Q: My 6 year old has no friends, and is seen as a "bad" kid by the staff. He doesn't sit still, pay attention, is always arguing and trying to get attention. This is a very new thing, and it appears to be caused by a bully in his class. The two of them bicker all the time. This bully has told the entire class not to play with my son and they oblige. So he has not one friend in his class. He swears at my son and calls him vulgar names. He's become so sad all the time, and he's very hard to help.
A: You describe very well that your son's problems are new and result from a boy in his class who is bullying your son. I am glad that you see the nature of this problem clearly, because bullying is recognized as a serious hazard to children with potentially significant long-term consequences for emotional health. So I support your efforts to address the bullying and encourage you to take it very seriously. The bullying you describe is a problem in the whole system: the teacher and the other children in the class sound as thought they have been helplessly drawn into the problem and are now part of it as well.
You and Dad should make an appointment to speak with the teacher to see what the teacher understands about the situation and to develop an action plan to repair the problem. Start with a respectful and friendly spirit, and assume that the teacher intends to do the right thing. If this does not lead to clear communications with the teacher and rapid improvements for your son, however, you should take up this matter with the school's principal or director, perhaps asking for the involvement of the school's psychologist or behavior specialist or perhaps asking to have your child put in a different classroom. Failing here, you may need to appeal to the local Board of Education or possibly enroll your son in a different school. Follow the chain of command and adhere to the protocols for pursuing grievances. Keep detailed documentation of meetings and their outcomes.
You cannot prevent the damage being done to your son simply by being a kind and empathic parent when he is at home--but of course, you should explain to your son how you see it and indicate that you will not rest until you have fixed this problem. Getting him a therapist or legal advocate in your community who is experienced with bullying might help move the overall situation along. The internet can point you in the direction of these resources.
Elizabeth Berger MD
Child Psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character