This week is “No Name-Calling Week,” an anti-bullying effort spearheaded by public and private sector sponsors. In honor of “No Name-Calling Week” I’d like to share an incident that happened in my own home.
Rose has two best friends – Mia and Jane (not their real names). We used to live in the same neighborhood but we moved 35 minutes away from them, so we don’t see her friends that often. When we do, it’s a big occasion–fun for all three families.
Rose’s friends were visiting one day and Mia came running down the hall. The girls were in Rose’s room, and someone had locked the child gate in the doorway. I went back and opened the gate. Then it happened again. I went back to Rose’s room and asked why they locked the gate. Rose said, “So Mia can’t get in.” She and Jane were playing on the floor together, looking innocent.
Shocked, I said, “No! Mia is your friend and you do not lock her out. That is mean and it hurts her.” I opened the gate, “Go ahead, Mia.”
I never thought my kid would be the bully. Mia and Jane see each other more often than they see Rose, so if anyone locked anyone out, I’d have thought the two of them would have excluded Rose. Rose was a really shy kid at first (see Warming Up to Slow to Warm Up). I worried so much about her getting sand kicked in her face that I didn’t realize she could be the kicker. And I bet I’m not the only parent who thinks like this.
She’s my sweet baby, and I hear about the mean things kids do to her, not what she does to everyone else. But Rose as the aggressor never occurred to me. I thought a kid who’d cry when another kid took her toy was too timid to be the aggressor. I had to teach her to take the toy back. I saw the implications of becoming the victim way down the road and I felt I had to toughen her up.
I even took Rose out of one preschool because they had a two-year-old bully in her class. This kid would crash everyone’s party, muscle them out of the way and take their toys. The moms attended class too, but this kid’s mother never bothered to stop him. Plus he spoke only Spanish so the preschool teachers couldn’t communicate with him. One of the Spanish-speaking moms tried to set him straight, but she had her own kid to worry about and she couldn’t be everywhere at once.
Rose’s current preschool is great, and their rule is that everyone plays together. But we were at the school’s playground one day and Rose was playing with two older girls. Rose loves older girls and she’s a relentless shadow. These girls were fine with playing with her but when she told them she had made a card for herself in school, they laughed, “You made a card for YOURSELF??”
My heart broke, but the comments went right over Rose’s head. “Uh-huh, I made a card,” she said with a smile. But what would happen when she understood the taunts? I knew it wouldn’t be the only time that big girls would taunt her, but I realized I couldn’t be there all the time and even when I was, most of the time I’d have to allow Rose to work out the conflict herself. It will kill me to watch it, but I’ve got to let her learn on her own.
Between the Mia incident, the two-year-old bully and the four-year-old taunts, I realized that bullying can come from anywhere. Fortunately, the girls never excluded Mia again once they heard that doing so was “not very nice” But what if I hadn’t caught them just then? I’d have been one of those moms who defended their kid to the death. Bullying? Not my kid.
I learned a lot from the bullying experience. I learned that even sweet little girls, faced with the right situation, can bully their friends, and I have to be vigilant with Rose’s behavior, because in some situations, she could be the victim, and in others, she can be the bully.
I also learned that sometimes I can be there for her, and sometimes I can’t. My job is to pick and choose my battles and pick up the pieces when I can’t.