Stopping Bullying Starts with Kindergarten Lunch

Sending Holden off to school has been a difficult process as a whole; not because he doesn’t like it, and not just because I’m still feeling selfish and want to keep him all to myself- but the adjustment has been a rough go that we still haven’t gotten completely used to.
We have to eat dinner earlier (which is tough to do with Thomas not getting home until after 6 most days), get the boys bathed and into bed earlier, eat breakfast earlier- actually get DRESSED when we wake up instead of getting things done around the house in our PJs until after 9am. Instead of stumbling around the kitchen in a foggy daze, I’m getting myself and two kids ready for the day, making breakfasts, eating, and getting out of the door on a strict schedule.
Parker and I still haven’t found our new routine as just he and I at home. He is bored most of the time, and he talks about Holden a lot. What I thought was a constant annoyance they had with each other clearly had a lot more sentimental value to Parker, because without it, he seems lost. Trying to find a way to fill the day until we get Holden included re-arranging lunch and shortening outside play time and getting bugged the entire time I’m drinking coffee, because we’d typically just have gotten dressed whereas now we’ve been dressed for hours and he’s convinced we should be doing something more productive.

As much as I had started off the school year being worried about what Holden was doing, after he got over not getting to ride the bus- it was smooth sailing. He loved school, he loved his classmates, he loved his teacher- he never complained about anything other than Thomas putting raisins in his lunchbox. He became the least of my concerns. Not that I didn’t miss him or wonder what he was doing all day- but it seemed like he was really excelling, had never received a warning- this whole Kindergarten thing was going to be smooth sailing.

Yesterday was an unusually bad morning. Holden had a giant stick up his ass from the moment he woke up for absolutely no reason at all. I mentioned something about how he was going to need to go to bed earlier if he was going to be such an ass upon waking- and wondered if it would affect his school day. When I dropped him off, though, he was back to his good spirited self- gave me a kiss, and went to sit down at his desk.

Around 11:30 that morning, while I was getting Parker down for a nap, my phone rang. I never answer the phone during this time because that kid takes that as a sign that nap time must be over. I need nap time to keep my sanity. After the last call I got from his teacher praising him, I recognized the number right away. A call during school hours? My stomach dropped. Usually a call during school hours means something not good happened. He got hurt, he got sick, he misbehaved to the point to where they’d call home immediately about it.
 I’d missed the call, so I waited for the message, and shortly my phone blipped that one had been left.

The first few words I heard were “There has been an incident” – the words no parent ever wants to hear.

As the story unfolded, I just started to lose it. Holden had been involved in a fight. A fight. He was FINE, he had ice on his face, but he was fine.
From the message, through my tears, I heard his teacher say that another boy attempted to steal his lunch, that Holden hit him first as to not give it up, and then the boy hit Holden in the face. By the time the lunch moderator (yes, there is just one, for the whole room) got to them, they were “getting into it.”

I was horrified. This is the second week of school and my child has been in a fight, and even though the kid was trying to take his lunch- Holden still hit first. What did this mean? Was my child going to be labeled the aggressor? Was he in trouble?
He’s NEVER been a hitter. I think in his entire life he’s only hit twice, total. How did this happen?

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I was so upset I couldn’t call the teacher back to find out the entire story, so I asked Thomas to, and the version he got was a little bit different than the one left on the message.

This other boy, the one who tried to steal Holden’s lunch? Had been doing it for days. When the time came during lunch yesterday that this little boy tried to take Holden’s, Holden wasn’t having any of it. He did not hit this boy, he pushed him away- and that is when this child slapped mine across the face, scratching him under his eye in the process.
Even typing it makes me tear up because it makes me realize that something beyond my control really did happen. The thing no parent wants to happen: My child was bullied.

Sure, before Holden ever went to school, I’d thought about bullying. Who doesn’t think about it these days? Who doesn’t worry that it will happen to their child?  I guess I never thought it actually WOULD. Not in kindergarten. I thought maybe someone would tell him he had a dumb shirt on, or tease him about how long his hair is… but a kid who has been going around stealing lunches and then comes after mine, only to have a “fight” ensue? That came out of left field for me.

Not only had this happened, but Holden had gotten in trouble for simply defending himself, thanks to the “zero-tolerance policy”. Just a warning, but if it happened again, there would be serious repercussions.

