Inviting the Resources In

In a February post on my blog, I speculated that, after three years together, Sam’s classmates might actually be getting used to him. Used to the idea of a boy with hair flowing down his back who wears pink shirts and doesn’t like sports.

I was wrong.

Toward the end of second grade, a girl in his class started harassing him. Started calling him “girl” in a nasty tone of voice, taunting him that his name is not Sam but “Samantha,” teasing that he had “big boobs.”

I contacted the teachers, the school counselor, the principal. I said: I cannot have my son bullied by this child. You must not allow this. They agreed, and launched into swift action: a talk with the girl, a talk with her parents, a required apology note to Sam scrawled on lined paper. The message was sent: it’s not OK to bully this child because he is different.

But I’m left wondering, what makes a child start taunting a peer whom they have mostly left alone since kindergarten?

The school has been lax on gender-diversity education; after foot-dragging for years they finally offered the teachers a 45-minute tutorial through Gender Spectrum. If there had been more education, would this child have known better? If the school had really committed to teaching tolerance to faculty and students—as some schools do—would this child have been prevented from bullying my son, rather than being chastised and shamed after the damage was done?

I’d like to know.

The resources are out there: Gender Spectrum; Teach Tolerance; the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools Program; and others listed on my resource page. So how can we get schools to invite the resources in?

Let me know what you think.



  1. Eliz. says

    >what makes a child start taunting a peer?

    There are so many answers to this question. I think one (and maybe the one in this case) is puberty. As kids are figuring out more about what makes them different from other kids (and we are ALL different), they can turn to picking on someone else who is a little more obviously different. Maybe the young lady recently started budding breasts (they start young these days) or maybe she has an older sibling who is going through puberty and she needed an outlet for her feelings. I’m sorry the outlet was Sam.

    I can speak as a kid who was bullied. Riding the bus to and from school every day was torment. And as far as I know, the only things “obviously different” about me was that I was fat and smart. In my day nothing was done about it — not from the school, not from the parents. I’m glad you at least have a responsive administration, even if they are less proactive than you would like.

    • shoffman says

      Eliz., I’m sorry to hear that you were bullied as a child–and that it was at a time when there was less awareness and proactive response from adults. It breaks my heart. And also makes me aware of the importance of valuing the support we DO get from Sam’s school.

      The bullier I wrote about is eight. I suppose she could have early hormonal changes, who knows? She has a nontraditional family structure, and so I always hope that she will gain a deeper understanding of accepting difference in others, but so far it has not translated or caused her to gain an openness to others’ differences. Or perhaps she feels a lack of acceptance from others (hard to imagine in our progressive school–but then again, so is bullying Sam) and so is taking it out on someone she sees as weaker than her.

  2. Melissa Thompkins says

    I cant speak for the school aspect. I chose to home school Chris. Where we live it was clear from the start that there would be little to no support from the schools. Did I take the easy way out? I don’t know I do feel bad about it sometime. Like I am letting wonderful people like you fight my battles while we hide away. But I had to do what was best for Chris.

    As to bullying here is some possible insight. Chris has one friend that has been around since he was 3. She is as sweet as he is and her mom just wonderful and open minded. We joke that the kids are sisters and sometimes they act like they are. Well last fall suddenly she started to bully Chris. Calling him queer and sissy and telling him dressing pretty and wearing long hair were bad. This child had never uttered those words before. Her mom was as shocked as I was and poor Chris was just torn up. We sat her down and asked why she would do this to her friend. It took some time but finally we found out that some boys had started bullying her because she was playing with Chris and she was mad at Chris because of it and just parroted what we heard. So this poor little girl is bullied by older boys just because Chris and her are best friends. And she was just angry and hurt and took it out on him.

    It could be that the little girl you write about is being bullied herself and is simply acting out on someone she thinks is different. If you know the child’s parents and dig deeper the root cause might be that she is a bullying victim as well.

    Sometimes I think this is a sad world we live in.

    • shoffman says

      Melissa, I often think that we should homeschool Sam! I think there is no right answer.

      I’m coming to feel that the girl who was bullying Sam is bullied herself. Given some factors about her, that might just be the case. It gives me compassion for the child, and the will to dig deeper, as you suggest, and see if there aren’t some shared experiences that we might discover.

      Thanks for writing.

  3. Melissa Thompkins says


    Homeschooling for us is the best and really only option. it was clear here the schools would not be supportive in any way. I actually had CPS called once just for putting his hair in pigtails!

    Homeschooling is fine only if you could find a good support group of other parents and kids so they can socialize and do field trips and things. I am fortunate to have found that here. Seems most people always think of hard right wingers homeschooling and here it is a little enclave of progressive moms.

    Just yesterday I was thinking raising a feminine boy is difficult and then I saw him playing and smiling and happy and then last night as I was brushing out his hair and braiding it for bed it struck me just how lucky I really am. And we really are lucky to have such wonderful children.

  4. Kath Rushworth says

    When kids are trying to come to grips with their own identity they like nice big stereotypes that can help them label their world into managable concepts. If someone comes along who challenges a child’s view of how the world is, it can be really stressful. About a week ago I had a 4 year old girl confide to me that she would hate to see a boy with long hair like hers because, to her, her sense of identity and pride in being a girl was intrinsically linked to her having long flowing hair. She was feeling quite challenged by my son (now 2¾yo) having long hair and if he were older and had longer hair she may well have lashed out at him for encroaching on her sense of wellbeing.

    Parents and educators really need to be capable of understanding the concepts of gender diversity so that they can help children make sense of their world as they are growing up, that way they don’t feel overwhlemed or displaced when they meet people who don’t fit into the constrictive mainstream boxes.

    • shoffman says

      Kath, this makes sense. I think that everyone, and especially kids because they are just forming their identities, likes to be able to put people and things into boxes–it helps us make sense of the world, helps us understand who and what we are and are not. And you nailed it: the role of parents and educators is to help the little people they take care of make sense of themselves without harming others in the process. It’s a tall order, and we all need expert guidance.

  5. says

    Parenting is hard. But it seems like you have a good handle on things Sarah. Keep your head up. This is a great blog and a great tool

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