Today I am sharing the first guest post of 2012. I hope you will join me in welcoming Signe Whitson to my blog as she shares a lesson learned from:
A Little Girl’s First Experience with Bullying
My daughter had her first heartbreak at the tender age of four. During the first week of her preschool class, she met a little girl named Nikki and, as so charmingly happens at that age, the two became best friends within an instant. The girls bonded over their love of Disney’s High School Musical and anything to do with singing and dancing. They quickly became a package deal inside and out of the classroom, arranging lunchdates afterschool and playdates when school was not in session.
For a few weeks, all I heard was, “Nikki says this” and “Nikki likes that” and “Nikki told me I should do such and such.” I must admit I was a bit swept up in Nikki-fever as well, enjoying how much pleasure my daughter was taking from the friendship. Until the day it all ended.
On a brisk October day, my daughter experienced the cold, harshness of relational aggression—better known as bullying. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bullying occurs when a person or group repeatedly tries to harm someone who is weaker. Bully behavior takes many forms, from hitting, name calling, and teasing to social exclusion and rumor-spreading. These latter forms are termed relational aggression because of the way interpersonal relationships, most often among girls, are manipulated to settle grudges.
In my daughter’s case, relational aggression felt like a break-up…or more like getting dumped. The first incident I noticed, from my vantage point in the school hallway where parents wait to pick kids up from class, was Nikki shoving my daughter off of a chair. Heart in my throat and claws ready to scratch, I calmed as I watched their teacher walk over quickly. I could hear Nikki explain, “We were just playing,” which seemed to satisfy the teacher, especially at the end of the school day.
When I asked my daughter about what I saw, she seemed unhurt by the fall, but deeply pained by Nikki’s reported words from earlier in class that same day: “You’re not my best friend anymore.” Sting. The look in my daughter’s eyes hurt me more than I ever remember being hurt by any mean girl bully from my own youth. “What did your teacher say?” I asked. “She didn’t hear Nikki say it,” my daughter explained. For those keeping score, that’s Nikki 2, Teacher 0.
Relational aggression tends to occur under the radar of adult awareness. As a form of passive aggressive behavior, the kids who behave this way know how to mask their inner hostility with an outward smile. If questioned by an authority figure, they create plausible excuses for their behavior (e.g. “It was just a game,” or “I was just kidding. Can’t you take a joke?”) Relational aggression is carried out by kids who are cunning enough to behave in ways that are socially appropriate on the surface but searingly painful behind the scenes.
In older kids, social networking sites are a prime arena for relational aggression. 24/7 access to MySpace, Twitter, texting, and instant messaging gives bullies constant access and widespread audiences for spreading rumors, causing humiliation and, when necessary, innocently denying that they ever meant any harm.
In younger children, excluding phrases like, “You’re not my best friend anymore,” and “Only girls with long hair can sit here” are spoken quietly, with an angry smile, right under a teacher’s watchful nose.
The night after “the Nikki incidents,” I heard my daughter crying in her room. When I went to ask her what was wrong, she asked me in return, “Mama, how can I change to make Nikki like me again?” This occurred years ago now, and I tell you I still get tears in my eyes recalling the night. For anyone who says the problems of kids are insignificant, I assure you that the pain caused by bullying at any age is soul-crushing.
The good news is that children are resilient and can move on. The valuable thing my daughter took from having her heart-broken by a “friend” so early on is that now, she is really good about picking genuinely nice kids to hang around with and she’s the first one at a friend’s side when they are being picked on or feeling down. I heard her explain to a peer the other day, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can really hurt too, so be careful about what you say.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Signe Whitson, LSW is the mother of two elementary school-aged daughters, and the author of, Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Aged 5-11 Cope with Bullying. Please visit www.signewhitson.com for information on her workshops and trainings for parents, professionals, and kids. “Like” Signe on Facebook, or Follow her on Twitter @SigneWhitson.
From what I have read, I imagine your daughter will make good choices. Hopefully Nikki will learn to make better choices too. Girls have to deal with things at such an early age today.
Thank God for support from the blogosphere. I don’t think I could have survived the past year without it.
It’s great to read all of your posts and feedback. Sometimes as parents, it feels like we are on an island–the blogosphere is a great way to connect. “Nikki” has re-surfaced in my daughter’s life, now that they are both in the 3rd grade. It’s interesting to see how things have changed–and how they have stayed the same. I like to think that I have taught my daughter many things in the last 4 years about friendship and bullying, though I do admit to feeling as if I am on eggshells when the two girls are together, hoping my little one will be able to make good choices and assert herself effectively.
