Not So Happy Camper

Dear Parentworks,

I have a 5 3-4 year old boy.  He is very sweet, kind, caring and sensitive. He is having a problem with the boys in camp.  They won't play with him, they call him names and tease him.  He even faked a headache because he was crying and didn't want the councilors to scold the other boys. The real problem is that he says he really likes the camp and does have a lot of fun on his own, and he says he wants to stay but the teasing and hurtful nature of the boys is really starting to affect him. He hasn't been his happy self for days, and he just wants to lay down and sleep. How am I supposed to confront this problem without him feeling even more alienated than he is now?

- Hoping for Coping

Dear Hoping

Your son sound like a wonderful and intelligent young man. Talents you'll find, by the way, which are not highly valued by his peers at a number of stages throughout his development. These characteristics are ones which are very important for us as parents to nurture and develop. A key element to doing this is teaching children about balance - in their emotions, in their activities, in their life. In addition to the suggestions here, you may want to refer to an earlier Granny Jo topic where I wrote about teasing among girls. Many of the same pay offs are present for these boys when they tease your son - feeling powerful because they believe they can "make" someone else feel badly and excitement because of the emotional responses your son may provide.

Your son shows strength of character in that, despite all their behaviors, he knows he enjoys camp and is standing up for that part of his desires. So be sure and let him know you see how brave and strong he is in this instance. Next, though counselors can't be everywhere, the staff at this facility should be aware of and dealing with social difficulties of this type. Where are they? How are they handling these situations when they arise? Do they try to redirect the activity - leaving no one a winner or a loser? A truly good quality facility should be on top of this and other issues which are bound to come up for children these ages. As a parent, I suggest you begin with the administrators to enlist their help. At nearly six years of age, your son should not be completely left to his own devises to cope with the crowd. Make sure the environments you provide for your child take into consideration not only his interests but are places which have policies which teach all children about appropriate, cooperative play.

Lastly, it is very important for you to let him know that while you understand these things that others say and do are hurtful, you need to stress that he should not allow it to change how he feels about himself. Those boys are not being his friends when they speak down to him and he needs to know that he doesn't need to let their hurt into his heart. Remind him of some of his successes and that his family knows these good qualities about him but that these kids don't really care about him so it's ok not to care about what they think. He doesn't need to be mean back to them, he can walk away. Let him know you love him and he can always talk to you about anything. Since you only speak of this in relation to camp and therefore may not be a problem in other areas, point that out to him. If you believe the problem escalates or continues into other areas you may determine that speaking with a professional who can provide you with more in-depth help may be the appropriate course. We love our children and hate seeing them in pain as they deal with some of life's challenges, but sometimes we need to seek out more guidance from others.