Growing up I was teased for a myriad of reasons – my ethnicity, my appearance, my height, my name, not wearing brand name clothes. Kids can be so cruel, but maybe it’s just an inevitable part of growing up. I’m not sure if I was teased more than the average person, but I still hate teasing to this day.

Once Charlie started public school, I knew that he would endure some teasing, particularly because he’s small and was born at the end of the year, making him smaller than all his classmates. We never considered redshirting Charlie even with his December birthday, because we felt that he was emotionally ready for school. But I also didn’t anticipate that the teasing would start before he was even 4 years old. Since starting pre-k in September of this year, Charlie has encountered several instances of teasing. The first one wasn’t that big of a deal, but there were two other instances where we felt we had to talk to his teachers.

Shortly after Charlie started attending his after school program, he told us that the older kids would constantly call him “baby.” When we asked him how he responded, he told us that he called them baby right back. He says that the older kids still call him baby, but it doesn’t seem to bother Charlie too much because they tease the other little kids as well. He’s also probably still a little too young to fully understand teasing yet.

Then 2 months into the school year, Charlie told us that the kids in his pre-k class were making fun of his lunch and calling it “yucky.” We talked to his teacher, and she confirmed his story, but she said that she made a big effort to stop by Charlie’s table and comment on how delicious his lunch looked each day. When Charlie was at daycare, I packed a lot of soups and Korean foods for him because that’s what we eat at home and what he eats best. But once he started public school, I packed foods that were easier to eat since there were no microwaves or refrigerators. I also stayed away from Asian foods that might be interpreted as weird since he was the only Asian kid in his class, and packed more standard American fare.

I’ve been to Charlie’s class a few times for school events, and I could see he was being teased for being different. Most of the kids eat the school lunch, and the kids that brought their lunches typically had things like Lunchables and Cheetos. I guess Charlie’s food was different from everyone else’s — his lunch was also the only one that had an ice pack — so it was easy to make fun of.

Charlie’s teacher told us the teasing had stopped, but when I recently went to his class for International Day, I saw his classmate immediately go “yuck!” and make an exaggerated face with her tongue sticking out as soon as Charlie opened his lunch. Because I knew that he was being teased, I had packed chicken nuggets into his lunch that day, so it was just normal kid food. But by then I think it had just become a habit of the kids to tease Charlie for his lunch no matter what he had. Charlie even laughed along with them and seemed to think it was funny.

I don’t think the kids are intentionally trying to be cruel. But even though Charlie was laughing along with them, I know that it’s affecting him because he brings it up at home regularly. When we had lasagna earlier this week for dinner, he specifically requested that we not pack it in his lunch because his classmates would say that it was yucky. As a result of the teasing, Charlie eats less at school when he already has a tiny appetite. Since he’s already small for his age, he needs all the calories he can get.

There was a more serious incident a couple of weeks into the school year. Charlie started saying that he didn’t want to go to his after school program anymore. When we pressed him on why, he told us that an older girl was being very mean to him every day. It’s difficult to get the full story and accurate details from a 3 1/2 year old, especially because Charlie has a poor concept of time and often refers to anything that happened in the past as happening “yesterday.”  So something could have happened yesterday or it could have happened three weeks ago.

We did some research and discovered that one of the biggest signs of being bullied is when a child no longer wants to go to a certain place they previously enjoyed. We talked to his after school program teachers, but they couldn’t figure out who the bully was (all the kids are in one large room together for a snack before they break off into individual classrooms by age so it’s pretty hectic). The teachers said they would watch out for Charlie, and we told Charlie that if anyone ever bothered him, to tell his teacher immediately.

Like many 3 year olds, Charlie has a very active imagination so at first we weren’t sure whether or not to believe him, because sometimes he would tell us that his bully’s skin was gray, her eyes were red, and her name was Megatron (the villain in Transfomers). But I think it was very telling that he chose a villain to depict her. More typically when Charlie would tell us details about what his bully looked like and what she had done to him though, his story was always consistent. We believed him because he never lies about things like this; when he makes things up, the stories tend to be more outlandish and are never consistent in their details.

We never did find out the identity of the bully, but Charlie told us that she stopped bothering him and he hasn’t brought her up since. At one point we considered pulling him from his after school program because while he loved his pre-k class and teacher, he would beg us not to send him to his after school program. But everyone we talked to advised against it, as an adjustment period was naturally expected. Around that time I talked to a good friend of mine whose son had started kindergarten at another school, and he was being bullied as well, but she seemed to think that it wasn’t that serious…. yet.

In the big scheme of things, perhaps this is just a first world problem to have. It bothers me that children so young have to endure teasing from such a young age, but maybe this is just what school is like, and it’s a natural part of growing up. I can’t protect him forever even if I wanted to, but I can’t deny that all this does make me really sad.

Have you or your child ever been bullied? How did you handle it?