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reading tiger

a short note on playground bullies

Today I had a surprising interaction with a playground bully.

April and Simone and various new friends were weaving a wreath into the chain-link fence at Mosswood Park. Apparently they were having some trouble with a boy running in and tearing it apart as they worked. They ran to me to ask for help. I looked up from my perch on the bench, saw a young boy make brief eye contact with me before hopping the fence and running away.

I ambled over to the fence and took up a perch near the wreath.

Soon enough, the boy came back. He tried to hide behind a tree and wait for an opportunity. The other kids kept warning me -- "There he is! Behind the tree!" I said "I see him." I kept quiet but alert watch. He kept peeping around the tree and darting away again. Whatever.

Finally he got a little bolder and stuck his whole head around the tree. To see me looking straight at him.

"I see you," I said. He retreated halfway behind the tree but kept watching me. I kept watching him.

After a minute or so more, I said, "Why don't you stop bothering these kids and find something else to do?"

He stared at me.

"Leave them alone," I repeated. I was quiet but firm. "There's a whole big park here. Go find something else to do."

And he looked behind him, at the whole big park, and ran away.


That doesn'y actually sound like a bully. It sounds like a kid who wants to interact but doesn't know what to do and gets ramped up and random from it. (Bullies act out of actual malice and a desire to exert lasting power over other people, and the things they do are not as primitive as tearing a garland, even at a young age) Either way, stopping him in the process is pretty useful for everybody involved.
Mmm. I differ a little on my definition of bullying (although I also, I admit, usually try not to use "bully" as often any more, because labeling, and I slipped back into old patterns here). I think he was definitely messing with their wreath to exert his power as an older kid, possibly targeting a younger sibling or a friend. I don't think he was doing it out of pure malice. But I think he thought it was funny. And I think he thought it would be even more funny if he could sneak past and mess with it "on my watch," too, except I didn't give him an opportunity.

But I also didn't give him an opportunity to fight. I didn't have the right body language for it -- I was too relaxed (I spent a lot of time playing Solitaire on my phone). I was watchful but not wary. And I talked to him directly without yelling or scolding.

I was still surprised that he just ran away, though.

Edited at 2014-01-03 05:48 am (UTC)
I've had success with older kids doing some tentative messing with my godson in the playground just by making eye contact, looking severe, and shaking my head meaningfully. I've also had some success with older kids who were out of control and being nasty to kids not my godson by telling them directly to stop doing whatever they were doing. I think the element of surprise helped there--they were probably not expected to be accosted firmly by the godmother of a random toddler who was not the victim of their attacks. I agree with you about the calm but firm voice.