Rainbows, Roses and Ruffians

My daughter is six and she started first grade back in August. To me, she seems so little sometimes, like she’s barely out of her toddler years. She still fits into some of her old smocks which we now pair with tights and call shirts. She is even happy to watch Sesame Street once in a while.

My girl is so excited about school that she bounds out of bed and begins to sing every single morning. I, who am notoriously not a morning person, have to keep myself from telling her to stop. She is enthusiastic about learning. I catch her muttering newly learned words under her breath. She adores her teacher and is eager to please.

And my little girl is being bullied.

I hesitated for a long time to call it that. I mean, bullying does not start in first grade, right? At that age, they are still all hearts and rainbows. Right?

No, not right.

We are living in a whole new world where it can, and does, start that early. I found–and still find–myself ill-prepared to handle it. But at least I am no longer in denial that such a thing can exist in first grade, among sweet, beautiful little girls who look like colorful butterflies flitting about the playground.

The bullying directed at my girl is oddly sophisticated. It is, I’ve observed, reserved strictly for when the child knows adults are not watching. It is a growl with an angry face, and hands waving within inches of my child’s eyes, telling her: “You have to” do whatever the bully is demanding at that moment. It is telling my daughter: “You cannot play” and “You cannot sit with us.” It is threatening to tell the teacher “something bad” if my child complains about the bully’s behavior to an adult. At one point, it was creating a “club” from which my daughter and another little girl were specifically excluded, though the teachers put a quick end to the clubs after several parents complained.

I can tell that it is tough for my girl to process what’s happening. She protests: “But she’s nice to me in the classroom. When she needs my help!” as if the two behaviors could not possibly coexist. And at other times, my daughter says: “When she’s happy, she’s nice. When she’s sad, she’s really really mean.”

I can tell that my girl is developmentally out of her depth. I know this because when I’ve dropped by to surreptitiously watch the goings-on at the playground, I see this little girl spotting me and changing her behavior dramatically for my benefit. She showers me with smiles, even waves sometimes, suddenly angelic. I have even seen her go over to my daughter, who just a moment ago was exiled, and begin a happy, animated conversation, as if they are the best of friends. Which they were at one point and still are, I suppose, when the little girl wishes it.

After a big incident last week that left my child in tears and demanding to go home, the teachers have made the issue a priority. We are supporting our daughter at home by doing role play, and reading a book and watching a DVD we got at the library. We know and love the child’s mother and get the sense that she is no less devastated than us by the bullying behavior. We are all doing what we know to do and hoping for the best.

And, we happened to spot this article in the New York Times about how and why mean-girl bullying has trickled down to grade school: http://nyti.ms/9xkVx3.

The one paragraph in this piece that made my stomach hurt was this:

“The girls who are the victims tend to be raised by parents who encourage them to be more age appropriate,” … “The mean girls are 8 but want to be 14, and their parents play along. They all want to be top dog.” And so the nastiness begins.

After reading this, I seriously considered home-schooling for about an hour. Let’s just say that for us, it’s not an option.

5 thoughts on “Rainbows, Roses and Ruffians

  1. This is awful, and I’ve got to tell you that I’ve seen worst in private schools. The girls are extremely “precocious” and know just how and when to work the “system” of adults to appear completely innocent!
    You still get hugs for considering homeschooling for that hour!LOL 🙂

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  2. I fear that I would be like the father that got on the school bus an threatened the other children who were bullying his child. I have no issues with telling another person’s child how to act, especially when it comes to them treating my child poorly. It’s both easy and hard for me to understand being friends with this child’s mother, as I know our children can do things that we have little control over. Her heart is probably breaking to know her child can be cruel and manipulative. But she must put an end to it, and I feel that as your child’s parent, you must insist on it. Because I wonder what message it sends to your daughter if you are still friends with the bully’s mother as this is going on.

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  3. From what I can tell, the mother is doing her best to nip it in the bud, as is the little girl’s father. It is true, though, that I frequently feel out of my depth on this issue and don’t know how I’m supposed to behave so that my kid feels like her parents have her back. It is a difficult issue, but I’m guessing one that will come up frequently in the coming years.

    Thanks, homeschoolnewbie! My child is at a local public school but I’ve heard some of these dynamics can be even more intense in the private system. I commend you for homeschooling. I have several friends who do the same and it takes a great deal of discipline, time and focus. But it can also be quite rewarding.

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  4. Hi Nazie 🙂 O.k. so my secret confession is that I was the bully in elementary school. This rarely ever manifested itself into physical altercations (though I did get into three fights in ES). I was the child though that thought she was the boss of the playground and frequently alienated children because they were not “cool” enough for my standards. I even spit on someone once in first grade, much to my horror today. I do not have much an excuse for my behavior; my only explanation would be that at school I was not sandwiched between two brothers and found it easier to be dominate in that environment. I wonder now if I was emulating my older (by 11 years) sister also, who was/is strikingly beautiful and had to use physical assertiveness to stand p to a lot of good old-fashion hatin’ by other female peers.

    Later I came to reflect on those years and see myself as a horrible child. I was so driven to be popular that I made a number of errors in judgement.

    I’m not sure if I would trade the sense of self-confidence that was manifested by being “playground champ,” because I do think it is somewhat necessary to teach young black girls to think of themselves as capable, fearless and assertive. Especially when there are so many arenas later where that dominance will be challenged by others. I do regret though that I was not always the patient, nurturing, 150% friend that I am now to others.

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  5. i’m not sure what to offer except– you’re great for being involved in your child’s classroom life! i’m sure she will be more emotionally healthy for it, despite the bullying.

    but…i hesitate to confirm that we’re in a “new” world or time where bullying is suddenly more acceptable among young children. when i was in kindergarten in 1994 (more than 15 years ago!), i was bullied by a girl i regarded as my best friend at the time…in a gifted & talented program, no less! the next year, the bullying began anew when i moved to a predominately-white, suburban district and continued through 4th and 5th grade, when i was bullied not only because i was a girl of color, but also began to be sexually harassed because i had developed earlier than all my peers.

    i know 15 years may not seem like a long time, but (for example) the internet wasn’t widely accessible in its current form until i began high school (2004)–making phenomena like cyberbullying difficult.

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