ASK EMORY • BY EMORY LUCE BALDWIN, LCMFT
My son is 8-years-old. He is my only child, a sweet kid, and kind of sensitive. He has always had friends and seems to get along pretty well with other kids.
My problem is that I’m wondering if he is getting bullied at summer camp. I’m not sure, but from some of the things he has been telling me, I get the sense that there are some rough kids at camp this year and they may be intimidating or pushing my kid around. I’d love to become a mama tiger and charge in to defend my little guy, but apparently I’m not supposed to do that. So what advice can you give me?
Feeling Fierce on Fenton
Bullying is a tough problem to figure out, isn’t it? There is such a wide range between rough teasing and mean victimization. It can be difficult for parents to figure out what’s going on. Basically, if your son seems concerned, curious, interested, and maybe just a bit troubled, then he probably is just dealing with rougher and more challenging social experiences than he has dealt with in the past.
Sometimes, in my experience, only children like your son are sometimes surprised and not prepared when the kids they are playing with start acting increasingly mean in later elementary school years. The children who have been quarreling and wrestling with their siblings for years take it more in stride. They’ve been toughened up by their day-to-day experiences at home.
Teasing, arguing, and all-purpose mean behavior gets more intense in later elementary school years, because children are practicing with each other as they learn how to deal with it. Experience is a great teacher, and children have valuable lessons to learn to prepare them for middle school, high school, and the world beyond. It can be tough for parents to watch, but remember that children need to learn important skills such as how to get laughed at, teased, and insulted without losing their cool or self-respect. This is how kids learn these lessons.
Right now, your son may be figuring out how to enjoy play that is more physically rough than in previous years. Playing ‘nicely’ gets pretty boring after a while for older kids, rougher play is much more exciting and more fun! For your son and others, learning how to play with more physical roughness requires learning how to deal with getting knocked around as well as how to not get scared or knocked down.
If, on the other hand, your son seems frightened to go to camp, if treasured possessions or money mysteriously disappears, if he has unexplained bruises, torn clothing, etc., if he truly seems to be in over his head, then, by all means step in. Kids learn from challenges that they can stretch themselves and grow their abilities bigger. But if it is too big of a stretch, kids need help.
Illustration by William L. Brown