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Parenting a bullied child (cue the nausea and rage)

Categories: Daycare Doldrums, Trying to figure it all out

5 comments

For the past few years, Eldest Daughter has been struggling with a couple of “mean girls” at school. It’s a tricky situation: one of the girls (let’s call her Stacey) has been an on again, off again friend since Kindergarten. Although they are not in the same class this year, they see each other at lunch, recess and almost every after-school activity. When things are good between them, they are very, very good. They enjoy each other’s company and have fun together. But when things are bad they are nasty. Stacey has the manipulative prowess of a woman four times her age, and although I would like to say that I love all of God’s children and would never think to question the innocence of a fifth grade girl, I admit that there have been several times I’ve wondered whether or not everyone would be better off were this horrid little beast packaged up and mailed to Siberia.

Due to the many hours they are together at school each week, Eldest believes that life is easiest if she can keep the peace. She has resigned herself to keeping Stacey happy, because when she is happy she is less cruel. As you can imagine, this leaves me feeling angry and powerless and just plain heartbroken for my sweet, generous child. The adults at her school are aware of the situation but have been reluctant to get involved because, like any seasoned bully, Stacey is on her best behavior around teachers and staff. She saves her most terrible, cutting words for times the girls are out of earshot, so no adult has ever witnessed any of this behavior.

Until recently, my ex-husband and I have focused on giving our daughter tools to deal with Stacey on her own. We talk through the things that happen and how they make her feel, and then we talk through possible ways to respond. We ply her with encouraging words and tell her how proud we are that she is too kind-hearted to lash out at Stacey, but that it’s not her job to keep this girl happy. It’s her job to be a kid, have fun at school, and stand up for herself when necessary. Usually these conversations seem to help. But last week she stopped being able to sleep at her dad’s house. She said her mind was too full; she was stressed and overwhelmed and dreaded seeing Stacey at after-school care. So we decided it was time to talk to her teacher.

It turns out that Eldest isn’t the only girl in her class who has been victimized by Stacey, and Eldest’s teacher was livid. “No one treats my girls this way,” she told me (bless her), and vowed to do something about it. But I was, and continue to be, very torn. On one hand, I’m incredibly relieved that Eldest has an advocate at school, an adult who is willing to help keep her safe. But on the other hand, we are all too familiar with the skill and secrecy Stacey uses against her victims. She holds grudges. She is very, very patient. And she does not hesitate to strike the moment an adult isn’t watching. If she finds out that Eldest’s “tattling” was in any way related to whatever consequences this teacher finds appropriate, Eldest’s life will be a living hell. And god help us, we haven’t even reached middle school.

What can I do? How can I help my child? Oh, how I wish for the relative simplicity of boys. I wish Eldest could just pummel this girl, assert her confidence and dominance, and be done with it. But the spider web that is the female social hierarchy is so wicked and complex; even as a relatively well-adjusted adult, I find this system nearly impossible to navigate. It kills me that my beautiful girl is suffering at the hands of another kid. If I could, I would keep her by my side always and protect her from everything painful and awful in this world. But parenthood is never that easy. And she will inevitably get hurt. This is the horrible truth that no one tells you when they hand you your wrinkled newborn for the first time, her skin still wet from your womb. You cannot protect her from everything. The only thing you can do is love her, fiercely, through it all. And if you’re lucky, that will help.



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5 comments so far...

  • You are way ahead of the game compared to many parents in the way you and your ex are pro actively addressing the situation and working together with her. Maybe she can find a comfortable situation within a group of other kids that have been subjected to this girl’s bullying. There is strength in numbers and these verbally abused kids might find their own group empowering. They will definitely feel less singled out - which is one of the biggest fears at that age. Keep up the great parenting and maybe your daughter will come out of this bad situation with a skill set that will help her navigate the upcoming minefields of the teenage years and ultimately adulthood.

    WT  |  February 11th, 2013 at 10:41 am

  • Thank you for the kind words, WT. I like your point about not feeling singled out. I’ll ask her tonight if it might be helpful to talk to the other girls about what’s going on.

    Karli  |  February 11th, 2013 at 11:48 am

  • God will see your child through this time. Let her know that God never creates ugly. No matter what the other girl says to your child, she will always be a child of God and she doesn’t need to allow any bully to try and take that from her. Tell her to pray when she is stressed. Tell her to allow God to walk with her and protect her as she walks through the valley of the shadow of death as Psalms 23 says.

    My daughter went through the same thing. God got her through….He can help your daughter too. Teach her how to lean upon Him and allow Him to lift her up in the weak times.

    meganiiq  |  March 1st, 2013 at 1:21 pm

  • Wow, this really hits home.

    First of all, I am SO glad you have a supportive teacher.

    I have more experience as a parent than as a teacher, but I have seen SO many cases of bullying where the teachers either didn’t see it or didn’t want to see it. Many of these cases were actually in elementary school–3rd, 4th, 5th grade. The parents AND the bullied children were made to feel like there was something wrong with THEM. Most of the cases I saw or heard about were in private schools; the teachers in the public schools seemed to care more. And, yes, most of them involved girls.

    Someone recently sent me a FB thread, where a teacher posted how upset she was to have received an email from a parent, accusing her of enabling bullying in her classroom, which the parent termed, “teacher-approved bullying.”

    The messages posted by her fellow teachers appall me. While a few offered general sympathy, most of them attacked the parent of the bullied child.

    Not one teacher offered suggestions on how to address the real issue–what to do when a child has been bullied in your class, and you MAY have unknowingly enabled it.

    Instead, most of the comments went something like this:

    “Parents are so ridiculous!”

    “Obviously little Johnny or whomever twisted things around in relaying their side to mommy.”

    “When parents throw terms like bullying at you, they are trying to intimidate you.”

    “That’s B.S.! Want me to beat that “parent” up? Lol I show them what bullying really means. ”

    “When a parent emails a teacher saying the teacher approves of that kind of behavior, they have immediately crossed a line.”

    “I’m just saying that from years of teaching middle schoolers, they are at the prime stage for creating drama where none exists. ”

    So what we have here is an assumption that the student has not been bullied, and is making it up. Honestly, when I first saw these comments, my first reaction was to think, “these teachers are grown-up bullies themselves.”

    Am I over-reacting, or does anyone else see it this way?

    Is this part of an attitude in our society against females? Girls are not to be believed if they complain of bullying, because they dramatize everything? Mothers are not to believed, because they were too stupid to see that their children were twisting the truth?

    But what does it say when so many of the bullies–and the teachers themselves–are female?

    Where does all of this COME from????

    And how do we, as parents, deal with the teachers who have this attitude towards both parents and bullied children?

    part-time teacher  |  March 2nd, 2013 at 3:26 pm

  • @ meganiiq: Thank you for your kind and loving comment.

    @ part-time teacher: I would have been as appalled as you were if I came across that FB thread! We are incredibly blessed to have a teacher who “gets it” and is willing to step in. I was not that lucky when I was growing up. The questions you pose are valid; why do some teachers (and some parents) have a difficult time advocating for the children and families who are harmed by bullying? It’s terribly, terribly sad.

    Karli  |  March 4th, 2013 at 4:48 pm

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