was all but gone, he had reverted to hiding behind my legs around other people, the shy and timid child he had been as a toddler.
He became quiet and reserved, so somber for a boy who had been so excited and ready for kindergarten. I couldn't work out why he was acting this way.
Though my son expressed a new and unexpected dislike for school, I presumed this was due to the massive change of now being at school Monday to Friday. Little did I know, it was much, much worse than that.
One night before bed, he opened up and told us what had been happening. There was a boy in his class who was picking on him every single day, any chance he could. He would kick him at circle time on the mat, scribble on his work, call him names.
Every time my son would go to the toilet, this same boy would kick him and punch him in his private parts, and try to push him over while he was using the urinal. I'm sorry, WHAT? This child is doing WHAT to you?!
The next morning, I arrived bright and early to speak to his teacher before class.
As far as I was concerned, this was an urgent matter that needed to be addressed immediately. My son was not safe at school, and the fact this had gone on since the very first day without her even noticing and putting a stop to it was very concerning to me.
She promised that she would speak with the boy later, and in my naivety I believed the problem would be solved with some strict teacher direction. When I picked my son up that afternoon, he was so happy because, as he said, "the meanie didn't hurt me today!"
My heart almost broke right there on the spot. After all, this 'meanie' never should have been hurting him to begin with. I was hopeful this would be the end of his troubles, and he could now move on with kindergarten feeling safe and cared for.
But the next day, somehow it had imploded and become even worse. The bully had two friends now, and they had become a "meanie gang".
When your five-year-old son tells you this, trust me when I say you feel ever so powerlessly filled with sorrow and rage. How could the teacher be letting this happen, I wondered? I had managed to keep my child safe from harm for the last five years, what kind of environment had I blindly sent him into?
I had spent months pondering what school to send him to, and in the end I chose to send him to the very same primary school that I went to as a child.
I had such fond memories of my own childhood there. I had always felt safe, secure and supported, but it was 25 years ago that I graced those hallways. I quickly came to find that schools can change, and not always in a good way. Despite the beautifully manicured grounds and bright classrooms, despite the talk of high quality learning and education, there was something missing. A shred of humanity, perhaps?
A dash of kindness? It's one thing to have murals on the walls depicting a 'No Bullying' environment, but they lose their meaning and value when the teachers do nothing but turn a blind eye to nasty, abusive behaviour from their students.
The teacher was shocked to see me again the next morning, as she thought the problem had been solved. She would have another word with them all today, she told me. I'm not sure what words she used, but whatever they were they were useless. Nothing had changed.
This boy was reaching up under my son's crossed legs to touch him inappropriately when no one was looking. This same boy was grabbing and punching at my son's private parts while he was at the toilets.
If this kind of behaviour happened in the workplace, you'd be charging that person with sexual assault and you'd be off on compensated leave. I'd love to know where this boy learned his ways? I know kids will be kids, but what was happening was on another level that was extremely concerning.
I have always taught my children to treat others how they want to be treated. If they wouldn't like someone to take their belongings or hurt them, for example, they shouldn't do that to others.
This simple direction has helped to teach them empathy, and it helps them understand how to behave as civilised young humans. My son was shocked and confused that people could even be so mean, when he'd done nothing at all to them. He had never before realised how cruel people could be.
These boys stole my son's hat, made him chase them around to get it back for his entire play break, then smashed his head into the brick wall hard enough to leave a bruise when he finally got it back from them.
You read that right. He is FIVE. This is the kind of behaviour you'd imagine in a movie about high school dramas - never did I dream this kind of behaviour would be happening in KINDY!!
There was a photo added to social media that day by the school, it showed all the kindergarten kids enjoying their lunch together. There, in the background of the picture, sat a boy, eating all alone away from the other children. That was my son.
I asked the teacher that afternoon if I should be worried he was isolating himself, and she blatantly lied and told me he was sitting with a friend who happened to wander off as the picture was taken. When I asked my son, he told me he had sat there alone because he liked to sit alone.
My poor little man was utterly miserable, worried and scared to find out what the bully and his friends were going to do to him next, and it seemed his teacher couldn't care less.
We didn't send him to school the next day. We couldn't. Instead, we went to the public school in our suburb, and we spoke with the principal there.
We told her what had been happening at the other school, and the mortified look on her face was a welcome relief for me that someone else realised this kind of behaviour wasn't acceptable.
"Oh my no! Kindergarten should be a special, happy time for the children!" Finally! Someone with a soul.
When we went to see the other principal to let him know we would be pulling our son out, he was so uncaring, unbothered and blasé. He had nothing to say on the matter, it was clear he didn't want to deal with the issue. It would be much easier for him if we left.
This principal, who had seemed ever so intimidating to me as a child, had nothing of value to say. His lack of support and care were best displayed by his words, "sometimes a fresh start is best!" What was kindergarten supposed to be if not a fresh start?
At the end of the day, I know I have to accept that the world isn't all sunshine and roses. It's likely that over the years, my children will come across bullies again. The real problem was the teacher's lack of care, pretending it wasn't a big deal when it clearly was. Had she dealt with it in the first instance, I would have never had to move my son to a different school.
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Sometimes there's no denying the red flags we see, though. If things were this awful and stressful in the first 15 days of school life, I can only imagine the stress that attending there for years on end would have brought to our entire family.
I can only hope that my kids will go on to have kind and caring teachers who have their best interests at heart as the years go by.
Since starting at his new school, my son has thrived. He has made new friends, he enjoys learning about lots of new things, and he loves school again. His happiness has returned, the sparkle is back in his eye.
Thankfully his confidence has soared up and away to new heights, and he is no longer hiding behind me anymore. I truly believe having a kind and supportive teacher has had a lot to do with that.
Thank you to all the teachers out there who take the time to care for our children like they are their own. We parents notice you, and we appreciate you more than you might ever realise.