The Day I Let My Son Get Bullied

I received the story below from a local mom. She shared her dilemma of when to intervene with her special needs son and when to step back and observe. What would you have done?

  mean boys


I was hoping that you could tell me what you would have done in this situation. I have a five-year-old son going to kindergarten in August. He is tiny for five and looks more like a young four-year-old. There has been talk that he may fall on the autism spectrum.

His whole life everyone has been nice to him. He plays easily with his friends and loves to engage other boys.  He goes to developmental preschool with other special needs kids so they are carful that everyone is “nice.”  He has never encountered “mean boys.” As a parent I’m trying hard to prepare my son for the path ahead. The path of public school, mean boys, and not always being accepted. I saw the following opportunity and took it:

We were spending a day on spring break at Conner Prairie. We were playing in the indoor play space when two boys approached my son who at that time was wearing his favorite batman shirt. The dominant boy in glasses started to taunt him, “Butt man! Butt man!” My ears perked.  My adult social skills told me these were “mean boys.”  But would my son notice? Would he stand up for himself? I then made the conscious decision to step back rather than get involved. In four short months I will not be on the playground with him at his school. I will no longer be his protector. I thought, THIS is the path, son…Let’s prepare you.

The boys (mainly the dominant one) continued to taunt, tease and at one point put his hands on my son’s shoulders. A volunteer worker from Conner Prairie at that point motioned to me that he would step in and help my son…but I stopped him and asked him to wait. THIS is the path. THIS is better than any therapy we do. 

My son DID notice that something was off. Something was not quite right with this boy. My son’s instincts were right on. He first tried to have the boys play nicely with him. (After all, he’s NEVER encountered boys not playing WITH him)  Seeing that wasn’t going to happen he then walked away. The boys pursued him. I still stayed back. Breathe I told myself.  Finally my son ran to me.  At which point I held him and explained to him what was going on.

 With the boys still in earshot, I started to bring words to my son’s feelings. “Those boys didn’t make you feel good, did they?”  There was a sad, tiny nod. “No one likes feeling like that.” (That one was for the “mean boys” who were still listening…it takes a village, right?) “You need to be very careful when playing with anyone who says mean things or hurts you. You tried to help them play nicely, but then you decided to get away to a safe place. You did an awesome job. “

As a sidenote I will use this situation in the future when my son becomes one of the “mean boys.” I’m not naïve enough to think that won’t happen from time to time.  I’ve already talked about “the mean boys from Conner Prairie” and how they made him feel on several occasions when he makes his sister feel the same way.

 It’s tough to watch your child be ridiculed and picked on, but I decided that it would be tougher to not train him how to respond even though watching it happen was harder than I thought it would be.


What do I think? Well, the term “Momma Bear” got its name from my innate desire if that had been me to grab hold of the mean boy in question and toss him into the ball pit the moment “Butt Man” left his lips and I saw the look of sadness on the child’s face. If I calmed Momma Bear by thinking soothing self-talk like “He didn’t mean to be mean. I’m sure he’s just being silly,” she would have reawakened when the mean boy grabbed his shoulder. Would I have had her restraint and courage?

Yes, this mom did the brave thing. She knew her son needed training more than rescue. She knew kids would not always be kind and he would be better served to learn this lesson while his mother was their to teach and to sooth rather than on a lonely playground. 

This situation reminds me of the story of the Emperor Moth. I know it is a popular story, but sometimes I need to reread it to remind myself that struggles are a part of life and our power as parents is in encouraging our kids along their journey rather than trying to remove all the obstacles from their path.

Well done, Momma!  Here’s the Emperor Moth story as a reminder:


“The emperor moth is the most majestic species among all the moths. It has wide wings spanning out majestically when it flies. Before it can become a full grown moth, it has to be a pupa in a cocoon. Now, the interesting fact about the moth’s cocoon is that the neck of the cocoon is very narrow.

In order that it become a moth, the pupa of the moth must squeeze its way out of the narrow neck.

One day a man found a cocoon of an emperor moth. He took it home so that he could watch the moth come out of the cocoon. He sat and watched the moth struggling to force the body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther. It just seemed to be stuck.

Then the man being kind decided to help the moth. So he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The moth then emerged easily.

But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He expected that the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body which would contract in time.

Neither happened! In fact, the little moth spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly. A few days later, it died.

What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the moth to get through the tiny opening was the way of forcing fluid from the body of the moth into its wings so that it would be ready for flight.

Freedom and flight would only come after the struggle. By depriving the moth of a struggle, he deprived the emperor moth of health.

You see, the struggles of life, heartaches and pains are necessary if you want to be great. Instead of cursing them, understand them while you are experiencing them. They are part of the making of a man.”


I am also reminded of John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”



 The Day I Let My Son Get Bullied

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