I can’t think of many things that hurt more than seeing hurtdisappointmentrejection/loss in the face of your own child. This is especially true when they felt safe and then no longer feel safe in a place or situation.

Not long ago we were visiting somewhere new. My boy (T) was around a group of kids that he was meeting for the first time. I am always curious how the interactions will go, but am confident that he can handle most things thrown at him. The adults were gathered in one room, and the kids were off playing in another. Everything appeared to be fine.

As we were wrapping up the evening, T came out you could tell that something was off. His mama checked on him and found out that some of the boys were playing a bit rougher than he is used to. He felt like they were being bullies. After a bit more conversation, I realized they were not just being bullies, but were engaging in competitive banter. What is that? Trash talk.

Now what, you ask, is the difference between bullying behavior and being competitive? There is a distinct line, in my opinion. It is fairly thin though.

I have grown up around competition. I have had guys tell me that I am awful to throw me off my game. It occurred in the game and they knew and so did I that it was being done in competitive fun. Generally afterwards there was friendly conversation and no one left feeling insulted.

Bullying, on the other hand, is done to purposely put the other person down to make the bully feel superior. There is no game that is being played. It is not being done as a joke. It is done to suppress and hurt the person being bullied. I think if we all are honest, there are times we have been bullied and there are times where we have acted like a bully.

Where do I stand on the issues of trash talk and bullying? I don’ t like either one. Once I realized what they are and what they do, it made me aware of why I never liked them to start out with. If you are trash talking, you are being mean to help you play your game better. If you are bullying, you are being mean to make yourself seem better than another.

If I am playing a game now, and I am playing to win….I do it quietly or I tell jokes. I find making your opponent laugh is much more distracting than trash talk. If someone starts to trash talk me now, I usually ignore it. Just because they are stooping that low doesn’t mean I have to. Most games I play these days are not winner take all. Playing to enjoy is usually what I am up to now. Jokes work in this environment as well.

As far as bullying…yeah…don’t do it.

So, how did we handle the situation with our boy? I asked the dad of the trash talking boys to join us. I unpacked what had happened. With real compassion he apologized to my boy and offered to have his boys apologize as well. My boy thanked him. After the scene was over, we reminded T that things like that are going to happen. How we respond to it is what is important. He did the right thing. He told us what was wrong. He was honest about what happened. He asked for help immediately.

We were then able to remind him that his worth and value have nothing to do with the hurtful comments that he received. Just like when you are offered something you don’t want…you don’t have to take it. He was offered mean comments. He now knows he doesn’t have to accept them.

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