A year ago, we moved to a new flat. My six-year-old son Dhruv made lots of friends in the building and enjoyed playing there, until recently. Suddenly, all the kids stopped talking to him, saying that 10-year-old Manish (who is something of a “leader" of the younger kids) had told them not to. After four days of this, I approached my neighbour’s seven-year-old, who also said that he could not talk to my son unless Manish “gives permission”. My son is devastated and, even though I've tried to take him swimming and do other stuff three evenings this week, he needs and wants his peers—not his mom—as company. He has begun to show signs of utter dejection and asks: “Why does everyone hate me?” Should I approach Manish or his parents? Or is there any other strategy?
Wow, that seems like a really arbitrary and nasty thing to happen to a six-year-old. While we can speculate on what makes a ‘Manish Boss’ do such a mean thing—jealousy, insecurity, early signs of being a control-freak, etc.—that is not the main issue here. It’s useful for you to understand where this thuggery is coming from, but it’s not of much use to your kid, for whom every day must be difficult now.
So, it’s best that you (and your husband, too, or even your husband alone, if he is so inclined) approach Manish or his parents directly. If you have the nerve, and think that you can swing it, you could casually stop Manish in front of all the kids (excluding your son) and ask him nicely, but in a fairly firm, adult-to-adult way, whether he has asked people to shun your son. If he denies it, then he looks chicken in front of the other boys, and you can swiftly and smoothly say, “Oh, ok—everyone seems to have misunderstood you” and follow this up by getting your son to play downstairs within the hour.
If you’re good at it, you can seal the deal further, by asking breezily in front of your son and the other kids: “You’re sure, Manish, you have no problem with Dhruv?” And see where this now goes. Hopefully, things will get back to normal.
If, however, Manish openly says that he has indeed asked people not to speak to Dhruv, then you’re up against a real problem child. You could then try asking him, again in front of everyone (this time, including your son): “Are you scared of Dhruv or something?” And turn the diktat into a bit of a joke and see where that goes.
The third option is to go—both you and your husband (without your son)—to Manish’s home, and try to speak to his parents, adult to adult, stating that your son is younger, and new on the block and needs a little sensitivity. Hopefully, his parents are not Manish Senior and Big Mama Manish.
All the best with this. Bullies are a bore, and not brave or bold—that’s the message you will have to subtly send out, not just to your son, but to the other kids, too.
Write to Gouri Dange at firstname.lastname@example.org