Sometimes I wonder whether someone ‘Up there’ is organising things. After seeing a very small child last week, in two days I have seen three boys who are tall – look older than their age. Two are 11 and one is almost 12 and has gone to Secondary School. For all of them, size is an issue. Being small is a problem. Being tall brings its own problems. People expect you to be sensible, as sensible as you seem to be old. Other children call you names like ‘Fatboy’ or ‘Fats’, they bump into you ‘accidentally’, they surround you and push. The boys were big in the sense that Alsation puppies are – big hands and feet, the sort of boys that will make big men. It worried me that one of the boys said ‘I am trying to eat healthily’ as if his size was disproportionate. This is how eating disorders can begin. All three can be angry and their mothers are afraid that this will cause trouble.
Inevitably, tall people are much easier to spot fighting across a playground or classroom; it’s much harder to hear the smaller child who has said something quite impertinent and hurtful. Although some of our discussion is about how the boys can be proud of their size and displace insults, we are also in each case going to talk about the issues that have led to the build-up of anger that bubbles away just under the surface.
Displacing insults is good fun: Fatso is answered by Yes, I love my food, or That must be because I enjoy dinner, or even You’re ugly but I’m too polite to mention it. Last week the girl with Tourettes was advised by her father to answer the accusation ‘You’ve got Tourettes’ with ‘You should be a doctor, I was wondering what it was’. And to those girls who call her ‘Twitcher’ or say ‘You Twitch’ she’s going to say ‘Thank you, for telling me, I hadn’t noticed’. This type of response has the advantage of stopping the bully in their tracks – there’s so little that can be said in response. It also gives the victim the confidence of being able to win in a difficult situation.
But it’s all so much harder when the children have underlying issues that make them especially vulnerable. Increasingly this is the case. Parents have split up with consequent wrangling and Court cases; Fathers (usually) continue a vendetta against the mother through the children, fail to pick them up, or say unpleasant things regardless of how much harm it might do to the children; new partners become difficult and challenging parents. Some children have parents who have had breakdowns or been hospitalised, others have experienced bereavements, still others have a parent with drink or drug problems. If this is compounded by problems in school – possibly also arising from the problems at home- you have a powder-keg waiting to blow. And the next child to call him a name, or deliberately bump him, gets it.