I understand why the policy exists, but at times it seems to be completely unfair to the child only trying not to get hurt. Especially in kindergarten where a child doesn’t really understand what to do when someone walks up and tries to take their food away from them forcibly. How would I ever think to prepare him for something like that?

When I went to pick him up from school, my stomach was in knots. How would he be? Would he be upset, or angry? Would he have questions about what happened? Would he be crying? How would his face look? I knew if he looked like he got beat up, I would absolutely lose my mind right there in the cafeteria, with all the other parents and kids.
Much to my relief, he was fine. His face didn’t look too bad, and he was in high spirits; but I knew we had a lot to talk about concerning the events of the day and how to handle something like this were it to happen again.

As a parent, we try to tell our kids the right thing to do, what follows the rules, but we don’t always agree with those rules. One thing I made sure to let him know was that I was proud of him for standing up for himself; although I also told him that while I knew he felt threatened, the correct response is never to put your hands on another child, even if they are being bad. I told him he should just immediately get up and go and get a teacher, and that is when he says to me “But Mommy, we aren’t allowed to get up during lunch. We have to raise our hands.”
How are you supposed to tell a 5 year old, who has no teacher directly watching over them to make sure this doesn’t happen, that he’s just supposed to let a kid steal his lunch and do nothing about it? That he just has to sit back and raise his hand and hope the one woman looking over an entire cafeteria notices. That if he simply pushes a child who is trying to take his things because saying NO wasn’t enough, he will get in trouble too?
It broke my heart. I want him to follow the rules, but I don’t want him to get bullied because he’s so afraid of breaking one.

I’m not sure what was more horrifying to me, hearing that he may have been labeled a bully, or that he had BEEN the victim of it.
I did the best I could to suck up this anger boiling inside of me for how he was treated because of all of these “rules” I didn’t agree with, instead to tell him that no matter what happened, the right response was never ever to hit back. I also told him that I didn’t care what the rules were, if this happened again- he was to GET UP and go and get someone. Not wait around hoping someone will see his hand in the air.

I know that in the grand scheme of things this isn’t that big of a deal. It was hopefully a one time thing, he’s only 5, and all the kids are still learning and adjusting to a new environment- but it shook me. Being realistic about it, bullying happens ALL the time, to all kinds of people, and all kinds of ages. It happened to me as an adult and it was hard to know what to do, imagine a child.
Prevention of bullying, whether the aggressor or the victim starts at home and the lessons we teach them and the people we mold them to be, so I began to think of the future. What I want Holden to learn, what I think we should be teaching our kids to put a stop to bullying; or at least teaching our children to know what to do if they find themselves in a bully situation.

We should teach children to be kind to others, to understand that everyone comes from different places, and to be accepting of those differences. To be confident enough in themselves not to let others bring them down with hurtful words. To stand up for themselves, but also to know that you have to pick your battles, because some just aren’t worth the fight. Teach them that rules are in place for a reason, and they are important- but sometimes they have to be broken. Most importantly, they need to know that no matter what happens- we will always be there for them.

Posted on September 14, 2012 by Holdin' Holden 24 Comments
Holdin' Holden

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  • Poor Holden…that made me angry for him reading that…we had an incident with my 6 yr old being on the receiving end of some bullying last year…came very close to police involvement, believe it or not because the PARENT refused to give back an item that was taken from my child…it’s ridiculous that this behavior starts this young….i agree with what you said..we need to teach our kids that its never ok to bully and we can only hope that other parents are teaching their children the same lesson..

  • I think that it’s BS that your child got in trouble for any of that. If his lunch had been stolen all week, anyone would get fed up with & a 5 yo is still learning how to deal with emotions. I sure do hope that the bully’s parents had a talking to. Taking lunches & picking on children should be a no tolerance rule, too.

  • Love it! Way to stand up for yourself Holden. And way to handle it, Jenny.

  • Holden only had his lunch stolen yesterday. The rest of the times were other children. I guess none of them fought back, only Holden. You don’t mess with that kid’s food!

