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Joe Donnelly: Even Gandhi would have wanted his boys to fight back against bullies

All fathers of young boys have one worry: can my young lad stand up for himself? I'm certain even Mahatma Gandhi would have wanted his four little chaps to be able to stand up to bullies or mind themselves in a tussle.

However, as a recent incident showed me, it's important always to imagine a different version of events with little boys' stories about scraps, squabbles and skirmishes.


My little boy's cousins live next door to us. There's a boy the same age and also in his junior infants class, and two girls a little bit older but also in the same primary school.

I often find the girls the best source of information in finding out how my fellow is getting on in the general scheme of things.

God knows, he wouldn't tell you a word; it's like some schoolyard omerta exists -- and he's only five years old.

"How is Ben getting on these days?" I asked one of the girls last week.

"Oh fine," she said, "an older boy slapped him."

"What?" I said, immediately alarmed and anticipating all my worst fears coming true.

"Yeah, an older boy slapped him and grabbed his other friend by the neck and pushed over another friend."

I couldn't believe it. Some playground tyrant was picking on the junior infants like it was a sport.

I was more than a little disappointed that the three of them seemingly offered no resistance.

Later that evening I asked my son about the event.

"Yeah an older boy slapped me and was fighting my friends too," he casually confirmed, not drawing his gaze away from Tom And Jerry tales on the box. I was trying to remain calm and process all the different reactions I could give: the politically correct one (don't retaliate with physical aggression), the old-school reaction (next time the three of you need to fight back), or the supergrass response (next time you should tell the teacher).

"What class was the older boy in?" asked my wife, who has a more intimate knowledge than me of the playground politics in his school.

"Senior infants," he told us.

"And what was he doing over in your yard?". The junior infants have their own play yard and they're not allowed to stray from it, nor are the older ones allowed to trespass into it.

She knows these important details, the boy's mother.


"He wasn't; we were over in his yard," he explained.

"And what were you doing over in his yard?" she said, with a tone that suggested we were about to get a storyline shift, such as when a movie plot takes an unexpected turn.

"Spitting at the girls," he answered proudly.

So there I was almost worried sick about some thuggish little monster wreaking havoc on the poor unfortunate junior infants, including my son, when in reality someone else's chivalrous little boy who was prepared to defend his harassed female classmates against the actions of three bowsies -- one of whom was my own flesh and blood.

On one hand I admired the honesty of Ben; he can't help always telling the truth and I love that about him.

On the other hand, it made me realise there are often different versions of the truth when it comes to children's versions of events.

Make sure you have the correct version before charging up to the school playground, fists clenched and screaming: "Which one is he, son? Point him out to me!"