My 7 year old daughter has been targeted by a bully in her class for three years. The bully has tried to isolate my daughter socially by threatening other girls if they play with her, and has told my daughter that she doesn’t belong in this world. The bully will often notice that my daughter is making friends with someone and then start playing with that girl at recess, and tell my daughter that the other girl doesn’t like her. The school is aware of the problem and says they are dealing with the bully. In the meantime she continues to target my daughter. The school has a social worker who is there a couple of times per month and does a classroom intervention, as well as an individual intervention with my daughter.
It is also true that my daughter is immature socially, and very sensitive. She had one best friend for all of pre-school they were inseparable, but when they got to elementary school a new girl joined the class and my daughter lost her best friend to the new girl. Since then she perceives the slightest thing as an insult that she describes as a rock building up in her stomach. My daughter is a generally happy kid, who gets along well and plays well with friends at home. In school she stays mostly to herself, but occasionally complains about insults that seem to be exaggerated.
My daughter’s perception of the bully is that she pitties her. She says all the time that she knows the bully can’t control it. We have been working with my daughter to handle these incidents on her own and building her resilience by writing about it in a journal and re-framing etc. But we don’t want the school to take their eye off the problem. When we speak with them about what is going on they imply that we are blowing the situation out of proportion since our daughter isn’t complaining to them, but we don’t want to discourage her from learning to handle it without running to the teacher each time. This is a small school where my daughter will likely be in the same class with this bully for the next 10 years. How do we address the problem without subjecting our daughter to a childhood full of insults?
All social situations are challenging, since rarely do parents see the whole picture. I commend you on seeing both the strengths and challenges your daughter brings to this difficult situation. It is equally challenging, despite the rich information you provide, to generate a focused solution for your situation. That said – here are some thoughts and suggestions.
1. While your child’s perception is their reality, parents can help children who tend to over-identify the “slightest thing” as insult, take things personally, etc. It is such a powerful notion that we control how we think. We can choose to take the same piece of information – i.e. that person just called me a name – and award it 5 different explanations. It could be about me, it could be they had a bad day, it could be they are mean to everyone and I should not take it personally, etc. Often sensitive children get ‘stuck” in seeing everything in one way. Challenging them to “give me five” to come up with 5 different ways of explaining a situation can really help get them past their sensitive rut.
2. How should parents deal with schools? Especially when schools say – we don’t see it. Sometimes, even great schools, do not see it! And no parents want schools to make decisions or intervene based on reports from children – which can be inaccurate, or even deliberately misleading. That may not be the case here, but the school is limited as to what can be done when they do not observe any difficulty. That said, parents can ask different questions. Rather than focusing on bullying – asking who does my child play with? Who chooses them for activities? What times of day/activities make them most happy, engaged, comfortable? Sometimes these questions can help a school unearth and focus on difficulties and opportunities that might have gone unnoticed.
3. Finally, what do we tell children about telling. I am a bit puzzled about not wanting a 7 year old to “run to the teacher” everytime. At 7, lots of things are still hard to do on your own, and I would hope that teachers would be willing and able to help problem solve with students around social issues. The trick is to help children and educators see this as a learning opportunity. It is not tattling so I get someone in trouble. It is not telling so you, the adult can fix my problem. If it is going to an adult for chizuk, for guidance, just to have another set of eyes and ears to puzzle out what to do . . . I want 7 year olds and 17 year olds to do that as frequently as they need. That’s how they will learn to do that on their own.
My heart really goes out to you and your daughter. Because at the end of the day – some children are mean. Some children are controlling. And sometimes those children are with us in a place (like a small class) where we have little recourse. Parents have to share the tough reality with even sensitive children that some people will just never be a friend, or even friendly.
Hoping this is helpful to this wonderfully devoted parent – and to this unfortunately struggling little girl!