This evening, I had the bittersweet privilege of seeing a parent empower her son. Why bittersweet? Because her son, Tony, is being verbally bullied. He’s a funny and bright kid who has attracted the attention of a tormenting classmate. Why is Tony being bullied? He needs classroom modifications that draw some attention to his weaknesses. Tony is a twice exceptional student, anxious about his reading and writing disabilities. He also has speech difficulties, which appear to be the focus of the bullying. He’s the perfect target for someone who also feels insecure (not a native English speaker) but who acts out those feelings by victimizing others.
Tony and I reviewed how he’s been responding to this bullying. He has tried the “broken record” approach unsuccessfully (repeating the same response). The tormentor is not willing to engage in any playfulness or respond to humor. Tony suggested that the tormentor is bullying him to get attention, so Tony really wants to ignore him. I wondered out loud if Tony was successfully ignoring this guy and he assured me that he was. I asked him to describe how the taunting occurs. Here’s the most typical scenario: This guy asks to get up for some tissue, takes the long route past Tony’s desk, and taunts him about his “accent,” smiling all the while. Then he blows into the tissue, tosses it in the trash, and makes his way past Tony again, with even more taunting and grinning.
OK, it’s obvious that Tony is watching this guy’s every move. Tony is on red alert, waiting for the inevitable. I took the role of the tormentor and helped Tony see how he was responding in a way that pleases this guy. By this time, I have signaled Tony’s mom and she is processing the scene with us. It’s obvious that Tony has no idea how to ignore such a challenge to his safety.
Here’s the tip Tony’s mom gave him: Think about what you would like to tell this kid, but spell it on the roof of your mouth with your tongue. Once Tony got the gist of using his tongue to trace out letters, he was in another zone altogether. He “rejoined” us after he had spelled out a directive for that guy to leave him alone. Tony’s face lit up as he realized that he could tune out his surroundings while concentrating on spelling. This is an especially effective technique since Tony struggles with spelling. And perhaps his control over the muscles of his mouth will also improve as he silently spells!
There are a number of other ways to resolve this issue, including talking to the classroom teacher, but current circumstances make that a difficult choice. I’ll keep you posted on the results of this strategy. We’re feeling confident!