My 9 year old daughter is starting third grade in a new school. I hear through the grapevine that the children in the class have been together since first grade and although they are nice they are a bit competitive. So over the summer I gently coach my daughter about making new friends. I suggest that although she is a newby herself that she should also reach out to the other new kids in the class. My daughter is a good listener – and she does just that.
The school year begins and she is chatting with me about her new experiences. I ask her each day – what was something good that you did today? What was the worst part of the day? (We have been doing this for years.) Through her stories I am introduced to the many new friends she is making.
She asks me if she can have a play date with a particular girl who is also new to the class. We will call her Courtney. Being the mother that I am, I invite both the child and the mother over – specifically so I can get to know the mom and to see how the kids do together. (I don’t believe in sending my child to someone else’s house that I do not know and prefer not having children over whose parents I have never met – and learned from the experience – it is time well spent – you can learn a lot about a person from sitting with them for an hour).
Courtney’s mom through casual conversation – gave me enough information that sent me some red flags – my inner voice – was on alert when she said she had moved many times, when she yelled at the kids to handle them running past us (at my house), and many other perhaps small clues which made me think – I don’t think I would be comfortable with this mom supervising my kid.
After they left my daughter let me know that Courtney treated my son poorly during the play date. I asked my daughter what she thought of that – joking with her that she isn’t always the nicest to her little brother either. But she said no Mommy – she was mean – mean in a way that made my daughter feel protective over her brother – her inner voice was sending her a message. She was listening.
She intuitively knew, with out my input, that she would not feel comfortable going to Courtney’s house. I would have no problem saying to the mom, No Thanks – my kid is not available. (Niceties at the expense of my child’s best interest is not on my list of things to do.)
BUT little did I know what had started at school. Soon my happy go lucky, nice daughter started crying in the evenings. Her mood changed to sullen, and withdrawn. Over the course of 2 weeks stomach aches started to kick in. My inner voice knew “something” was going on but she was not forth coming – no matter what questions I asked. (Bullying was not on my list of questions…..I didn’t think that happened in third grade!) Finally she was making herself so sick she had to stay home – I took her to the doctor. No diagnosis. I remember the next scene like it happened yesterday. I sit her down on the stepping stool in the kitchen. I am on my knees in front of her. I make eye contact – I am active listening – and I say – Tamar – I want to help you but you need to tell me what is happening that is making you sick. I won’t be mad at you – what ever it is it is not your fault. Just get it out and tell me. Boom – she explodes with tears – she tells me that I told her to be nice to Courtney – that they don’t have to be best friends – but she should be nice to Courtney. But Courtney has been hurting her physically when the teacher wasn’t looking – that it happens many times during the day – she is taking her hand and spreading her fingers wide until she buckles at the knees in pain or gives into the girl’s demands – such as food, homework, and don’t play with them stay with me type of demands – further ostracizing my daughter from her classmates.
I thanked her for finally telling me and I held her as we cried together. I then apologized to her and realized that I didn’t give her enough instruction when I said “be nice” – I forgot to add never at the expense of yourself! She said that she thought I would be disappointed if she wasn’t friends with Courtney. I inadvertently set my daughter up to be bullied! As you can well imagine I was livid that this could happen – and felt I could not return my daughter into this unsafe environment.
She and I discussed the plan of action – I gave her enough information to make her feel secure that it will be handled – and don’t think reader that she wasn’t further terrified that Courtney was going to come after her with a vengeance. With the schools support – it was managed – supervision was increased, boundaries were defined, and reporting was added to the children’s vocabulary (see our last blog). As a mom I am saddened as I am sure Courtney’s behavior was learned from home….and the bullying ended for my daughter….because Courtney moved.
KidSafe key words that can be used with your kids as you teach them life skills:
Listen to your inner voice
Body Boundaries – safe and unsafe touch
Circle of Safe Adults – you can talk to them about anything