Surviving Switzerland

an expat's experiences navigating the land of mountains, cheese and chocolate

Bullies Have Feelings, Too…

on March 5, 2015


…I just haven’t figured out where they hide them. I’d like to ask the boy that tormented my son last year what he enjoys doing after school. What movies he watches or games that he plays. Is he more tech/computer geek or more of a sports fan? Is he a real person in there? Somewhere?

He lives in our neighborhood. When they were 7 or 8 years old, he even invited my son to his birthday party. They both played with Bakugans at the time and I think the party was good fun for everyone.

Sometime in the middle of the year last year, during 5th grade, this boy started harassing and bullying my son. I only know part of the story and a few of the things he said –




He got the other boys to laugh about it. Yeah, that sounds so f*cking funny. He made sure that the others brushed my son aside and made fun of him, too.

At home, our son didn’t say anything, but he acted explosive. The littlest thing would set him off:  ranting, yelling, slamming things, tearing into his sister.

What’s wrong with you?


The boy’s parents used to say hi, good morning to me out on the street. Now I don’t exist. This works for me—I’m not necessarily blaming them for how their son acts, but…… Would I have the strength, the good graces to say hi if our shoes were switched around? I’d like to think I would, but it’s so unimaginable for me for my son to be the kid who is mean. Maybe they felt the same way until the teachers called and filled them in.

Our family’s home is where we are allowed to be ourselves without being judged or mocked. As much as possible, we keep it a haven from fear, violence and the ugliness that is out there—right out there as soon as you step into the big world. The country where we live helps, and for the most part there’s not too much to fear, but it’s still out there.

No matter we do at home, ugliness worms its way into our lives. The teachers called me to tell me what they had noticed. Unfortunately, it was during the very last days of school, so no time for a big conference, but they did hook my son up with the school psychologist and contact the other kid’s parents. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Just because the bullying stops, though, doesn’t mean everyone starts being friendly. The 6th grade classes (my son and the other boy are in separate classes this year) left for ski camp this week. This is real thing in Switzerland. The kids were choosing roommates, and my son overheard the boy in his group of friends –

I can’t stand him, I’m not getting stuck in a room with him!

Jeez, kid, would it kill you to be nice or at least keep your d@mn opinions to yourself?

The morning that camp started, I drove my son and all his gear to the meeting point and had to stand around watching while he wandered from one group of peers to the next, trying to fit in, talk, joke, or be noticed. I saw myself at that age, kicking up stones on the playground, pretending I preferred to be alone, wondering if the other girls invite me to their girl huddles if I was prettier.

I don’t mind being alone in crowds. I know I’m an introvert and I have fought enough battles (metaphorically) to stand on my own all by myself when necessary. But I’m screaming and trying not to die a little inside when I see my son peering over the shoulders of his classmates so he can pretend to be part of the crowd.

What goes through the minds of these bullies and mean-spirited popular kids? Never having been one, I have no idea. When the students filed onto the tour bus, my son sat by himself.

One Swiss teacher, when confronted with a case of bullying and harassment between 8 year olds, reportedly said, “Children can be cruel.” Then she did nothing to rectify the situation.

Children can be very cruel, every adult knows it’s true. Nature is cruel.

The Nazca booby, a Galápagos Island seabird, lays two eggs at a time. The first one is a day or two older and therefore hatches a day or two earlier. When the second egg hatches and the younger sibling emerges trembling, small and weak, the older one proceeds to slaughter it. This behavior has been linked to hormones which in turn guarantees a higher survival rate of the one chick left in the nest. A natural example of weeding out the weak or survival of the fittest.

Nature is cruel.

It could have been worse for my son. He says the psychiatrist taught him how to stand up for himself. The 8 year old girl from the other school was harassed to the point of contemplating suicide. In 2012, three children between 10 and 14 actually committed suicide in Switzerland.

I hate that this happens. Hate it. There shouldn’t be any weeding out of the vulnerable or different. I wish we could invite that boy over for movies and geeky computer games – because I know there is a real kid in him. Somewhere. And he isn’t mean or evil. I don’t believe that the parents or families of bullies raise their kids to be cruel; on the contrary I think most parents want their kids to be healthy, happy and kind. They want them to succeed.

I want those kids to see the hurt they cause and to feel the hurt they have inside that lets them do it.


18 responses to “Bullies Have Feelings, Too…

  1. cathyc says:

    Heart-breaking. I hope your son is okay – at least he has a sympathetic home and family to come back to, which lots of bullied kids don’t….

