For the most part, Derek loved school. He was a hard-working student and enjoyed learning. He especially liked his current teacher, Mrs. Beagle. She was warm and funny and always had something nice to say to her students. Mrs. Beagle particularly loved to teach literature and had many wonderful books for the children. Each day after lunch recess, she would read out loud to the class. During reading, Derek would close his eyes and could easily visualize the story. Derek especially liked stories about myths and fantasies. He often tried to write imaginative stories during creative writing based on some of the ideas from his favorite books. Mrs. Beagle recognized his creative efforts and complimented him on his fascinating stories. Even as an eight-year-old, he had a very descriptive style that his teacher thought would only get better as he grew.
Derek struggled a bit with math and science. He readily understood the ideas, but found them less interesting. As a result he often rushed through his math assignments, making numerous errors. Later, when he reviewed these errors with Mrs. Beagle or his parents, he was surprised at how often he knew how to do the work, and still made simple mistakes. His parents, as well as his teacher, would remind him to focus on the details a bit more and not to rush through his work. When he was careful (and when he took the time to read the directions), he made far fewer mistakes. There was definite satisfaction is doing things well, but it did not make math or science any more interesting!
Although Derek enjoyed many of the other children in his class, he especially liked playing with his friend Sam. He had known Sam since Kindergarten and they had been good friends, often playing at each other’s house after school. It was great fun having Sam in his class this year and they usually buddied up on group projects whenever possible. Sometimes at recess, though, Sam liked to play baseball with a group of other boys. Sam would always ask Derek to join them, but, in truth, Derek wasn’t much interested in baseball (or any other ball sports, for that matter). Wanting to please Sam, Derek would tell his friend to go have a good time. But Derek always felt sad and many times just went to the library to look at books. Derek knew that he wasn’t very good at ball sports and he didn’t miss playing the games, but as an eight-year-old he already felt left out of the boys’ club. It seemed to Derek that most boys wanted to play sports all the time. If you didn’t participate in baseball or soccer as a boy, you were somewhat odd.
As much as his parents encouraged Derek to invite a variety of children to play, Derek typically just wanted play with his best friend, Sam. Derek’s parents liked Sam and knew that the boys had a good time together, but being Extraverted, they both felt that Derek might benefit from a larger group of friends. (This would also protect him from hurt, if Sam decided that he wanted to play with someone else.) The fact that Sam and Derek shared the same class didn’t help, since it did not encourage Derek to make other friendships. On the occasions when Sam was not available to play, it always surprised Derek’s parents how content he was to play alone. In some ways Derek was a bit of a mystery to both of them. (Derek’s father was an ENTJ and his mom was an ENTP.)
Derek’s father was also concerned about Derek’s lack of interest in group sports. Derek’s father loved sports and played a pretty hot game of sandlot softball on weekends. He believed that sports taught boys a lot about teamwork and persistence, important skills for life. He often tried to get Derek to play catch with him. Derek would agree to play, but mostly just to please his father. Derek didn’t pay much attention to his father’s tips and, as his father became more insistent that Derek try this tip or that, it would not be long before Derek was in tears.
If Derek’s father could articulate his underlying concerns for his son, it would be that he worried that Derek was just too sensitive, and not tough enough for the world ahead of him. He did not seem to be assertive enough, was not particularly competitive, and was easily hurt. It seemed to Derek’s parents that they were walking on eggshells when it came to correcting his behavior. He took any criticism to heart and reacted very emotionally or he withdrew altogether. Secretly, Derek’s father wished he would defend himself; argue back, or just plain back-talk. It would be easier to deal with. It was Derek’s mother who discovered over time that discipline worked better if she used a mild voice and spoke to him in private. Oddly enough, his being so easy to discipline created more worry than confidence in Derek’s parents.
The issue of assertiveness became a real problem during school one day when Derek was alone at recess. Three 4th-graders who were considered bullies approached him. They began to make fun of him with the usual comments about what a nerd he was, how bad he was at sports and how no one wanted to be his friend. Derek stood there silently, embarrassed and hurt. He did not know what to do. The bullies eventually moved away to some other victim, and Derek did not say a word to anyone about the incident. He did not tell his teacher, nor did he tell his parents. He was so humiliated; he wanted to just forget that it had happened. Unfortunately, suffering no consequences for their actions, the bullies began to regularly harass him, until one day when his teacher observed this behavior. Mrs. Beagle could immediately recognize that Derek was not only very hurt, but did not have a clue as to how to handle the bullies. In her heart of hearts she secretly wished he would get angry and slug one of them. Of course, she realized that physical fighting (aside from the issue of right or wrong), was not a practical tactic, given the number of boys. But Derek needed to learn how to defend himself in ways that were both acceptable and successful. After breaking up the incident (and sternly reprimanding the offenders), Mrs. Beagle decided a meeting with Derek’s parents was in order.
Derek’s parents were upset, but not surprised, at the situation, especially Derek’s father who said that he worried that Derek was not tough enough. Mrs. Beagle said that perhaps the problem was not so much about being tough as it was about knowing how to handle such situations. So what could Derek do?
Her first suggestion was that they find some sort of individual physical activity that might increase his confidence. She suggested that he enroll in a sport that focused on individual development, rather than group or team skills, such as track, swimming or one of the many martial arts (Karate, Taekwondo, etc.). Her second suggestion was one that seemed to be the easiest for Derek to achieve, since it depended on one of his strengths. Derek was highly Intuitive and perceptive about people and he needed to use this strength to his advantage. By looking more closely at who these bullies really were, Derek might be able to take some of the wind out of their sails. Were they smart, confident, popular? Not likely. Seeing who they really were would enable Derek to shift from personal humiliation to seeing them as problem boys who were taking out their own failures on him. This might take away much of their power to make him feel worthless. If Derek did not feel humiliated, the bullies would not have as much fun, and eventually might become bored with the harassment. Derek’s parents could help him think through his perceptions of the behavior of the bullies by asking lots of open-ended questions and keeping their personal emotions in check. Derek would need a lot of practice at analyzing these situations until it became second nature to him. This would be an important skill, though not a quick fix.
The last suggestion that Mrs. Beagle had might be the most difficult for Derek to achieve, since it required him to do something that he wasn’t that interested in—develop a few more friends. Being a strong Introvert, Derek was happiest with one best friend, and not particularly lonely when alone. Even when his friend Sam was playing ball with other children, Derek did not always feel the need to play with another child. However, one of the things that make a child like Derek vulnerable to bullies is being alone. Therefore Derek needed to cultivate at least a few more friends so that he wasn’t alone during recess. This would be a critical strategy for Derek in order to avoid harassment in the future.
These strategies did not work perfectly or immediately. It took a lot of practice and encouragement from his parents, especially with respect to developing new friendships. He did go into Taekwondo, and was amazed to find that he loved it, and felt a lot more confident about his own body as a result. Over time, these ideas did help Derek find a comfortable and more effective way of dealing with difficult people, one that better fit both his temperament and his talents. Derek’s parents could not provide him a world that was perfectly safe and free from hurt. But they could help Derek learn how to be more bully-proof.
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