Brings back memories of the experience one of my kids had at school too… I still firmly believe we should be our children’s advocate at a young age and speak up when they can’t. I have never subscribed to the idea that kids will figure it out because at that age they wont. My prayer is that more parents will face bullying head on and speak up boldly and fearlessly in defense of their children. We just can’t leave it to the schools. Parents must be actively involved in the schools and even more so when there are problems… I can’t say it enough.
In my child’s case, I contacted the principal and the other child’s parents and made it clear that it needed to be resolved asap. Every time I watch a TV show or read on the internet about another painful bullying case and how the parents didn’t intervene or felt helpless, it breaks my heart. Great post!
Yes, I agree parents need to get involved, but I also know it is not that simple. Many of those who were bullied to death have parents who tried to get the schools to help and some even talked to the parents of the bullies.
I talked to the parents of my daughter’s bullies and the school. The mother of the Queen Bee told me that she had no problem with what her daughter was doing. The school counselor told me I was the problem and I should let her handle it. Her way of handling it was by having my daughter meet with her weekly and by giving the girl who twice defaced my daughter’s graded art work two days of picking up trash. FYI: This girl was not the Queen Bee and in a way she is a victim too.
The counselor told me she did not believe the girls knew what they were doing was wrong. Yet, they were all ten and eleven at the time and she had met with the exact same group of girls the previous year over another incident. She then proceeded to give my daughter an assignment to stand up straight and smile more when she was with the two worse cliques all day, and they were telling everyone that my daughter was mean and she got them in trouble. The Queen Bee even told my daughter that she hated me and I was the problem.
This was the point I went over the counselor’s head to the assistant dean and demanded that they do more, and only then did they talk to entire grade about being kind and respectful of others, and even then to my knowledge the girls involved did not get any additional help to change. I do not believe they have changed either. They have only become subtler.
Just last month the Queen Bee had the nerve to tell someone that she is thinking of inviting my daughter to her birthday party. Her birthday is in the summer. My daughter has not spoken to her in years and the girl knows my daughter left school due to events related to the bullying. This is the same girl that my daughter overheard devaluing her accomplishments after a school assembly last fall. Does this sound like the girl has changed?
I suspect the girl has an ulterior motive since the school has bullying signs around campus this year, and they are talking more about bullying. They even added the verbiage to their school rules finally. Yes, we know about social combat and it is alive and well in Honolulu. However, this time I am more aware and will not hesitate to sue the parents and the girl if she ever directly harasses my daughter again.
I’m glad you acted as I’ve seen news reports where the parents hoped it will all go away. I’m also glad that you mentioned the next option; threat of a lawsuit and this will include suing the school for being deleterious with their responsibilities to protect all children under their ward. I’m behind you in saying, please do not let your daughter go to a party hosted by a bully. The motives don’t seem sincere to me.
Thankfully, my daughter is more aware now too and has no desire to go to the party. She scoffed at the very idea.
Bullying is very soul crushing. I am a mom of 5 children , ages ranging from 21mths. to 14 yr.s. old. I do believe it has to be a combination of things. I do feel these children need to be educated from early on. The bystanders need to know they need to be a voice, the victims need to know they need to reach out to someone and if that someone doesn’t listen , tell someone else. Most importantly , the bullies need to know what their words and or actions do to another child. Administrators and teachers need to be more aware and yes parents need to talk with their children . Communities have to get on the same playing field with this so we can tackle this issue. Recently at my the elementary school where 2 of my children go , a 4th grade boy convinced another student if he ate the dog feces in school yard , he would be his best friend. Needless to say , this boy did not gain a best friend but a bunch of other kids calling him a not nice name! It’s awful to think that this can be going on during our kids school day. It could be your child , his child, her child or my child that it could be happening to . I recently joined an anti bullying foundation (Free your Mind) in hopes to make some difference .
This article was very touching for me. Thank You for sharing , Lori Cipolla
My daughter experienced severe bullying in elementary school that is why I wrote my first novel. I agree, everyone needs to be involved for it to really change. I am hoping one day everyone will realize this. Kindness and respect should be a high priority.
I agree! That is why I am encouraging others who help including Signe. It is a problem that needs many hands to resolve it.
Thanks for sharing this story, Sadly, it occurs to often in schools and equally sad is the number of bystanders who are indifferent to the pain of the victim. This is a growing phenomenon and the social exclusion is nefarious…it happens to too many groups of kids. Adults need to take a strong position of leadership. Education alone is not enough; schools must engage parents in a continuous dialogue and teachers need to stop staying “well, this stuff happens.” The more that his brought to the surface, the more awareness…keep it up!