My 9 year old daughter is starting third grade in a new school. I hear through the grapevine that the children in the class have been together since first grade. So over the summer I gently coached my daughter about making new friends. I suggested that although she is a newbie herself, she should also reach out to the other new kids in the class. My daughter is a good listener – and she does just that.
The school year began and she chats with me about her new experiences. I ask her each day what was the best and worst part of her day. (We have been doing this for years.) Through her stories I am introduced to the new friends she is making. She asks me if she can have a play date with a particular girl, we’ll call her Courtney, who is also new to the class. Being the mother that I am, I invite both the child and the mother over. I don’t believe in sending my child to someone else’s house that I do not know and prefer not having children over whose parents I have never met. I have learned from the experience that you can learn a lot about a person by sitting with them for an hour. Courtney’s mom, through casual conversation, gave me enough information that sent me some red flags. My inner voice was on alert when she said she had moved many times, when she yelled at the kids as they ran past us (at my house), and many other perhaps small clues which made me think I would not be comfortable with this mom supervising my kid.
No Niceties at My Child’s Expense
After they left, my daughter let me know that Courtney treated my son poorly during the play date. She said Courtney was mean – mean in a way that made my daughter feel protective over her brother. She intuitively knew, without my input, that she would not feel comfortable going to Courtney’s house. I would have no problem saying to the mom, “No Thanks – my kid is not available.” (Niceties at the expense of my child’s best interest are not on my list of things to do.)
My Kid was Being Bullied!
BUT little did I know what had started at school. Soon my happy go lucky, nice daughter started crying in the evenings. Her mood changed to sullen and withdrawn. Over the course of 2 weeks stomach aches started to kick in. My inner voice knew “something” was going on but she was not forth coming – no matter what questions I asked. (Bullying was not on my list of questions…I didn’t think that happened in third grade!) Finally she was making herself so sick she had to stay home – I took her to the doctor. No diagnosis. I remember the next scene like it happened yesterday. I sit her down on the stepping stool in the kitchen. I am on my knees in front of her. I make eye contact (I am active listening) and I say, “Tamar, I want to help you but you need to tell me what is happening that is making you sick. I won’t be mad at you – what ever it is it is not your fault. Just get it out and tell me. Boom! She explodes with tears – she tells me that I told her to be nice to Courtney – that they don’t have to be best friends – but she should be nice to Courtney. But Courtney has been hurting her physically when the teacher wasn’t looking and making demands- such as food, homework, and don’t play with them, stay with me type of demands – further ostracizing my daughter from her classmates
Talk it Out and Make a Plan of Action
I thanked her for finally telling me and I held her as we cried together. I then apologized to her and realized that I didn’t give her enough instruction when I said “be nice” – I forgot to add never at the expense of yourself! She said that she thought I would be disappointed if she wasn’t friends with Courtney. I inadvertently set my daughter up to be bullied! As you can well imagine I was livid that this could happen, and felt I could not return my daughter into this unsafe environment. She and I discussed the plan of action – I gave her enough information to make her feel secure that it will be handled. With the schools’ support – it was managed – supervision was increased and boundaries were defined. As a mom, I am saddened as I am sure Courtney’s behavior was learned from home….and the bullying finally ended for my daughter….because Courtney moved.