In 5th grade, Billy would come home after school and sit in his big comfy chair covered under a blanket, not wanting to talk to anyone. His grades fell. And my bouncy, free loving goofy child was replaced with a blob who was going through the motions of the day. Of course he refused to tell us what was going on. Luckily his best friend’s mom filled me in. Billy was being bullied.
It continued into 6th grade. Kids would make him uncomfortable, and he would try to hide it from me. Only once did it turn physical. Luckily another kid got help before anything happened, but someone started a rumor that Billy won.
Billy was always “confident” in who he is. He doesn’t care if his clothes match or his hair is sticking straight up. He loves to crack really bad (I mean great) jokes and his imagination would give JK Rawlings some competition. But something changed in him when the other kids began ganging up on him.
I’d always thought about Karate, or some type of martial arts. But between piano, Hebrew School, and theatre, the thought of adding something else into the mix didn’t seem like a good idea. Billy loves his computer time and I didn’t want to take that away. But something needed to happen. The night it got physical I drove him down to the ATA studio. He was not happy. “Let’s just go see what it is,” I said. We watched the class and Billy was ready to leave.
To Billy’s tears of frustration and reluctance, I signed him up. “Just four lessons,” I said. Turns out, you sign them up for 6 weeks, 2 times a week. I told him if he hated it after, he could quit.
The first class, he was so mad at me. But as he worked, I saw something stir in him. He felt in control. He was able to be physical without getting in trouble. He began to learn to control his body and with it came his mind. “Mom, I don’t want to tell you I enjoyed it because I don’t want you to do the ‘told you so,’” he told me after class. “But I’ve set a goal to get my Camo belt.”
Something happened after that. At school, the kids picked on him less and less, and others kids started standing up for him.
In Tao Kwan Do, he went from a white belt with no stripes, to an Orange, then a Yellow and recently achieved his Camo! He’s participated in two competitions and placed 2nd and 3rd. And he’s started trying things he was afraid to do. Kids still try to pick on him, but he’s more confident.
The best advice I can share is build your child up. Help them find who they are and to embrace that. Teach them to stand up for other kids and always be the kid they hoped would have been there for them. Now off to hug a child.
The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.