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Ask Amy

Ask Amy column

Q. How do I help keep my son from being bullied? He is a sensitive, kind, funny, enthusiastic third-grade boy. Last year he befriended a girl who was being badly bullied, and he stuck up for her. 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 have talked to teachers and the counselor.

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Aside from this he hasn’t had much of an issue with being teased or bullied until this past week, when a boy at the bus stop pushed him 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. This is making me crazy.

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 in front of everybody.

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 at a loss.

A. I shared your question with Michael Thompson, coauthor of “Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children” (2002, Ballantine).

He and I 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 one-time issue of a bigger kid dominating a smaller kid. He should learn to: ignore, walk away, stand with a friend.”

My instinct is that he might enjoy karate lessons; his integrity will be valued and combined with confidence-building physical skills.

Q. I’m dating a really great, selfless guy who has four kids, ranging from 13 to 18. I’ve met his kids, and they seem to like me. Although I think they’re great kids, they really don’t do anything to help their father (or me) in terms of household chores.

They’ve never helped with the dishes, laundry, cleaning, lawn mowing.

I don’t feel it’s my place to tell them to help out. My boyfriend agrees with me and regrets giving them a “free ride,” but says that they can’t change overnight.

It’s been a year, and not much has changed. I really love this man, but I can’t see a future if I’m going to be playing Cinderella to these kids.

A. As their father’s girlfriend, you cannot tell these kids to do chores. Nor should you be their Cinderella, though you can enlist them by saying, “Guys, let’s take care of these dishes together, it will get done faster.”

This is a potential deal breaker for a successful long-term relationship, because today’s “selfless” dad is tomorrow’s doormat. Your boyfriend needs to see that he is robbing his children of important life skills, not to mention the feeling kids get from seeing that they are an important part of the family team.

Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@tribune.com.

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