My Son, The Bully?

By Meika Rouda

I got that call the other day, the one mothers hate to get, the one from the director of the school saying “Nothing urgent, your son is fine but do give me a call, there is something I would like to discuss with you.” This isn’t good. She isn’t calling to say what an amazing child you have, she is calling because your son did something inappropriate and it is worth bringing to your attention. I called her back and she told me what happened. She was calm and didn’t think it was a big deal, she knows my son well, but she thought it a good idea for me to know so I could talk to him about it at home.

Apparently during nap time, my son told a girl new to his class to “go pee in your bed.” There was no touching or anything physical just a mention of a bad idea. He is known to be full of bad ideas, like this one, usually to do with urine or flushing things like Barbies down the toilet. He told another friend to pee all over his sister’s bed and, well, the boy did it. Or another friend to pee on the slide at the park -again, the boy did it. My son never participates in the act of course, he just tells other people to do things they shouldn’t. I have spoken to him about it several times but he is mischievous and apparently likes to see what he can get his friends to do. I don’t know how I feel about this trait but I think he is just testing boundaries and seeing what he can and can’t get away with.

So he had this suggestion for the new girl who was upset by his request. So upset that she didn’t nap, avoided my son all day and told her mom after school who called the teacher and the director of the school. I don’t think my son is a bully but I am not sure. I think because he was so late to potty train, he has anxiety about his body functions (especially before nap) and was probably seeing if this girl wet the bed then he wouldn’t worry if he did.

Anyway, this girl was very, very upset and when I tried to talk to my son about what had happened -how we don’t ask other people to do things with their bodies, especially when they say they don’t want to -he just shut down and said ” I don’t want to talk about it.”
I know he was talked to at school and probably rehashing what had happened wasn’t what he wanted to do but I was hoping to get to the root of why he asked the girl to do this. Was it because he needed to go to the bathroom before nap but didn’t want to ask the teacher? Did he just want to see if she would do it? Did he wet his bed? But when I brought it up again, he told me the teacher had already talked to him and he didn’t want to talk about it.

So when does something like this, which I think was innocent testing, become bullying? When the intention is to hurt someone or force them to do something they don’t want to as opposed to bringing up a bad idea and letting them decide to do it or not? Is it if there is a threat involved? Does bullying start this young, at age 4? I am really hoping this isn’t a continuous theme, that the more comfortable my son is with his own body functions and using the potty, this issue will go away but maybe it won’t. Maybe it will be something else. How do we manage bullies, especially if you love and adore them and know they are good kids who just happen to have bad ideas sometimes?


  1. says

    I taught nursery school for many years and this happened all the time. Testing the the other kids was part of the atmosphere. It still happens in as they age a little until the person gets no results. As long as he is reinforced for his bad choices for other people it will not have an impact. I would ask him what punishment he thinks he should have when he does this. Consequences usually stop it in my mind. I will ask Ann Brown to answer as well as she is a parenting teacher.

  2. Tosha says

    I’m no child psychologist, but my mother-gut thinks you shouldn’t worry too much about it being bullying, but I would continue the search you’ve been on to get to the root of why he does this – it’s always related to peeing and others and I think you’re right – it has something to do with his ability (or lack thereof) to completely control his own body in this way (peeing). He might really really feel a struggle with controlling this – not peeing when he’s not “supposed to” –and so he might feel some semblance of control when he can get others to do it at his “command”. Did he have any pressure to potty train early? Like needing to be trained by the time preschool started, etc.? And if he had an accident at school, what was the drill? I’m sure there wasn’t shame involved at his school, but I know some schools are strict about it, others very lax – I know it’s harder for some children – boys especially – so maybe being sure all things potty related are completely, totally relaxed for awhile? And keep stressing the privacy around another person’s body – yours, Daddy’s, other children’s, and most especially – HIS. Let him know he has POWER in this area – but only as to HIS own business – but not in someone else’s. That’s my two cents’ worth. Good luck – I’m sure he’s not a bully, it must feel awful for you to have to think that for even a second.

  3. Tosha says

    PS – I totally get what Madge is saying but I would worry that any kind of consequential language in this realm could backfire – it really feels like a lack of control/power thing to me (which is I guess sometimes the root of bullying behavior) but consequences could make him feel both more powerful (he gets more attention from his request) AND more ashamed (about peeing etc.) I would re-inforce two things: 1) his own control/power over his own body (that means being totally ok with having an accident) AND 2) another person’s right to privacy (he has no right to talk to another person about their own bathroom behavior)

    Ok I’m done. Sorry! (I have a little boy. This issue is near and dear to my heart I guess.)

  4. says

    I don’t disagree with any of the comments but I want to add something:
    We often make the well-intentioned mistake as parents to think that talking about a problem with a child is the solution. I think we do this because – as grownups, especially women grownups – we trust that talking it out does work. With each other – other grownups.

    Young children do not possess the impulse control, however, that is needed to accompany “talking it out.” Honestly, none of us has total impulse control. I mean, I can tell myself on the way to the fridge, “don’t eat all the pizza”; I know, intellectually, that I shouldn’t, but sometimes I just go ahead and eat it anyway. What that tells me is that merely telling myself not to eat it isn’t gonna do the trick.

    I think that children are in danger of losing confidence in their ability to make good choices if we leave them to their (under developed) impulse control. They will fail. And then they will presume they’ll fail. We really want to build upon success, not failure (and its subsequent promises not to do it again. An unhealthy cycle. Which I fall into EVERY time there is pizza in the fridge, btw).

    So, instead, in ADDITION to talking about it with your son, I think there needs to be a sort of safety net for him – a way to help him make better choices. It can look like this:

    “I wonder if the reason you don’t want to talk about what happened is because in your heart, you know that it wasn’t the right thing to do. I know that it can be hard for four year olds to always make good decisions, so your teacher and I will help you because we know you do understand the difference between good decisions and bad decisions. So….”

    Then the “So…” can be completed in any number of appropriate ways. One way could be (just off the top of my head) that from the time the kids get ready for nap, this little boy will be the teacher’s “partner”. The teacher can be around him – not at all in a punitive way – to guide him as he makes good decisions getting ready for nap.

    You can say, “So..your teacher will help you remember about making good choices during nap time.” It can be that simple for starters.

  5. Tosha says

    Oh man, Ann! I love what you wrote here. Love it. Thanks for sharing that insight; I’m going to remember it going forward with Leo in other areas(and wish I had read it about 5 years ago). So weird to read something of yours without any snark or hilarity though! Look at you all grown up and mature!

  6. Meika says

    Thank you for the thoughtful comments. I know that I often over talk with my son, explaining consequences of actions etc. It is just my nature (As Ann suggests!). But with four year olds, less talking is better. Even ignoring negative actions can result in a positive outcome. My parental goal is often to solve things, find answers and many times there are no clear answers and may not be for a long time, if ever. But I will try to remember that I am talking with a four year old, not a thirty four year old. Ann is right, it all comes down to helping them make good decisions and feel confident that they can make good decisions. And that is a tall order we all struggle with, even as adults.

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