I remember the first time it happened. Claire was 15 months old. I was excited to be out at our first mommy-n-me class. As we entered through the doorway, a child that was a wee bit smaller than Claire walked right up to her and pushed her down.
And so it began.
For the next several years kids like this would find their way into her space and cause problems for her.
The toddler incident above was not something I ever thought about again until later years when these types of things happened repeatedly. Years later I would reflect on this incident as foreshadowing the years to come.
I will warn you though that this is not a story of tolerance and “turn the other cheek” which is what I was taught growing up. This is a story of teaching my child how to protect herself. Yes, I taught her the “socially acceptable” way of using her words to express her dislike for certain behaviors, walk away, tell an adult, yada yada. When that wasn’t effective I advised her to use any means necessary to drive the message home to those folks that weren’t very bright. Unfortunately some people just don’t get it until you give it back to them (times ten), and sometimes they will never get it. Life lesson #71.
When she couldn’t protect herself, I stepped in.
Through this experience, I have found that at the core of a bully is someone who is deeply disturbed and needs to establish control, capture attention, and/or earn recognition at the price of those around them. Children aren’t born bullies, they learn this behavior out of desperation to be loved, valued, and accepted. Sadly, they were either cheated during those fundamental stages of life or they just haven’t been taught how to achieve these basic human needs without hurting someone in the process.
I heard about a boy named Christian on a daily basis. Christian had obvious behavioral problems because Claire told me about several instances when the teacher had to discipline him for various conflicts with other classmates. I felt bad for him, that is, until he began focusing on Claire.
Christian took a liking to Claire and was forcing her to only play with him each day. He ended each class with “Claire promise me you will only play with me tomorrow.” This did concern me, so I asked her how she felt about it. She said she didn’t mind because she liked him and enjoyed playing with him. I decided to let her figure it out.
Unfortunately, Christian’s behavior started to get more aggressive and each day she would tell me a different story of how Christian was becoming more controlling. I taught Claire, through role-playing, to hold her hand up and say “Stop” to Christian, and go tell the teacher, if his behavior was bothering her.
Understandably this was difficult for Claire because she was only 4 years old at the time and frankly, she shouldn’t have to defend herself against another 4 year old at preschool. It was becoming a daily stressor and because Claire was disturbed by his behavior, she was pulling away from him. He didn’t respond well to this change.
I felt compelled to step in when Christian grabbed Claire’s arm and pulled her away from another classmate. I contacted the teacher and brought it to her attention. The teacher was aware and tried to discipline Christian but obviously she has 10 other children she needed to be concerned with as well. I was confident she was doing everything she could to protect Claire.
For a week, Christian’s behavior escalated almost every day and I became increasingly concerned. The final straw was when Christian flew a toy plane into Claire’s temple, leaving a red gash near her eye. I requested a meeting with Christian and his parents Robert and Thomas.
I learned that Christian had a rough start in life and Robert and Thomas adopted him a year prior. They were aware of his behavior and were doing their best to combat it with counseling and medication. Robert told me they were extremely sorry for Christian’s behavior towards Claire but they were at a loss for what to do. I tried to be sympathetic, but Claire’s safety was my first (and only) concern.
I asked to speak to Christian alone. In a closed room I told Christian that if he ever touched, talked to, or even looked at Claire ever again, I knew where he lived and I would come into his room late at night when he was sleeping and pour ice water on his head.
I asked him a few questions and quickly realized that Christian needed special attention and probably would be more successful being schooled by professionals in the field of behavioral disorders.
I expressed my concerns to Robert and Thomas and they agreed.
New to parenting, Robert (a stay-at-home-dad) asked if we could arrange play dates for Christian and Claire so we could help Christian learn how to behave properly in a social environment. I was happy to help so I agreed because my heart went out to Christian knowing all he had been through in his young life.
Playdates never actually materialized because shortly after our “talk” Thomas’ job relocated him out of state.
Stop Touching Me
Throughout the next few years Claire told me many stories of kids mistreating her or usually they just couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. She doesn’t like to be touched and that, in itself, made her a magnet for many.
I did see a pattern forming and it was mainly people wanting to control her. People messed with her a lot but since the episode with Christian in preschool, it never escalated to where I had to step in; until 2nd grade.
Second Grade Bully
William was the topic of many conversations during the first half of 2nd grade. As usual Claire and I role-played several times but she still had difficulty standing up to him. He had been held back a year and was a bigger boy so she was probably intimidated.
William was nice to her one minute then would say or do something nasty the next minute. He would grab her pencil right out of her hand and break it in half. He would swipe her paper out from under her, scribble all over it, and throw it in the garbage. He would throw her books on the floor, etc.
