Growing up, I didn’t know what bullying was – nor did I feel like I had to worry about being picked on or harassed by peers. As I started a family, I learned more and more about what children were going through. With the help of media, we are exposed to the extreme instances of situations – mass shootings, children committing suicide, children being bullied and most recently, sexual harassment and encounters. Like most parents, I have hoped that my children would never have to experience being bullied or to be the bully.
In April 2017 I noticed that my daughter (7 years old), started to not want to attend child care after school. She begged to go home early but with work I couldn’t accommodate that request on a regular basis. I tried to talk to her about what she didn’t like about being there. She refused to tell me. To be honest, I’m not 100% sure she knew exactly why. This used to be a place where she would ask me if she could be the last child to leave because she didn’t want to miss anything fun. I didn’t think much of it. I tried to keep the lines of communication open but she didn’t open up.
A month later, my daughter fell and broke her arm over Mother’s Day weekend. She had to get a cast and wear it for the next 6 weeks. The Monday after it happened was when I finally learned why she didn’t want to go to school. There were two girls (one younger and one the same age) that were going to make fun of her. She didn’t want to go to a place where she would be made to feel ashamed or embarrassed about her accident. I encouraged her to go to school and basically try to walk away from the situation and ignore the girls. As long as she didn’t respond in a way that encouraged these “mean girls” to continue being mean, I hoped that it would stop.
My daughter came home that day deflated. She had told me those two girls walked up to her at the after school care program and accused her of having a fake broken arm. While this may not be the extreme form of bullying that some children endure, it was still a form of bullying. I was furious but it was the evening and I couldn’t do much. I talked my daughter through the situation and we worked together on how we could respond to these girls. The next morning when I dropped her off at child care I spoke to the director. I have a very good relationship with the director and felt comfortable speaking with her about it.
The director was very upset that bullying was happening in her classroom. She also admitted that she had noticed a few instances and I don’t think she fully realized the negative impact it was having on my confident daughter. I told her it had to stop and we talked about how to address the issue.
My biggest concern was that no matter how much teaching a school does about bullying, it is too GENERAL. It also doesn’t provide age appropriate examples of what bullying is. I told the director that maybe one way to show the real impact of bullying and to label behaviors as such is to call out the child. I know this sounds harsh but children don’t connect themselves to specific things that are said or done unless you actually say “Sally, you said the cast was fake. You didn’t say it once but you chanted loudly while following Amy around the playground for 10 minutes. When she asked you to stop saying it, you ignored her request and continued to do it until she started crying. This is a form of bullying.” Want to know the definition of bullying? Find it here.
I’m not advocating that we call children out in class but I think it is important for the child that is exhibiting bully behavior to be informed of the situation. I also believe that the parent should be informed with specific examples. As we all know, parenting methods vary from one family to the next and informing a parent that their child could have bullying behavior is a very sensitive topic. In 1998, Peter Smith and Rowan Myron-Wilson stated that “bullying behaviour has its origins in parenting as well as in the school environment”. More specifically, a 2013 article written by Constantinos Kokkinos stated “insecurely attached children reported more involvement in bullying and victimization, lower levels of emotional warmth, and higher levels of rejection” which may be why parents and schools are hesitant to address these issues. They may feel it’s a direct stab to the way they raise their children or run their school. My response – Get over it! Children are getting hurt and hurting themselves. Let’s work together and figure out a solution.
Anyway, the director in fact pointed out specific things that children said and told them how the “victim” felt when they heard those words or when those actions occurred. There were several children who exhibited bullying/dominance/aggressive behavior towards other children. The behavior stopped for the remainder of the year and summer happened. I spoke to the mothers of the two girls involved and they both apologized and said they would speak to their daughters. All was better.
What inspired me to write this blog today was because I received a text from our child care director yesterday who stated she didn’t know what was going on with my daughter. My daughter (now 8 years old) requested that the director text me and ask me to pick her up early. When the director said she couldn’t continue to bother me every week about this, my daughter became frustrated and disappointed. The director mentioned that she recently noticed that my daughter was having trouble again – sitting alone and reading and not interacting with some of the other kids. I mentioned this to my husband who said that our daughter stated it was the same two girls who were being mean to her AGAIN. Our son, who is also in child care, confirmed the negative actions of the other two girls.
My confident and spirited daughter doesn’t feel safe or wanted at child care because of the actions of these two girls – an action that neither mom of the two girls fundamentally feels is out of the norm for a young girl (i.e. “every child will be mean”). What a terrible perspective! I know that there are many other children all over the world that experience this on a daily basis. There has to be a better program that is designed to help children/guide children in how to handle situations as well as helping children cope with things that are happening in the home. How do you think a program should be designed for children to understand?
For now, I’m going to go through the StopBullying.gov website to learn more about what I can if our school continues to ignore my request for information regarding the district’s bullying policy as well as the school’s policy.