Argh. I am feeling really annoyed. This morning, my usually chipper, happy, outgoing older daughter didn’t want to go to school. It is Tuesday, so it isn’t part of her sleeping late on Mondays and Fridays thing. I asked her about it and kept pushing, not satisfied with her mumbled, “I just don’t feel like it,” answers. Finally it came out. She was nervous about some bullies. A few months ago, one of them punched her. Her school handled it fairly very well. The vice principal herself stepped in and mediated a discussion between Sofi and the bully, and promised to keep an eye on the situation. Sofi, at the time, said she felt the vice principal took her seriously and she was satisfied with how it was handled. But she is still nervous. That punch really shook her. It shook me. She is in first grade and should not be worried about getting punched at school. She also said those bullies – who are in second grade – have been teasing her about her new shoes. She is a very active girl who loves running all the time. When she outgrew her old gym shoes, I took her to the store to pick out a new pair. Her main concern was that they be FAST. We looked through the entire “girl” section, but there was only one pair of running shoes, and they weren’t in her size. All the other shoes were either dress shoes, tall boots, clogs, or Keds style tennis shoes with sparkles on them. We decided to move on to another store, but on our way out we passed the “boy” section. She saw a pair of orange and black running shoes with Velcro and flashing lights. She was so excited! She tried on a pair and ran up and down the aisle. “These are super fast!” So we bought them and she was thrilled. As soon as we got home, she put them on and ran around the dining room table showing them off. She couldn’t wait to wear them to school and run around the playground with her friends. Now she is sad about them because of the older boys taunting her.
So what can we do? I can’t go to school with her and yell at those kids for making my daughter sad. I can’t pull her out of school and keep her home alone, locked away from the mean kids forever. And I don’t want to tell her she has to ignore her own taste and just do what society and the mean kids deem acceptable. Lucky for my daughter, her grandmother writes books about teaching children to be peacemakers and she advocates for anti-bullying issues (through PFLAG and Illinois Safe Schools Alliance). So we have some tools available to help guide her through this. A friend of mine who is an educator and mother shared this resource with me as well.
The first obstacle was finding out about the problem. She was ashamed and didn’t want to talk about it. When I was in school, I didn’t want to talk about the bullying I went through, either. The bullies make us feel ashamed and try to take away our pride. We don’t want to repeat what they say because what if the person we are talking to agrees with them? But now we know what is going on, or at least part of it, so we can move forward.
This morning we talked about things she can say when the bullies make fun of her shoes. She settled on, “Why do you care?” as her choice comeback. We also talked about the power she does have. She has the power to walk away. It is a big school with lots of other kids. If one kid doesn’t like her, she can walk away and find another one to play with. She doesn’t need to play with the mean kids. If the bullies keep harassing her, she has advocates. She can talk to her teacher or find the vice principal who helped her before. It is a large school, but it has committed educators and administrators who will take her seriously. Two of the teachers there are friends of ours from church, so my daughter also knows she can go to them as trusted adults. And I told her we would talk more after school. We will start working at home to arm her with confidence and tools to handle the haters. Her little sister is also struggling with a bully at her preschool. Her teachers said they are aware of it and that he is a problem for several kids. She will be part of our new anti-bullying homeschool curriculum, too.
It makes me sad and angry that my children have to deal with this when they are still so young. Part of me feels guilty, like I set them up for this by encouraging them to be themselves instead of trying to make them fit a mold. But I think that is not right. I used to work with high schoolers, thousands of them a year, talking to them about the problems they were facing. All of them dealt with bullies in one way or another. Even the ones who seemed perfect were teased about something. Allowing my girls to be themselves, hopefully, will give them greater confidence in the end. Hopefully the confidence and joy they show at home will prove to be stronger than the negativity they encounter in school.