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    Oh, this breaks my heart. How painful it must be for you to see your son go through this. My oldest was picked on when he rode the bus in kindergarten, and I felt like I was breaking in two when he cried and told me about it.

    One of the most important things parents can instill in their kids is empathy. And it can’t be a one-time talk. It needs to be discussed and role-modeled on a regular basis. It doesn’t help that TV shows and movies are full of snarky, bullying personalities. Instead of disliking these characters we laugh at them. Makes it seem like being nice isn’t as interesting as being sarcastic and rude.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  4. Ana says:

    I am not even sure what to say. I am just so sad. I guess bullies go after that sense of power, of knowing they are the centre of attention, I don’t know. Maybe the kid doesn’t get enough attention at home?

    I am not a mother and have to admit I would not have the slightest clue on what to tell my child regarding how they should deal with such a situation. I am glad that psychologist was made available for your son. And let’s hope this is a nasty phase, that next year will be better. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Sam Rappaz says:

    I hadn’t realised that bullying was so rampant in Switzerland. Thank you for sharing such a difficult personal struggle for your family. I am so sorry for your son and I hope he finds good friends and a healthier atmosphere in middle school. My best wishes to you and your family.

  6. Abra Mack says:

    I was very touched by your story cause we have (almost!) the same… I was having tears in my eyes when in february (my daughter was made 9) only 2 so-supposed “friends” has came at her birthday party. We are here in this area for about 4 years and still she’s not able to have/make FRIENDS. She suffer and so do I… We, me and my daughter, are open characters … we LOVE ppl and adore to have people around us… Socialize for us is vital but… it seems that we didn’t find (yet!) the rights persons. Anyway, I just want to encorage you to hope and not to give up. Friendly people/kids still exist. They are somewhere… Good luck and best wishes!!!

    • Loneliness is painful to live, no doubt about it! One of the worst parts of being a parent is seeing your child suffer, and while not having friends is not a physical sort of pain, it is an emotional and psychological pain. Getting our son out and involved in music activities and sports (as a spectator and a doer) has helped to some extent. Even finding one person to hang out with and run around during recess at school can make a world of difference, but sometimes there is not a single other child that fits your child’s personality. It’s tough. Thank you for your encouragement, and thank you for sharing your story. Best luck to you and your daughter!

  7. Liz says:

    I hope your son is okay and you are, too. Such things baffle me, the way bullies act, and the way everyone else around them pretends it’s not happening and even if it is happening, they do nothing to rectify it. The booby story shocked me; I had no idea. My son is on the spectrum and he’s being integrated into a traditional kindergarten class and while he has a behavioral aide with him, I’m always afraid what will happen when he meets someone who’s not kind, especially when he gets older and kids, well, become kids. It’s the same fear other parents of special needs kids face and it’s a gripping fear. But I also know I can’t live in constant fear and so I hope and do the best I can.

    • It has been tough on him! He had another, much worse incident that I didn’t write about on here, where at first team mate stole his phone. We reported it to the coach and school, and hoped the culprit (we knew who it was) would come forward. Instead the kid got his older brother to get a gang together and beat him up. This time we went to the police and we just word back that they have been officially found guilty of theft and assault. They are minors, so they won’t really be punished, but it goes on their record, and most importantly: our son has learned to trust us and the legal / education system. I have never wanted to physically harm someone so much…. Anyway, I hope that’s the end of it for my son. He is physically large, but still very gentle and gauche which might attract bullies, but I believe he knows he needs to speak up immediately if anyone tries anything.
      For your son, I wish you luck. Teach him what others are allowed or not allowed to say and do to him. Tell him he can always talk to the teachers or you if he is unhappy. I’m sure you already do this, but it’s the only advice I can give. It drives me crazy that we as parents can’t do more, but unconditional love at home is a powerful healer in case something bad does happen.

      • Liz says:

        Thanks so much for sharing about your son’s experience, Leigh, and I’m glad that something goes on those kids’ record and they know that nothing happens without consequences. My son has an aide and his kindergarten classmates seem really understanding with him, but I’ve always told him to tell me or his dad if he is unhappy. And I sure hope he does tell us.

  8. gabycabezut says:

    I’m so sorry to read this. As a Mom, I know I’d feel frustrated and angry and sad and many other things…I’m glad you found out because your son knows you have his back…and I suppose it will take time for everyone to heal. But I hear you, what makes kids behave like that? 😞

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