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How a 5-Year-Old Handled a Bully

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(Heather Olson, a program facilitator at Brain Highways, is our guest blogger for this post.)

We can teach kids how to "take care of business" . . . at any age.

At Brain Highways, we teach the families something we call “taking care of business.”  When we take care of business, it results in the polar opposite of feeling like a victim.

So, of course, I have also been teaching Tegan, my 5-year old son, how to take care of business.

This recently came to light with an 8-year-old in our neighborhood (who we’ll call Z for the purpose of this post) who has bullied many kids in the neighborhood, including Tegan.  Yet, this very same child was also the one who helped my son learn to ride his bike for the first time—which was most likely a glimpse of who that child really is.

However, about a month after that act of kindness, Tegan started to cry as I was putting him to bed one night. He said that he didn’t want to play with Z any more.

When I asked why, he couldn’t really articulate a reason.  I assured Tegan that he didn’t have to play with Z, even without a reason (noting to myself that I could clearly come up with many).

But the next time Z came to the door, Tegan was all up for playing—as though he had completely forgotten the prior sadness and angst from interacting with this child.

Yet, last week when I called home to say I was just leaving the Brain Highways Center, my husband told me there had been another incident with Tegan and Z.  That day, Z had pushed Tegan off his bike.  Tegan hadn’t responded. He had just gotten back up and kept riding. But then Z told my husband that Tegan had called him an idiot.

Tegan had tried to stand up for himself. He kept telling my husband, “No, I didn’t. Z, you called me an idiot.” My husband said that Tegan was devastated and desperate for him to believe that Z did the name-calling.

Tegan has never lied to us about anything, so there was no way we didn’t trust him on this.

When I arrived home, Tegan was so cute. He quickly pulled me into his room and shut the door. He wanted privacy as he told me what happened.

Tegan really couldn’t understand why Z would push him off the bike or lie.

I asked a lot of questions. For example, how did Tegan feel about all this? He said that he was mad at Z. I responded that, unfortunately, there are lots of people– of all ages–like Z. I shared that I thought there must be something missing in Z’s heart for him to act that way.

So, with that in mind, I suggested that we might be more sad than mad at Z.  However, I pointed out that while we don’t have the power to change Z, we can decide how we want to respond.  For example, we don’t have to spend time with people who say and do things that are hurtful to us.

It was such a sweet, honest conversation.  At the end, we role-played (which is part of the taking-care-of-business approach) what Tegan could do if Z asked him to play.

Tegan immediately felt empowered. It was as though a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. And I too, felt empowered for having helped him behind the scenes (another primary component of taking care of business).

Tegan actually wanted to go over to Z’s house—right then–and tell him what he had practiced saying. At first I thought, “Wow, now that’s really taking care of business!” (In truth, that probably would have been even more courageous than what I would even do.)

But, I was uncertain and concerned how Tegan’s taking care of business approach would be perceived by Z’s dad. But most importantly, this was between Tegan and Z. So, I nixed that plan.

Actually, I wasn’t even sure that Tegan would ever have a chance to talk to Z because my husband admitted that he “kinda laid into Z” that night.

But it turns out  . . .  my husband’s response had little impact on Z.  Sure enough, Z came by the next afternoon to see if Tegan wanted to play.

As soon as Tegan knew Z was at the front door, he immediately jumped off the couch, excited, waving me away from the door, saying, “Mom, I got this.”

He didn’t want anyone listening to the upcoming conversation, so he actually stepped outside–and closed the door behind him!

I confess that my own heart was pounding loudly as I pressed my ear as firmly as possible to try and hear what was being said.

Tegan was clearly nervous with his delivery as he said that he didn’t want to play with Z any more. When Z asked why, Tegan responded that he didn’t like being pushed off his bike.

Then I heard Z say, “But I won’t do that again” to which Tegan replied, “But how do I know?”

Z answered, “But I won’t.”  To which Tegan answered, once again, “But how do I know?”

(This was feedback to me that we didn’t role-play enough the part about not being able to trust Z and how Z might earn back that trust.)

When Tegan came back inside, I asked how it went. He looked like a kid . . .  who had just taken care of business! There was confidence radiating from his entire being.

Since then, we’ve role played a few more ideas of how Tegan might respond if Z returns, but so far, he has not.

I do feel badly for Z. Everyone in the neighborhood talks about him, and no one believes that his or her kids are safe around him.

So, I’m thinking that the next round of taking care of business will be to brainstorm with Tegan what Z may be needing and wanting.

That too, is part of taking care of business. Namely, we’re most likely to get our needs met when we also understand what others want and need. My guess is . . .  Z hasn’t yet experienced what a true friendship feels like and doesn’t know how to go about connecting with others in a way that results in positive interactions.

But since we’re not mind readers (as part of the taking care of business approach), we often ask the other person questions to get more clarification. For example, Tegan might ask Z: Do you want to be friends with me?

If Z says, yes, then Tegan could follow with: You know, I really liked when you helped me ride my bike, and I felt like we were friends then. But I didn’t feel like we were friends when you pushed me off my bike and called me an idiot. So, can we make some rules about how friends act when they’re with each other—and then, can we stick to those rules?

Of course, there are no guarantees of a specific outcome when we take care of business—and that’s never even the goal. Rather, it’s to shine the spotlight on ourselves, deciding what we might do in order to move forward in undesirable situations—while also keeping in the forefront of our mind that the person who has upset us is also needing and wanting something.

So, I’ll make a prediction: I’m thinking that there will be a situation in the very near future where Tegan will be the one prompting my husband or me to take care of business. That’s because at 5-years-old, Tegan is already way, way ahead of the game.

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