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.