My Toddler was Bullied and It Breaks My Heart

I knew I would have to face this some day as a parent, because unfortunately it’s so prevalent in our culture today, but I never thought I would have to deal with it when my son was so young.

And I really didn’t understand the effect it would have, both on him and on me.

But, let me back up and start at the beginning.

A few weeks ago we stopped by a friends’ house, and they have a boy a few years older than Bren. Because it’s been a long time since we’ve seen them, our kids have never really played together before. There was another family there too, whom we hadn’t met before, and who had a boy similar in age to our friends’ son.

My daughter made friends with their daughter, who is also a few years older then her, right away. Our son really wanted to play along, but both the girls and the boys were kind of doing their own thing, and he was a little too young to really play with either of them, so he was kind of left on his own. We tried to encourage the other kids to play and share with him as much as we could, and he seemed to be fine and content playing on and off by himself, and with the other kids.

After we’d been there for about an hour, we heard our son crying in one of the back bedrooms. At first I thought he must have slightly hurt himself, or was upset that someone wasn’t playing with him, and I thought he’d come out in the living room to tell us about it. But, after a minute or two of crying, it seemed to be getting worse, and neither he nor one of the other kids was coming out to tell us something was wrong, so my husband got up to check on him.

When my husband brought our son out, he was still pretty visibly upset, and looked a little shaken. I asked what had happened. My husband said that the older boys had been holding him in their room and telling him that he couldn’t leave, and telling him they were going to shoot him with one of their toy guns. He said, basically, the boys were bullying him.

I felt so inadequate. I wasn’t really sure how to talk to a 2 1/2 year old about something as serious as bullying.

And oh, how my heart ached for my little boy. I had no idea how much it would hurt to hear that my child had been bullied by another child. And I felt so bad for not protecting him from it. I held him, kissed him, rocked him, and told him everything was okay.

The parents of the other boys talked to them, they were upset about what their boys had done. And they assured us the boys would be disciplined after we left (we were just getting ready to leave anyway when this happened), so after we comforted our son, we basically just let it go.

But today, weeks later, as we were driving, my son started talking about, and replaying for me, what had happened with the boys. Telling me about how they were keeping him in the room, what they said to him, and even what they were wearing.

And the hurt came rushing back, because he obviously remembered it so vividly, and had been much more hurt and affected by it then we had realized.

I let him talk about it, asked him about how he felt, validated his emotions, and tried to talk to him about things he could do if he was in a situation like that again, but I felt so inadequate. We talked about how it is not nice to treat other people like that, and how what the boys did to him was not okay. But, I wasn’t really sure how to talk to a 2 1/2 year old about something as serious as bullying.

Phrases like, ‘Stand up for yourself’, and ‘Leave and tell mommy and daddy or another adult’, don’t really seem be the right things for such a young child to do, especially when they’re being told by an older child that they can’t leave the room, and even being held down so they can’t leave if they wanted to.

So, now I sit here, upset, wondering what I could have, should have, done differently at the time, and what I can do going forward to teach my young children about this terribly hurtful thing called bullying, so that they learn it is not okay to bully other children, and so that they know what to do if they ever find themselves in a situation like that again.

All I know is that I hope I can raise kids for which neither of those things is true for them.

Have you experienced bullying with your toddler or young child? How do you address bullying with your children in a way they can understand, and act on?

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