Thursday, March 15, 2012
Parent's Eyes: Caregivers? Watch Out For A Subtle Form Of Bullying
My Jordy would tell you that it's worse being fought over.
Jordy has always been a child that other kids flock to. And she has always reached out to other children who need help, comfort or just a little understanding. I've thought of it as one of her gifts. Perhaps it's because she empathizes so much having siblings with high needs but it's a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, her kindness can backfire when the other kids don't know when the line is drawn. And Jordy isn't always brave enough to draw that line, resulting in her being bullied into friendships or other kids fighting over her one-on-one friendship.
In preschool, Jordy was painfully shy. She often stood by the sandtable playing by herself or simply hiding somewhere away from the rest of her classmates. It took awhile but she came out of her little social shell. In that level, there were two girls who scrambled to sit next to her, be her partner, stand in line next to her or sit beside her at carpet time. Fortunately, Jordy had two sides and her teachers created opportunities for all the kids to interact so there weren't any cliquey groups starting where other children were excluded. Jordy was uncomfortable with the squabbling (that often led to one of, or both of, the girls crying) but it didn't seem to affect her.
In Kindy, she seemed a little more confident with interacting with other kids but still enjoyed playing on her own at recess or freetime in the classroom. Because she was a keen learner and good with her work, she was often put in groups with kids who needed a bit of encouragement. One little boy in particular was so touched by her kindness that he clung to her. And it got weird.
He started telling the other kids they weren't allowed to play with her, he shoved other kids out of the way who wanted to sit with her at carpet time or stand near her in line and, worst of all, if another kid asked Jordy to have a playdate, he'd tell that kid, "No. Jordy's my friend and you can't be her friend too. If she's having a playdate, it's gonna be with me." It got so bad, Jordy would be crying every time I picked her up from school. We finally had to talk to her teacher about it, who was amazing. Knowing this little boy's history, the teacher didn't single him out with fear that he'd slip backwards. She just talked to the class about what bullying was and the different kinds of bullying there are. Then she arranged for Jordy to be put with other kids and got Jordy to use her voice more. (Jordy actually sprung right out and made her very first BFF, Abbey.)
In Grade One, there were four girls who all fought over her. Not only did they do what the little boy in Kindy did with trying to be her only friend, but individually they'd each be telling Jordy they wouldn't be her friend or talk to her if she played with one of the other girls or chose to do something on her own. It was crazy! I didn't have to do anything that time because her amazing teacher, Ms. Eisan stepped right in and broke up all the girls, making them play with others. She had no tolerance for that sort of thing.
Now again in Grade Two, she's going through it all again. Two of the girls from Grade One are in different classrooms but one of them, who I think did the most damage, is still in the same class as Jordy. This girl is dangerous because not only does she do all of those manipulative things like, "Well, if you don't do _______ with me, I won't be your friend" she's also physically and verbally mean to Jordy. She calls Jordy names, tells her she's fat, pushes her, grabs her cheeks and calls her 'chubby cheeks' and other awful crap. The other day, Jordy came home with nail marks in one of her cheeks and complaining the other one hurt (the girl actually bruised her face!).
I forsee this being a continuous thing for my soft-hearted, beautiful Jordy. I know that many of you are thinking, "So what? So kids love her. Why are you worried about that?" The truth is, it hurts. Once she started telling me all of these stories, I totally understood why she went off and played on her own. At least that way, in her mind, no one would get hurt or be angry or argue. This is a form of bullying and although Jordy had experienced it from both boys and girls, girls sadly seem to do it more often. Unfortunately, we have a little more of a knack for manipulation, which is what is at the base of this form of bullying. And for kids like Jordy who don't like it but doesn't want anyone else to feel hurt or left out, she stays quiet.
Here are a few things you can do:
~ Talk about bullying. Teach about it. Your kid needs to understand what is 'right' and 'wrong' in terms of what happens in a friendship. Rule we emphasize in our house: If a friend makes you feel bad on purpose, that isn't being a friend.
~ Listen. You want your child to feel she can come to you when things happen, no matter how awful she thinks they are. When she comes to you, just listen. Don't judge, interrupt or question. Trust me, that carries alot of weight.
~ Build up self-esteem. Jordy's self-esteem had been tremendously affected by the earlier years before Jaimie's diagnosis. A child needs to believe she's worth standing up for before she'll do it. Never pass up the opportunity to give her ways to build up her inner self. That is very important.
~ Teach her it's okay to stand up. I'm not saying violence warrents violence but your child should never have to take the sorts of things I've mentioned above. If something makes her feel bad or hurts her, ingrain in her that it's okay to say so. No one has any right to make you feel bad about yourself. Ever.
~ Tell a grown up. If she's tried standing up to the person or stopping it on her own, the next step is to tell someone else. The teachers in Jordy's situation have been brilliant with how they've dealt with it all. These are some things you can suggest in your child's situation.
~ Know when to step in. If you've tried everything and things are still going on, it's time to intervene. I am a firm believer of allowing kids to try working things out on their own. That's how they learn. Oftentimes our interference can only make things worse when kids can come to a peaceful conclusion on their own. BUT when there's a need to step in, do it. One child should not feel she has the power to rule over others. And by not saying anything, we're almost giving it permission. Talk to the principal, see if you can arrange a meeting with the child's parents, talk about it in the school so other teachers are aware but don't let it go on.
I'll keep you posted on Jordy's situation but I do have a happy ending for this week. After not sleeping all week, Jordy finally came downstairs the other night and burst into tears. She told me what this little girl keeps doing and about what she'd done to Jordy's face. I gave her a pep talk and told her to try talking to the girl (again). And you know what she did? Jordy said the first thing she said to this girl the next morning was, "See my face? Well that's what you did. It really hurt my face and my feelings and I don't want you to do 'chubby cheeks' anymore."
She said the little girl apologized and promised she wouldn't. I praised her courage to do it. Let's stop bullying...all forms of it. And listen to the Jordy's out there who are showing us what true friendship really is.