  • Two years ago, my oldest son was a victim of bullying. There was a boy in his English class that kept “picking” on him, despite Caleb’s best efforts at letting the teacher know (the teacher just blew it off). So, one thing led to another and one day Caleb was standing by this kids desk BEFORE class, and the kid came up behind Caleb, he said “excuse me” (or so he said, Caleb never heard it). And when Caleb didn’t move, the boy pushed him, well, Caleb having had enough of it, tried to choke the boy. So I told him afterwards, that the next time something like that happens, he should just tell the Assistant Principal (whom I am now on a 1st name basis with), and let him handle it, since the teacher obviously couldn’t be bothered with dealing with it. Caleb and the other boy both ended up suspended for 2 days. And no, we were never informed of the boy picking on Caleb, until after the fact. Caleb is now a freshman in high school, and today, I honestly think he learned his lesson from that. I feel horrible that Holden had to go through something like that 🙁 Hope the rest of his school year goes smoothly!

  • I was bullied as a kid and into adulthood. Two years ago my oldest (he was 7 at the time) was bullied to the point of him wanting to be home-schooled or switching schools. We switched schools and he started taking karate. Two years later he gained enough confidence to return to his old school. The same kid tried to start a fight with him three times already this year. The difference now is Verin stood up to him and said “No more. Not me and not any of my friends.” My problem now, girls calling our house wanting to talk to “Verin, my hero”. *facepalm*

  • My daughter who is now 9 was bullied when she was in second grade. A boy had threatened to kill her and had put his hands around her throat. She asked me of she could switch schools and I asked her why and that is when the truth came out. I was immediately up at the school to speak with the principal. I also had a long talk with her. She is a purple belt in karate and I told her if she felt threatened enough to do what she needed to do to protect herself but in no way was I telling her to just kick his butt because she could. The school dealt with the the other kid and we never had any problems again.

  • what is the school policy on parent volunteers HELPING supervise the lunchroom?? One person is unacceptable for any number over 20 kids, in any state. If you can volunteer, you should also be allowed to take Parker. Schools often allow parents to have lunch WITH their kids on occasion, as long as the cafeteria knows ahead of time for prep. It is unacceptable for Holden to have gotten into any trouble, and I am so pleased that, as sad as it had to have been, you were the mature adult (versus that OTHER parent) teaching your child respect. of course…. if he had held on and MADE the other kid hit first… 😉

  • My stepson just started kindergarten this yr too. last thursday when i picked him up he told me a boy.in his class hit him in the back. i asked if he told the teacher and if the boy got in trouble and he said the teacher saw and yes the other boy got in trouble. But his teacher never mentioned the incident. I even spoke to her the next morning abt something unrelated n she didnt bring it up. I told my husband and he went to talk to the teacher friday afternoon when we picked up my stepson. And the fricken teacher played dumb and acted like she didnt remember! Id understand if it had been a week or something but it was the day before. Smh. im sorry ur boy had to go thru that but it sounds like u handled it well. personally idc what the rules are. if some kid was bullying mine id tell them to hit back. and ill deal w the consequences.

  • I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this! I have 6 kids (yeah, I know, right??) the oldest is 12, then there are 4 others in school, grades k-2. I’ve never had any of them have an incident of bullying until this year. My 7th grader was pushed into a locker by an 8th grader for walking down the ‘wrong’ hallway. And my 8 year old twins got picked on by a boy in their class because they’re twins. (he apparently is a rocket scientist who didn’t notice they are twins for the past few years!) Anyway! I hope Holden scared the crap outta the bully and has a smooth ride. All else fails? find the mother’s car and key it. 😛

  • Good job to you as mother of a kid that has been bullied, and good job to Holden for standing up for himself. Bullying it so prevalent in our society. It is so hard sometimes b/c not all bullying is physical and sadly there are still some educators that think if a child is not being hit, that they are not getting bullied. Hopefully, Holden will not have to deal with it again this year.

  • That sucks. My only suggestion is to raise some hell in the school about the fact your son didn’t think he had a choice but to hit/push.

    And screw their warnings. He was the furthest thing from a violent aggressor, and the school should admit they’re the ones who messed up here when a kid goes around taking other kids’ lunch and no one’s there to stop him.

  • I feel for you and Holden. My eldest started Kindergarten this year as well and on the second day had his juice box taken by another kid. How hard to deal with this at all but in Kindergarten?? Luckily, it hasn’t happened a second time and I made my little guy promise to tell the teacher if it ever does.

