I believe that the term "bullying" is over-used. Often the term is used to describe childhood behaviors that are maybe unpleasant but fleeting and not harmful. Everyone gets teased, and doesn't like it, at some point in their life. Everyone has hurt another's feelings both purposefully and accidentially. In fact, experiencing these kind of situations from both the receiving and the giving side are a part of growing up into an empathetic and socially adept person.
However, when a child causes another to repeatedly experience humiliation, taunting, damages their self-esteem, and disrupts the learning process at school, then it is probably considered bullying.
My boys have never experienced this kind of behavior directed at them, until last year. My youngest son unfortunately had what was a casual friendship turn nasty. And he did everything wrong in trying to handle it on his own. By the time I figured out what was going on, it just couldn't be stopped and all we could do was anxiously await the end of the school year.
What did he do wrong in trying to deal with this verbal bully on his own?
He tried physical retaliation. It worked, sort of, but he got in trouble.
He tried turning the verbal abuse back on to the bully. It didn't work, and he got in a lot of trouble for swearing.
He tried toughing it out. This also didn't work. In refusing to ask for help from an adult, he got in trouble again. And his frustration with the inequity of the situation was so disheartening that he wasn't paying much attention to learning.
It's really hard to figure out what is really going on when you are not witness to the events. And it is even harder to figure out what to do about it. I never made the assumption that my child was completely innocent. But as summer started and he began to recover, I realized it was an experience that deeply affected him.
My son had a fantastic summer, and it was my hope that with some maturity on both sides of the equation, the bullying would go away. Well, it hasn't. But the good news is that my son is handling it so much better that I would consider it to be taunting, rather than bullying.
What is he doing right this time?
Well, first of all he and this other child have minimal time together during the day. That's a good thing.
He is not reacting emotionally to the taunts and is able to reflect an insult back. When told his face looks ugly, he replied with a smile, "Oh don't worry, I'm sure you will go through puberty someday too."
He is able to see the situation with a bit more perspective. And he has the support of some friends. When you are eleven years old that can mean almost as much as the support from your parents.