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Cape Breton dad nips son’s bullying in the bud

By Nikki Sullivan - Cape Breton Post

Published on June 15, 2017

Chester Borden of the Whitney Pier Boys and Girls Club shows a sign that emphasizes the number one rule at the club — respect each other.

©Nikki Sullivan/Cape Breton Post

SYDNEY RIVER, N.S. — When John Gnatiuk got a call from his son’s afterschool program about his son bullying another child, he acted quickly to teach him bullying is wrong. He thinks more parents should do the same.

The incident happened last fall. Gnatiuk’s eight year-old son and two other boys were bullying an autistic boy so the owner of the afterschool program called to notify the parents of all boys involved.

Immediately, Gnatiuk left work to talk to his son.

“I wanted to deal with it when it was fresh,” he says. “Not a day or two later when they could say ‘I don’t remember what happened.’”

Gnatiuk told his son why bullying is wrong and made him write an apology letter.

 “I was upset,” he recalls. “My son, we’ve tried to raise him as best we can and explain what to do and what not to do and when I heard that, it was definitely not acceptable.

“I explained to him what he did wrong and said, autistic or not, that boy is no different than anyone else. He is just a special little boy.

“I said if he wants to play with you guys, if he wants to join in, you guys play with him. I told him don’t let me ever find out you’ve been bullying anyone or picking on anyone again.”

Gnatiuk also called the autistic boy’s parents to apologize for his son’s actions. That was when he learned the mother of one of the other boys involved was saying her son didn’t do the bullying and was placing all of the blame on Gnatiuk’s son.

Gnatiuk thinks this isn’t right.

 “It’s definitely not prevention. It’s definitely not teaching the child right from wrong,” he says.

Staff working at the afterschool program confirmed Gnatiuk’s suspicions that his son became involved in the bullying after it had already started.

“My son is a follower,” he explains. “I know full well he didn’t start that bullying and I was told he basically joined in.

“But I told the owner of the afterschool program and that little boy’s mother I didn’t care who started what or who instigated what. As far as I was concerned, all three of them were guilty.

“I was kind of pissed off when I got the phone call (that) he was involved with something like this,” he explains, a hint of anger in his voice. “I was even more pissed off when I found out this other mother was trying to place the blame on my kid.

“I had no qualms or issues with saying my kid messed up, my kid acted like a little twit and he will never do it again. But for that mother to sit there and basically praise her kid up and say her kid did no wrong… it pisses me off that she couldn’t take responsibility for her own kid.”

Chester Borden is the executive director of the Whitney Pier Boys and Girls Club and admits some parents make it hard when dealing with bullying issues.

“It’s nice when you reach out to a parent and you’re on the same page. That’s when you see things working,” he says. “The message is the same so you are not confusing the child and in the process, hopefully, you are educating the child and the parent.”

When the parents deny their kid’s actions, Borden says it makes his and his staff’s jobs more difficult because the messages the child gets from the club or from school is different from what they are hearing at home.

Borden says the number one rule at the club is respect, because it is universal and through respect you can teach empathy and all of this comes through education.

“It is education. You are teaching the kids skills,” he says. “That’s the important thing because we aren’t going to be around them all the time so you have to teach this generation skills to defend themselves, sometimes, and to educate other people when they don’t really see the light that they are bullying or disrespecting people.”

For Gnatiuk, he wants to see more youth who are bullying be held accountable for their actions by their parents.

“A lot of this bullying, it lies with the parents, not talking to their kids about how it is wrong,” he says.

 “Somebody has to step up to the plate and take responsibility for it … they need to be held accountable.”