I am having a huge dilemma. Where is the line between typical kid disagreements and bullying?? My soon-to-be 6 y.o. son who has Autism is being bullied by a soon-to-be 5 y.o. NT child. At least, I think so….
Instance #1: If Tate doesn’t comply with with this child’s requests, the other child refers to Tate as “bad”…and asks me why Tate is “bad”, sometimes right in front of Tate. As I watch Tate get embarrassed by this label, and see his anxiety start to flare, I
knee-jerk intervene. I attempt to temper my irritation, and instead, try to explain that Tate isn’t “bad” for not wanting to share his favorite helicopter/move from his favorite spot on the couch/etc. I explain how those things make Tate happy, and calm. I try to impart a lesson about sharing, encouraging Tate to let JD (as I’ll call the child here), use the toy. Or I ask JD to choose another toy for a bit, knowing that Tate will move onto something new quickly.
Instance #2,3,4….10: When the children have been asked/directed to share an object, both kids need verbal prompts to give the object to the other child. Sometimes, during Tate’s turn, and especially if the object is JD’s to start with, JD will take the object back while the supervising adult is preoccupied by another child or conversation. In 50% of these hostile takeovers, JD will hit or otherwise physically dominate Tate. Tate, who has communication difficulties, cannot tell us what happened or why, specifically, he is crying. JD will avoid adult interaction at these times, which, to me, indicates some level of guilt. ( ie, goes and hides, refuses to make eye contact)
Instance #11: JD thinks Jake is pretty cool. Tate knows that Jake is damn awesome. JD wants Jake’s undivided attention. JD tries to manipulate the play situation so that Tate is left out–not that Tate wants to “play” the pretend games, as those are so hard for him to do….but he does want to be in the thick of the action. Often, JD wants to run away from Tate. Jake sometimes goes along with it. Tate runs after them, totally unaware of the social cues. He chases them, but only because he loves to play chase. I, or JD’s mom have to step in to encourage JD to include Tate.
Instance #12: Tate has a few sticks, er, spatulas and straws, that he uses for stimming. Everyone (including JD) knows that these are Tate’s precious commodities. To get a rise out of Tate, JD will pick them up and hold them to get Tate’s attention. Tate gets upset, demanding to get his sticks back. I almost always have to ask JD for the return of the sticks. He will comply, but drops them on the ground for Tate to pick up. It makes my blood boil.
As a result of these behaviors, I have begun to limit exposure to JD. I make sure I am involved and present when the kids are playing. I am always on the lookout for JD and the next move. (Of course, then I wonder if I’m just hyper-sensitive.)
I am a peace-keeper, so when I have mentioned it to Jd’s mom, I only do so when I am really upset by the interaction between our kids. JD’s parents give JD “a talking to”, and make JD apologize, but it is the obligatory apology that kids make, knowing that if they do it, they can keep playing.
We are neighbors…and eliminating all interaction is unlikely. However, Hubz and I are on the same page..and if the interactions continue to deteriorate, we will limit exposure to the bullying more. We have started coaching Jake and Tate on sticking up for themselves, and each other. Jake did a great job protecting his younger brother the other day as the kids played outside. I couldn’t have been prouder when he shouted at JD, “hey, dude, that’s not cool. Tate can play with us, too.”
Protecting our sons from bullies is part of our responsibility as parents. I will do what I can to make sure that Tate and Jake have the right toolbox to deal with bullies (although it is difficult when one (Jake) is a people pleaser and the other (Tate) cannot effectively read social cues and context).
Man, oh man, is this parenting gig brutal at times. These are the moments that near break me…and leave me questioning my parenting abilities.