Dear Etiquette Guy,
I am in a bit of a dilemma. My stepson was having trouble with a particular child in his class during the school term and now with summer activities in full swing, they’re in some of the same groups, and the bully was really having a go at my youngster. I decided to step in, but not in the usual way. One Saturday afternoon, I invited Bully Boy, as I named him, to get to know me, on his own, in my home. I called his mother and asked if it would be okay to get acquainted with her son quietly, on our own. With a bit of hesitation, she agreed.
On the chosen day, my stepson was going to be away, so that Bully Boy and I could spend a few hours hanging out. On my agenda was chocolate chip cookie baking. I figured since my little guy liked to help, this high-energy classmate might like to use his hands for something other than punching. Fast forward through our afternoon and I learned something – this kid LOVED baking; reading the recipe out loud, checking the measurements twice, and sneaking in more chocolate chips J, but not without a mischievous grin. Clearly this boy was enjoying the attention, and said he was really having fun. Was I onto something?
After we washed up all the mixing bowls and spoons, we sat down and had cookies and milk. It was clear Bully Boy was very pleased with himself – the sullen face that greeted me earlier was replaced with a big smile and sparkling eyes. In a few short hours, he became Baker Boy! It’s like something was truly lit up in him, and he liked it. I packed up a dozen of HIS cookies in a brown paper bag for him to take home to share with his younger sister and his mother. He asked if he could come back again because he had so much fun. What to say? I told him I would call his mother.
My question: would it be over-stepping if I did invite him for another baking date? Perhaps including his mother? My worry is that he might get too attached to me and I’d be faced with two problems – my stepson might become jealous, or this boy’s mother might think I’m interfering/overstepping. From my perspective, I see potential in a few more dates with my new little friend – in the vein of paying it forward. His accomplishments on our baking day may be just the thing to propel him forward into more positive situations where he realizes that he doesn’t have to bully to get what he wants or needs. I’m thinking pizza dough next. Then he could have his own pizza making party at his house! J
I’m looking forward to your take on this situation.
The CAKE Lady
Dear Cake Lady,
This is indeed a heartwarming story and needs to continue. What I advise is to invite this young man over when your stepson is home and the two boys could experience teamwork in the kitchen. Perhaps they will discover that their strengths can compliment each other rather than one being ‘better’ than the other.
I have experienced bullying on many levels over many years. It is painful to endure and in the end has no benefit. Bullies learn this behavior at home initially and the behavior often goes unchecked at school and then continues through life including marriages and professional lives. Bullying is decimating the bottom line of many companies today.
What a golden opportunity to redirect this considerable energy in a healthy way. Establishing relationships with our peers at an early age is critical to maintaining a civil society.
I well remember experiencing the transformation as a child of taking back my power at the knee of the mother of a friend of mine who was well aware of the bullying I was experiencing in my own house. We would visit every afternoon on my way home from school. I would have a Coke and we would chat. I came to realize that I wasn’t really the weak person I had been belittled to believe. I had value and my feelings were valid.
I recently gave a talk where this woman, now over 80, came to hear me. I referenced her act of kindness publicly and you could have heard a pin drop. People do relate to these stories because we all have experienced them. Whether it is at home, at school, in a relationship, or in business, it’s never too late to address this dynamic.
Please let me know how this story unfolds. I am sure the readers of this column will want to know. I know I will.