It was a constant source of frustration and by the end of December 2007, I was fed up. During Christmas break I was having a conversation with Claire about some random thing that happened at school, and she told me that William, several weeks prior, had actually punched her in the chest.
It took every fiber of my being to remain calm! I asked her to clarify and she told me that William was mad at her because she didn’t play with him during recess so he punched her when they were lining up to go back into school.
Maybe she “forgot” to tell me because she knew I would go ballistic. I was furious at myself for letting William’s behavior escalate for three months before taking necessary action. I tried to let her handle the situation but obviously it wasn’t working and I had to step in.
I sent an email to all of Claire’s teachers and the principal of the school demanding that William be kept far away from Claire at all times. I threatened to come to school every day and walk her to her classes if this situation was not handled IMMEDIATELY! The principal took the matter seriously and assured me it would be handled appropriately.
Things calmed down and Claire gave me regular updates. William was informed he was not allowed to be around Claire anymore. He would ask her why they couldn’t hang out together and Claire replied “Because my mom said I can’t.” One time I brought lunch to Claire at school and William came up to me and asked me why Claire couldn’t hang out with him anymore. I replied “William, you haven’t been very nice to Claire so it’s better for her if you stay away.”
February 2008 I volunteered during the Valentine’s day party at school and William’s great-grandmother, Anna, approached me. I was a bit uncomfortable because I had no idea what was about to happen. Anna had been raising William, on her own, for the past four years. Apparently the school contacted her and showed her my email explaining all the things that William had done to Claire since the beginning of school. She apologized profusely for his behavior. She also thanked me for writing the email because that prompted her to get him some help.
Done With Role-Playing
By 5th grade, I couldn’t believe all of the kids that just couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. It was astonishing to me. Classmates writing on her, touching her hair and face, pushing her, stealing her things, throwing her books, etc. Frankly, at this point, I was fed up. I soon learned that the school’s ANTI-Bullying propaganda was just that…all hype with very little follow through. The teachers weren’t willing to follow through on their “ZERO tolerance” threats so it was time for Claire to protect herself using any means necessary.
A girl that was half Claire’s size found it amusing to try and trip Claire during passing periods. Claire was clumsy enough walking on her own so she certainly didn’t need any help. I was concerned if she took a header on that hard floor, she could really get hurt.
I told Claire the next time – we’ll call her Emily – tried to trip her, she had my permission to body slam her into the lockers. I assured her I would always defend her if her actions resulted in a trip to the principal’s office – but try not to get caught.
Please understand that Claire is a very easy going kid. She is well liked, doesn’t cause any problems and gets along with almost everyone. She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. One day she finally decided to take my advice and as Emily was approaching her in the hall, Claire abruptly stopped which caused Emily to ricochet off her and into the lockers. Claire shot her a look with her “bitch face” and continued walking.
“Emily” never bothered her again.
Because I didn’t know how else to help Claire defend herself against these people that continued to mess with her, as she got older I encouraged her to fight back. Obviously I didn’t condone behavior that sent someone to the emergency room but fight back enough to give them pause the next time they thought about messing with her.
I always taught her to protect herself by either standing up for herself verbally or walking away if she didn’t want to confront someone. It probably helped her understand that she had choices which ultimately helped to instill confidence. I think most children at her age would rather die than speak up and I get that. Plus a lot of times it’s a situation where it happens so fast that you’re frozen with shock at the audacity of some people. I completely understand that too.
I’m happy to report that Claire is a very confident teenager and I think that helps her in her daily dealings with other teenagers and adults. Even though she still has to deal with ignorant and sometimes rude people, she understands that their behavior is often due to their own shortcomings. She is able to put it into perspective…for the most part. Granted she is still an adolescent and with that comes insecurities, but she learns better coping skills every day.
I realize this is a mild case of bullying and many people have experienced more severe cases that have led to self-destructive behavior or worse. Teaching our children to be aware of their boundaries and how to protect their boundaries is key to arming them with the self-esteem to overcome bullying at all levels. It’s how we view ourselves that determines the impact of a bully’s behavior.
About the blogger:
“Hi! I’m Jackie! Let’s grab a cup of coffee and talk about life! Edify means “to teach in a way that improves the mind and character.” I’ve always believed in continuous improvement and I’m hoping that by sharing my difficult life experiences and the things I did to overcome these struggles, I can help other people. I’ve done a lot of work and I’ve had a lot of success so I feel like I have a lot of knowledge on how to improve our lives.
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