school bully, child being bullied in playground

Ask Rene:
I Think My Son’s Friend Is A Bully –
What Can I Do To Address It?

Hi Rene,

I have an issue and I desperately need your help. I am the father of two great boys. My oldest, James, has such a big heart and he has a tendency to throw himself into friendships. He has a friend, Derek, who he met in Pre-K a few years back. But here’s the problem. Derek is a mean little kid who, on more than one occasion has pushed both my boys. I took them to the pool the other day and told my son to stay with Derek while I watched my other boy. Well I looked up and there was James, all-alone.

When I asked him what happened he said Derek told him to stay away and he didn’t want to swim with him. But the thing that really made my blood boil was when I actually witnessed Derek push James into the water, not once, but twice!

My problem is twofold; James really likes Derek and cannot see him for the mean kid he is. Complicating matters is the fact that my wife and I are now friends with Derek’s parents. When Derek’s mother checks in on the boys’ play dates, I tell her things are fine when in reality they are not.

I really am at a loss as to how to handle this. I don’t want to sever all ties with Derek because my son really likes him but I could use a bit of good, old-fashioned common sense.


A Concerned Dad


Dear Concerned Dad:

Wow, this really sucks. I know from experiences with my own kids how tough it is to watch your sweet baby be mistreated. It’s not right and it has to stop. But you have an opportunity here to teach James what is (and what is not) acceptable behavior. You have to attack this on two fronts; the explanation to James and the explanation to Derek’s parents.

1. Have A Conversation With James

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You said James met Derek a few years back in pre-K. That means he can’t be much more than 6-years-old. One of your jobs as a parent is to protect him from harm, even from those who claim to be his friends. It is completely unacceptable and downright dangerous that Derek pushed your son into the water! That needs to be nipped in the bud. You have to talk to James in a language he can understand. Tell him that you would never dream of hitting mommy or pushing her into the water because you love her. That’s not what friends do to each other. I would also ask him how it makes him feel when Derek treats him that way. I think he will begin to understand, with your gentle guidance, that that is not cool. Above all, explain that you take your job as his daddy very seriously and you will not stand for other people hurting him.