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So we all went through it “back in the day” and now most of us have had to experience the “bully” experience as a parent.  We in the Mitlo household are no different.  I spent the bulk of my 5th through 8th grade years trying not to get beaten up.  Granted, a few (or more) of those experiences could have been avoided if I wasn’t born with a mouth.  That orifice seemed to get me into more than a few tenuous situations.  Other times though, I was bullied.  Rachel, on the other hand, was a friend to the bullied.  Believe it or not my sweet gentle unassuming and dainty wife would see someone get bullied and go into Raging Beast Mode (God forbid someone chose to tease a special needs child…Lord have mercy).  She would do whatever it took (without one physical but oh so many verbal altercations) to make sure that the bully knew not to do that when she was around (as in alive).  Now, and to a degree for the past couple of years, we are experiencing this from the parents perspective.  If you are not a parent, read on anyhow, there is good (and bad) emotional responding to follow.

While both Joe and Bella have experienced this to some degree (though more Joe than Bella) we are going to focus on a recent situation with Joe.  In every previous situation (and this one) the Penn Hills teachers and administrators (read: principals for the most part) have been excellent in dealing with this but that is only a part of the solution.  Joe’s most recent situation was quite “typical.”  In a hallway on the way out of school where there are not any classrooms (thus less teacher oversight) an older/bigger boy began to verbally tease him at the end of the day.  As instructed, Joe would for the most part ignore him.  Then one day it escalated into the physical realm.  The older boy grabbed Joe by the wrist and tried to push him against the wall (or something to that effect).  We found all of that out because that evening he had been quite grumpy and a bit disrespectful toward Rachel.  He explained the entire story to Rachel that evening, and me the following morning on the way to school.

We both gave him advice and me getting the story second (though Rachel had told me the night before) I left him at the school having given him this advice.  I told him about my best friend in high school, Dan Leppold.  When the other guys from the volleyball team (Dan and I were on the WPIAL champion Penn Hills team together…but not the tallest nor biggest players) would mess with him (in the most non threatening “boys will be boys” way) he rolled with it like everyone else.  However, if you ever put your hands on him he would immediately say, “My body is MY BODY, don’t touch my body!”  It was funny and typical Dan but certainly got the point across.  Thus, I told Joe that the moment this kid (or anyone) put there hands on you to look them dead in the eye, give them my best “Dad’s mad” look and say, “Don’t touch me” in a firm but not overly loud or embarrassing way…and then walk away.  In anti-bully teaching it’s known as the “firm no.”  I went on to remind him that I was sorry that he had to go through this, that we all do, and that he knows to tell us (that I was glad that he did) and that it is never ok to disrespect mommy.  Five minutes after I had dropped him off I realized that I had made a huge mistake.

Do you know what the mistake was?  Looking back it is so painfully obvious to me, yet in the moment, the moment when Joe needed it the most… I missed it.  I responded to his problem with some solid “facts, logic, and reason.”  However, I met his physical need of avoiding further teasing but completely ignored his emotional needs.  That afternoon, I rectified that.

With Joe and Bella sitting with me in the living room I began my reparenting, the right way this time.  I said, “Hey guys, do you ever feel like it’s all you can do just to survive the day?”  They very much agreed.  I then asked, “Joe, I’ll bet you’re not so much afraid of the kid but more about getting into trouble if something more happens.  Yet, the worst part is that in that moment when he said those things in front of those people, you felt horribly alone.”  He nodded yes.  I continued, “It breaks my heart to know that you went through that, my head is just hot thinking about the embarrassment you went through.  I can feel everyone’s eyes just looking at me…you in that moment.  It is horrible feeling alone.”   You see, I joined him in his emotion.  I attached comfort to pain.  I then went on to say, “Joe, I want you to know that you are not alone.  When you walk down that hallway do you know who walks with you?  Daddy does, and Mama Bear (Rachel’s alter “about to snap and crush anyone that would hurt my child” ego) does, Uncle Tommy does, and you know who else?  Warren (the owner of his jiu jitsu academy who has loved him so much through the years) and Mike (his main jiu jitsu instructor who teaches and toughens him up each week) walk with you as well.  Finally, and you know this Joe, God through his Holy Spirit walks with you down that hallway.  His Holy Spirit will talk inside of you and let you know what to do and say.  He will protect you as well.”

He turned and looked at me and said, “Thanks dad.” I hurried up and got out of the room before either one of them could say or do something that ruined it.

Now, I’m not saying that what I did was perfect…it just had the right components.  The most important being joining him in his moment of fear, anxiety, and aloneness.  Yes, we emailed the appropriate people at the school and they were so very helpful.  Yes, we did equip him with the right things to say and do.  Yes, we did everything you’re supposed to…but we (eventually) helped him not feel alone if but for just one day.


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