A little while back, I got a call from my 7 year old son’s school that he had punched a classmate at school.

WHAT?! Were they sure it was MY son? My sweet, loving, silly little boy?

Yep. There was a misunderstanding and he had reacted inappropriately. I was sick with worry about how this could have happened and immediately worked with the teacher and administration to help my son apologize and realize the weight of his actions. He and I had a chat about not hitting and reaching out to an adult when he needed help.

A week later, the teacher told me that he had once again lashed out and had kicked another classmate on the playground.

We took away his special activities and held off on some things he had been working towards earning until he had worked hard to be a better friend. We also scheduled a meeting with the teacher and administration to see if we could come up with some ideas to motivate him to work on his behavior.

And then it happened again. The day after the meeting with his teacher, I found out that he had pushed yet another classmate down and then sat on him with another friend…a friend that had been involved in a few other incidents of my son getting in trouble.

I felt helpless. I wanted to scream that this was NOT who my son is…that he’s the sweetest, most caring boy and that I was lost on what was happening, and when we asked him why each time he would be remorseful and say he didn’t mean to hurt his friends. It was time to get very real with him and spend some time to see if I could get to the bottom of what the real problem was.

We started to set aside time for him to get one on one with either myself or my husband. With two other brothers, it’s easy for each of the kids to feel like they aren’t getting heard and we needed him to know he was important to us.

One night I took him for a walk. Just mama and son opening up to each other and talking about life. I wanted him to know that I love him no matter what, but that I was so sad about his choices recently. I asked him why he was lashing out physically against people he considers his friends. His answer? He didn’t know. His “friend” was acting this way & he was just doing what his friend was doing. Peer Pressure. This was a teaching moment that I couldn’t pass up and this is what I told him:

“We have friends in our lives that bring happiness to our lives and we have friends in our lives that get us into trouble. You are a good person, but lately you’ve been making bad choices. This friend is getting you into trouble, is that making you happy?”

“We have the power just like superheroes to help people. You can be a light in someone’s day, you can make a friend smile and take away their bad feelings instead of hurting them. Your days will be happier when you help others instead of hurting others. Your days will be happier when the friends you have are helping others instead of hurting others. Be a helper, not a hurter…and encourage those around you to do the same.”

He seemed to have been impacted by what I said and told me he would remember to be like a superhero and to help others.

I let his teacher know about our “Be a helper, not a hurter” mantra the next morning and when I checked in after school, she said that there were a few moments during the day that she witnessed him living that mantra. And it has kept up for weeks now!

I recently witnessed him run over to help a child he didn’t know at a park who had fallen down. He reached out to help him up and asked “Are you ok?” I know that this may seem small but this was such a victory for me to see that he was making these small decisions to be that superhero he wants to be.

I’ve received no more calls from the school about bad behavior. My son told me he made the decision not to play with the “friend” who was making bad choices. He is looking for ways to help others on a daily basis, and we even catch him encouraging his little brothers to be helpers and not hurt each other.

What could have easily escalated into a huge problem was easily extinguished. We tried several different ways of communicating with him but in the end, relating the situation to superheroes spoke to him.

If your child is going through the same stuggles, take the time to talk to them in a way that interests them. Give them your attention and listen to them. There is usually an underlying issue that can be solved with some love and reason that speaks to them. For my son, it was superheroes but for your child it might be storms and rainbows. Keep everyone involved in their life connected with good communication. We were able to team up with everyone at his school to implement the same mantra at home and at school to give him a unified boost that we were all in his corner.

For the parents of the bullied children: reach out. Talk to the teachers and coaches, see if you can set up time with the bully’s parents to talk about it. Bullys aren’t always the product of a bad home life, and sometimes their parents don’t even know it’s happening. Working all together can thwart a bad situation from getting even worse.