DEAR AMY: My son is a sensitive, kind, funny, enthusiastic third-grader. Last year, he befriended a girl who was being badly bullied. Soon, he was being teased. He continued to sit with her. This girl became smitten, and other kids teased him by saying, "Nick and Emily, sitting in a tree ..." He has handled it by sticking up for himself. I've talked to teachers and the school counselor. This past week, a boy at the bus stop pushed him up against the fence. What really scares me is that this might get worse. I have this sensitive kid whose kind nature is putting a big target on his back. Yesterday, he was in a race. His entire group started chanting for another boy to win. During the trophy ceremony, he started crying. He understood it was fair that he lost, etc., but he couldn't stop crying. I want to raise an emotionally healthy kid, but I also want to be the mom with the kid who survives to be an emotionally healthy adult. I am just at a loss.-- Upset Mom
DEAR UPSET: I shared your question with Michael Thompson, co-author of "Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children" (2002, Ballantine). We agree that you may be projecting a problem onto your son, who sounds like a pretty awesome kid.
Thompson says, "I see the story of a very resilient boy whose meltdown had more to do with losing than bullying. I don't think it is a service to the child to characterize what's happening to him as bullying.
"Do not 'interview him for pain' (i.e. 'How much does it hurt your feelings when those mean kids tease you?') or treat him as a victim.
"Listen, empathize with him and ask him about strategies: 'Do you have ideas about how to handle that? What do you think other kids do when this happens?' "Hopefully, the shoving incident is a onetime issue of a bigger kid dominating a smaller kid. He should learn to: ignore, walk away, stand with a friend."