  • I was bullied from kindergarten through junior high , to the point where my parents were telling me to fight back! school did nothing…looking back on it now I should have…I have always told my daughter never to lay a hand on anyone first and tell the teacher ect… ,but if they hit or come at you aggressively …kick their ass!you only have to stick up for your self once early in life and it will last til high school…and I have started drilling it into her head to never let anyone else get bullied or watch it happen…if more kids were taught to intervene and not allow their peers to get away with it, it could make a big difference…be proud you raised someone who knew at 5 years old ,he wasn’t gonna let anyone jack his lunch!!!

  • I am insanely curious as to why the school hasn’t intervened with the kid who is stealing lunches? WTF is up with that? I’m so sorry that you have to deal with a school whose policy is to only view bullying as a physical act, and doesn’t look at the whole picture.
    I had a bunch of stresses when my firstborn started kinder last year. The adjustment sucks, and your first couple of paragraphs on it resonated with me!

  • When my daughter started school she was the bully. She has a learning and has grown up with 2 older brothers. It took some doing, but she doesn’t pick on the boys in her class anymore. Now with her special needs we deal with the girls making fun of her because she’s slow. She doesn’t hit back, but the words hurt more then fighting.

  • My daughter was bullied in preschool and since then she has had an issue with anxiety. She wasn’t only bullied by kids, the teacher was involved as well. I’m glad Holden stood up for himself. Unfortunately, that’s the only way some bullies will learn to leave others alone.

  • I’m not fond of how schools handle bullying overall. Therefore, I became the absolute bane of my youngest daughter’s elementary, middle school and freshman high school teachers and administrators. BECAUSE I refused to accept their “blow it off”, “ignore it”, “Kids will be kids”, “there’s only one monitor”, “your child was wrong for fighting back” attitudes and policies. I kept documentations of every incident my kidlet told me about and what was done and my conversations with the teachers and admins. Twice, I involved the school police to the point of threatening to go to the county sheriff’s office to file a formal complaint and a temporary restraining order against the child(ren) bullying my daughter. It is amazing how fast a school’s wishy washy excuses vanish when you start bringing down the wrath of outside authority on their heads, but you have to be sure you have all documentation and are very well versed in district policies, statuates and laws. The last incident in 9th grade was a boy who was basically a budding sexual predator who was stalking her and had already allegedly raped another girl, but because the girl’s parents didn’t want to press charges, the school did nothing about his stalking behavior at school. I was in the middle of a heated battle with the school admins when my daughter decided to take matters into her own hands because he tried to grope her in the hallway. She whomped the holy hell out of him and got suspended and nearly charged with assault because she’d used a combination of Akido and street fighting tricks I taught her from my time as an armed guard (Apparently, kids shouldn’t know law enforcement take down tricks). I went straight to the county courthouse and started proceedings for a tpo against the boy and called the sheriff’s office to file a complaint as well as getting copies of everything to take to the school district superintendent’s office. The school principal tried to tell me that I’d cause too much trouble by doing that. My response was “Good, then may be you will finally do something!”. It was a huge mess, my kidlet had to go to anger management counseling to avoid being charged, but the boy was also required to go to mandatory evaluations for his issues and the school got a huge, huge reprimand from the district. We moved and switched schools and the new school’s reaction to my daughter’s “record”? The counselor looked her dead in the eye and said “While we don’t tolerate violence here, if another student tries to hurt you and you feel you must defend yourself, we will back you one hundred percent. But, it won’t come to that, because we are very aggressive about patrolling our halls, classrooms and cafeteria and stopping any stupidity before it starts.” My advice is to document anything like that in the future and be proactive about asking those tough questions about why there is only one monitor and why isn’t more being done to ask for volunteers or change the way things are so that stuff like that doesn’t happen. Yep, you will get a rep for being “the bane” of their orderly existence, but, better to be labeled as aggressively protective than let your kid get the idea that he or she has to put up with the bullying because no one really does anything to stop it. *SHRUG*

  • I am sorry that I missed this…

    I completely understand a no tolerance policy… but last year, Emry was getting bullied by older kids, and he was only in Pre-K.

