Power of Bullying

Lies in the fear of a victim

Power of Bullying, Healthy Living Magazine, Parenting

Power of Bullying, Healthy Living Magazine, Parenting

As soon as we entered home, she threw her backpack across the hallway, kicked off her shoes with the fury I’ve never seen on her face, and stormed off into her room, slamming the door shut. When I knocked on her door to invite her to dinner, instead of her usual chatter about school activities and showing me her art projects, she buried her face in her plate and ate in silence. This was the first dinner when she ate her vegetables without my nagging. Clearly, something was wrong.

When I finally got her to talk, and I understood the reasons for her irate behavior, a chill went through my spine. In between her loud sobs, I heard “another girl” and “she told others to not play with me.” My heart stopped. The visions of bullying went through my mind, scary images of one of the most dreadful experiences parents could ever watch their child go through. This couldn’t be happening to my daughter. She’s kind, friendly with everyone in school, and bright. She was also just turning 4 years old.

Bullying is an all-encompassing name that describes intimidation, aggression, and bending of someone’s will. The oppressor is usually bigger and stronger than the victim. Bullying is also a term that I thought was reserved for older kids, not for my sweet preschooler.

What is more, her school is definitely not the place that I imagined bullying would ever take place. It’s a popular private learning center that prides itself on carefully selecting children (toddlers and preschoolers). We fell in love with the school when we toured it, and eagerly signed up our daughter, even though its tuition was higher than average for our neighborhood. The staff was engaging and patient; the teachers seemed to care. Our daughter loved every minute of it; the teachers called her “their little helper” because she always sat in the front and participated in all activities.

Until the day it all changed.

We didn’t call it bullying, not at first. Bullying sounded too harsh, too grownup. The other girl was one year older and much bigger in size. We asked the school and there were no other complaints from other parents about that girl. We kept telling ourselves that it was just a series of unfortunate episodes where the girls were unable to share toys. But with each passing day that our daughter seemed to have lost interest in the activities that she used to be delighted in, it became harder and harder to not call it by its proper name.

I witnessed it in action on a gloomy October morning when I lingered in school longer than usual. Standing behind the thick window of the classroom, I was watching a group of girls playing with the kitchen toys. My daughter “cooked” what appeared to be a mush of potatoes, peas, and something from the Lego box. The girls were laughing and spoonfeeding each other. In any other circumstance, I would run to them to remind that they should pretend to feed each other instead of actually putting toys on their lips, but on that day I stayed put. I saw the bully girl approach the group, and I could already see that challenging glare in her eyes. She had her hands on hips, lips spread in a broad ridiculing smile, and her whole physique oozed intimidation. She stopped in front of my daughter and folded her arms across her chest in that threatening way that made all of my insides turn. The smile froze on my daughter’s face, and I could unmistakably see a fash of fear in her eyes. I wasn’t able to hear everything that was said, but what I did pick up was enough. “Stupid game,” “she doesn’t even know what she is making,” and “don’t play with her” were uttered in a humiliating tone. My daughter’s replies were faint and sparse. When every single girl followed the bully to the other side of the classroom, I had to gather all of my strength to not jump in and pound my fists into the bully’s chest myself. My daughter looked lost, abandoned, and small. My heart squeezed in colossal agony when I saw her sad eyes following her friends to engage in a game that my daughter was so cruelly excluded from.

I was angry at the school, at the teacher who was supposed to be watching the kids, at the bully’s parents. I put a giant note on my computer screen that the bully girl was only 5 years old, a small child herself. I kept reminding myself that it was unlikely that she was evil, and that she was just allowed to drift in the wrong direction. But it was my daughter that she was bullying, my sweet little girl who did nothing wrong and didn’t deserve to be in this situation at such an early age.

After my rage subsided and I was able to think clearly, I formulated a plan. Because I had my doubts that the bully girl would be expelled from school, at least not immediately, I had to work with the teachers on improving the situation. I had a lengthy conversation with the school’s principal and she made sure that all teachers were notified. My daughter’s inter actions with the bully girl would be monitored closely, and the teachers would report to the principal immediately if any intimidation took place. The parents of the bully girl were given instructions to speak to her about friendship and kindness to others.

That month, the school announced it the friendship month. Two local police officers came to school to talk to kids about community and value of relationships. Kids were engaged in team building games and activities that required children to work together.

We were very grateful that the school actively partnered with us on the issue. But the situation hasn’t improved. In fact, it became worse.

As soon as the bully girl realized that she was being monitored, she became smarter. She waited for the teacher to be distracted by another screaming child before she approached my daughter. Because she was frequently denied the opportunity, she became that much more vicious when she did get a chance. But the more vicious she got, the stronger we fought. We spoke daily with the principal and told her everything our daughter had to go through that day.

Our nights at home have changed. Instead of playing board games, reading princess books, and learning the alphabet, my husband and I turned all of our attention to the topic of bullying and helping our daughter to stand up to the other girl. We bought books on the subject (all of them intended for older kids, but we were able to find a few with colorful pictures), read numerous articles online, and spent hours each week practicing her response to the bully. “BACK OFF!” our daughter would scream at her teddy bear. In fact, she became so good at it that she would use her practiced skills on us, especially when my husband would ask her, for the fifth time, to clean her room. I was really proud, even if my husband wasn’t exactly amused.

We taught her to be assertive and make sure that the teacher knows that the girl upset her. We told her that it was best if she just walked away to other kids and formed her own circle of friends. It was hard to explain to a 4-year old that there are plenty of other fish out there. In her mind, the bully girl was the girl. As soon as I understood it – that my daughter thought the bully girl was the most important girl in school – it became much easier to help her deal with it. I realized that I needed to help her understand that the bully girl is not, by any means, superior to anyone else. We encouraged our daughter to befriend other assertive kids who were in fact very eager to play with her.

Slowly, things got better. While there were still times when the bully girl was mean, those cases were far in between. What’s changed is that my daughter didn’t seem to be bothered by it as much as she used to. In response to the bully girl, she would often shrug and walk over to other kids. She finally understood that the power of bullying lies in the fear of a victim. As soon as that fear is gone, the dominance of the bully is broken.

Nevertheless, it was a relief when the summer came and the bully girl “graduated” to the kindergarten in another school.

Now, almost six months later, the bully books are stored away, but my heart still squeezes hard when I remember what happened. We are walking to school and my daughter is skipping, cheerful and carefree. We come in, and she runs to her friends to give each of them a giant hug. I notice there is a new girl, standing alone shyly in a corner and flipping the pages of a book. I want to walk in and introduce her to my daughter, but my little princess beats me to it. She sprints to the new girl with a big smile on her face and takes her hand.

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