Sticks and Stones 10

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.

Misfits on the Island of Misfit Toys 22

I love Jess at A Diary of a Mom and Leigh at Flappiness is… too, so I completely understand why all of you love them. I followed Jess closely as she went to the White House and I went with Jess to Harvard and I will be eternally grateful that she took me along. I fell in love with Leigh over her beautiful Apology letter. I too enjoyed #youmightbeanautismparentif and #whatanautismparentneeds. I even added to the #AutismPride although not as eloquently as some of you. Yet, all of you break my heart everyday without realizing it.

My heart breaks because I know my daughter did not have the services your children have. My daughter did not have our understanding when she was little because we did not understand. We tried to get help, but we got the wrong help and during that time damage was done. Then bullying made everything over a hundred times worse. Still, she was on the mend until last year when the bullies rubbed salt in her healing wounds, and an intolerant teacher pushed her over the edge.

Then I convinced her to share her heartbreak and her successes with you, but she never got the support Jess and Leigh get, so she stopped sharing. She realized what I tried not to believe. Too few really care and we cannot make any of you care. We are insignificant.

Bullying is not as interesting as successes shared about cute younger children. There is no way to make it fun because there is nothing fun about it. I hope and pray none of you ever know the heartbreak of trying to help your beautiful children overcome the longterm effects of bullying or worse yet having to bury them because of bullying. I was hoping to help prevent this from happening to you. I now realize I cannot do that because no one is really listening.

We are misfits even on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Redux: Did You See Santa Bully Rudolph? 4

I originally posted this last December after someone started me thinking differently about Rudolph. This week political correctness run amuck has multiple sites talking about a segment on Fox News:

War On Christmas | Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Ban | Mediaite.

Rudolph has always been one of my favorite Christmas shows, but we were too busy to watch it when it was on a week ago, so my family and I watched last night. Thanks to my fellow bloggers, I watched it with a fresh set of eyes.

Now obviously everyone knows Rudolph and his buddies were not treated very well. That I got! What I didn’t get initially is how the whole show is about being cruel to those who are different. When you look at it that way it makes you think.

My thoughts are that at the time Rudolph was made, it probably was meant to teach tolerance, but given today’s climate, it really does seem cruel. I can certainly see why there are people who do not like it, so I have some questions for you.

Do you think Rudolph should have let Santa and others off so easily? Remember I’m all about forgiveness, but even I can understand why many think he shouldn’t have. Still, I think Rudolph did the right thing.  It would have been nice if Santa and everyone else had really changed, but that isn’t really clear in the story.

Should the classic be remade to make it politically correct? I love Burl Ives and I love “There’s Always Tomorrow,” so I would be sad if the original Rudolph was no longer a Christmas classic. I think it might be more important for parents to use it to talk about bullying and how wrong it is like my parents did instead.

For those watching Charlie Brown, what about Lucy? Is she a “mean girl?” Many are also talking about the Disney classics. Let me know if you think of others?

Wishes and Dreams 10

We were a happy family in the spring of 2001. We were in the land where wishes and dreams all come true. Yes, I mean Disneyland, but I also am talking about our hopes and dreams for our family too.  The future looked bright.

Traveling was difficult at times even then, but we managed. That was before my daughter started kindergarten at a highly competitive school. It was prior to the diagnosis, prior to the bullying, and a decade before the term “social combat” was heard. If only, I could go back to that spring and somehow shield my daughter from all of the mistakes that followed, I would in a heartbeat.

Of course, I cannot, so instead I try to educate you so hopefully you can avoid our mistakes and the world can remain innocent for your children a little longer.  I have learned the hard way that highly competitive schools and parents who push their children to always be number one at everything inadvertently encourage “social combat.”  I want to help put an end to this.

I interact with many on Twitter who are working to prevent bullying and I keep trying to get the word out locally.  Still, it feels like I am hitting my head against a brick wall and I am not sure for what anymore.  My son already attends the school that I think is the best in the state at preventing and addressing bullying when it happens and my daughter no longer attends a brick-and-mortar school.  I am not sure if anyone even listens to what I have to say except for those who already get it.

I am not giving up, but at times I do feel like I am giving out.  I get frustrated because I have been trying to get through to people for five years and we still only have baby steps to address the problem.  I get impatient with the experts who make it sound like the latest study is “groundbreaking” when the study only confirms what I have known all this time.  Please world wakeup!  Become kinder, gentler, more supportive, and more empathic.  Save our children.  They are our future.