    After we “talked it out” and he let himself get hurt, almost broke his ankle in the process….

    I told the schools principal and Emry at the same time, as to know I was serious.
    “This is NEVER going to happen again. If this boy lays his hands on you AGAIN, You push him away, and if he comes back, then you hit him. THEN when you know you are safe, you run and get a teacher.”

    I will not allow someone to harm my child because the absentee nature of monitors, and the fact there are NEVER enough eyes in a lunchroom or a latchkey.

    The principal was very upset I had said it, and I simply replied, “If this bothers you so much, make sure it doesn’t happen again. Your method of using the words, and talking to the other child’s parents has gone NOWHERE. I will not allow my son to get hurt again, (and since this was a Catholic School) unless you want me to contact the Archdioses about this…”

    It never happened again.

    I am so proud that your son was able to control himself and pushed away first. I am so proud he stood up from himself. He should go and find a teacher if this happens again, but at the end of the day… Bullying has resulted in twice as many deaths and suicides in the past year…. I know that we are of the same mindset, “NOT MY KID.”

    If he is in the wrong, yeah sure, punish him…
    But, if he’s the victim, and administration will not do anything… Then standing up for himself is the only recourse…. Then as a parent I will back him to the very end.

    Sorry for the long comment.

  • When I was in school they didn’t really do anything about bullying. I was bullied alot in school. To the point where I started skipping all the time. I tried telling the teachers and the principle. Nobody listened. I ended up getting fined and sent away for two months for skipping school. When I turned 17 I dropped out. All because nobody would listen. Now the school where I went get the police involved right away and let them sort it out. Especially with fighting. That’s an automatic call to the police. Looking back on it now it makes me angry. Just hearing it happen to somebody else brings all that back and it makes me want to do more. So they don’t have to go through the same thing I did.

  • This brings back bad memories of when my now 19 year old was in kindergarten. A boy walked up to her as she was about to sit down and yanked her pants down. In front of everyone. I felt completely powerless – but I learned the power of a pissed-off mama that day. (nobody called me to tell me it happened, and they should have) Three years later, when my 2nd daughter started kindergarten, a boy put mayo in her hair at lunch. This time I got a phone call. Now I have a one year old and another on the way. I know it’s probably inevitable that one or both of my youngest will be bullied at some point. Still, even with the history and experience I have, I don’t think you can prepare yourself for the emotions you feel when it happens.

  • Be angry. You are entitled. But be angry with the school. Call the school, talk to the principal. Discuss the fact the policies currently followed have now proven to be an unsafe environment. Explain why Holden chose the action he did, how the rules confused him, and the fact the monitors are insufficient. This boy had been stealing for days. This was NOT an isolated incident. The lunch thief needs help (why is he stealing?) and tighter supervision. The children all need to know how to handle emergencies, and that being scared or threatened is an emergency.

    If the principal leaves you feeling unheard, or if the gist is “We understand that you are upset but there will be no change,” call the school board. Stick to facts, including what you want to see happen.

    I have two special needs kids, and we have learned the hard way how to advocate for them at school. You and your children are entitled to feel safe. Remember the words of the Lorax. “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

  • my son who is 23 now was a black belt at 10 yrs old. when he was in 4th grade the school district decided to add 7th and 8th graders to the school he was at, so they rode on the bus with the younger kids. in tkd they were taught never to hit first but to protect themselves if they had to. one day he came home with a black eye and a note from the bus company that he was suspended for 3 days for fighting. when I asked him what happened he said “the 8th grader kept hitting the little kids on the bus and the driver never sees him, today he hit me” I said
    what did you do. he said (and yes I had to refrain from laughing) ” I made him cry” I told him we were good. when the principal and I had our discussion he told me if my son had not hit back he would not have to be suspended. I said “he is not a punching bag, we’ll see you at the bus stop in 3 days and i’m thinking the other kid wont be hitting him again”

  • Ugh. I cannot even imagine. I have a 5 year old girl who will start Kindergarten next year and things like this keep me up at night. I was bullied RELENTLESSLY as a kid. I was quiet, shy and the poor kid. It took me years to recover from it. I try to teach them how to handle these types of things but you don’t know how they will handle it when it really happens. Way to go, Holden for standing up for yourself.