'My son was bullying other kids at school. When he told me why, it broke my heart.'

As told to Ann DeGrey

The first time I received a phone call from my son's school about his bullying, it hit me like a punch to the gut. The school councillor detailed incidents where he mocked, belittled, and physically intimidated his classmates. Surely, she couldn't be talking about my sweet boy Ethan? 

I knew my 11-year-old had a temper, and he lashed out at his younger sister. But I grew up in a large family and I know all siblings fight every now and then. I had no idea that Ethan was terrorising his classmates, as well as his teachers. 

I was told Ethan's bullying incidents are varied and distressing. There was a time he orchestrated a cruel prank on a classmate, convincing the boy that he was invited to a non-existent party. The boy apparently turned up, with a present, only to be embarrassed to discover there was no party. 

Ethan also spread rumours about a girl in his class, who'd survived cancer, telling people she was wearing a wig and encouraging other kids to constantly pull her hair. This girl ended up leaving the school because of Ethan's bullying.

Watch: The other signs of workplace bullying beyond its definition. Story continues after video.

Video via ReachOut Australia.

He also did seemingly small but upsetting things, such as every day he'd throw the school bag of a special needs student over the school fence onto the street. He also bullied a girl with a speech impediment, tossed a rotting banana at his teacher, and made up a nasty song which he sang to a boy whose parents had just divorced. And the list goes on. The councillor explained to me that it's not just the physical bullying but the emotional and psychological torment he inflicts that cuts the deepest.


I was also told that he tormented a teacher, whose husband had recently died, by printing a picture of the man that he'd found online, drawing devil horns on the man’s head and leaving the picture on her desk.  

I felt absolutely dreadful. I blamed myself – maybe all the extra hours I spend in the office and away from my kids have contributed to this? I could only imagine the fear and hurt in the eyes of the poor kids who were on the receiving end of Ethan's cruelty.

When I confronted Ethan, at first he told me that the teacher was lying but eventually he admitted that he gets very cross and takes it out on other kids. "I don't really like myself very much," he said. This just broke my heart. 

I feel like mothers are always very quick to blame themselves for everything that goes wrong with their kids. But I know that Ethan has inherited his father's worst traits, my ex-husband, a man whose own mean and cruel streak eventually drove us apart. I see so much of him in Ethan now, a realisation that's both heartbreaking and terrifying. It's as if that same anger and bitterness have taken root in my son, manifesting in ways that I can barely comprehend. 

I've tried everything I can think of at home. We've had countless discussions about kindness, empathy, and the impact of our actions on others. Sometimes, I catch glimpses of the sweet boy he used to be, and I feel a surge of hope. But then, another incident, another call from the school, and we're back to square one. It's a cycle that leaves me feeling helpless, questioning where I went wrong, and what more I could possibly do to bring back the kind boy that he once was. 


We went to therapy together and that's when I realised that Ethan's actions go beyond typical childhood misbehaviours. They're deliberate, harmful, and increasingly difficult to address.

I was so desperate, I've decided to move Ethan to a new school and I'm hoping that a fresh start might be the change he needs. Yet, I'm haunted by the fear of history repeating itself. What if the bullying doesn't stop? 

As I contemplate this next step, I'm filled with a mix of hope and dread. Hope that a new school will offer Ethan a chance to change, to become the kind and caring person I know he can be. And dread at the possibility that his mean and cruel tendencies are too deeply ingrained, that they might dictate the person he becomes.

The weight of this situation is overwhelming. Knowing that your child is causing pain to others, and feeling powerless to stop it, is a form of agony I wouldn't wish on anyone. I'm constantly torn between my love for Ethan and the responsibility I feel to correct his behaviour, to somehow make right the wrongs he's committed.

But I refuse to give up on my son. I know the road ahead will be difficult but I also believe that it's not too late for Ethan to change. My love for him is unwavering, and I'm committed to doing whatever it takes to help him overcome this. The thought of him continuing down this path, of becoming someone even he can't recognise, is unbearable.

Feature Image: Getty Images. 

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