I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
January 11, 2013
My eight-year-old daughter has been struggling this year to make friends in her class, and it has bothered me more than it should.
Sadly, my angst is nothing new. Having raised two stepdaughters, I know all too well the hand-wringing that comes with watching my kids learn to navigate the rough waters of socialization. As parents (and stepparents), we can’t help but worry, and compare their experiences to our own at the same age, and worry, and wonder if we should talk to them about their friendships (or lack thereof), and… and WORRY.
And so I have returned to familiar territory this school year, silently agonizing and over-analyzing Punky’s social situation. It took me a while to figure out what exactly was going on to make her feel so uncertain, but finally it hit me– This is the first year that Punky has had to make friends on her own.
In kindergarten, she was requisitioned on day one by an assertive and intelligent girl who decided that my daughter was going to be HER BEST FRIEND. And that was that. If Punky so much as looked at another girl that year, she was called out by HER BEST FRIEND for disloyalty– which was pretty much fine by her.
In first grade, the two BEST FRIENDS were separated– but Punky landed in the class of her best friend’s OTHER best friend (who also happens to live up the street from us), so she and this girl naturally became inseparable. They looped up with their teacher into the second grade and the friendship continued and deepened.
This year, though, Punky entered another new classroom, one filled with girls she really didn’t know at all. She has spoken often of how shy and unsure she felt on that first day of school, and looking back I realize that it’s because she was faced for the first time with making friends with a new group of girls, many of whom already were friends from prior grades. “I feel like the odd man out,” she told me not long ago. “I’m friends with all the girls, but they’re all already better friends with someone else in class.”
As if this weren’t perplexing enough, a few months into the year she told me that one girl, whom we’ll call Mandy, was being actively mean to her.
“Mean how?” I asked her.
“Well, the other day Mandy and I were called up to write math problems on the board, and when the teacher wasn’t looking Mandy grabbed my marker out of my hand and used it herself,” she said. I frowned.
“What else has she done?” I asked.
“The next day, I sat next to her on the rug,” she said, “and she made a face at me and scooted as far away as she could. And yesterday,” she finished, “she shoved me while we were standing in line.”
SHOVED her? Oh no. Oh hell to the no.
“Punky, you’ve done the right thing to tell me about this,” I said. “I’m going to send a note to your teacher and get everything straightened out. Is that okay with you?”
Punky nodded. “I think she’s being a bully to me,” she said softly.
And there it was. The dreaded B WORD.
I’ve always thought our kids are now becoming overly sensitive to the term “bully.” From what I can tell, it’s a recurring lesson in elementary school classrooms — and while bullying obviously can sometimes go WAY too far, I think some degree of “meanness” between children is normal and necessary. After all, they’re going to be dealing with this kind of thing for the rest of their lives. They might as well start learning how to deal with it now.
But when it came down to it, I found I couldn’t bear the thought of a girl being cruel to Punky for no reason, not when she was already feeling so uncertain about her social position in the classroom. That evening, I sent an e-mail to her teacher telling her what was going on. Within minutes, Punky’s teacher wrote back, expressing her surprise that this was happening without her knowledge and telling me she would take care of it the very next day.
And she did. That afternoon, Punky came home with a letter from her bully, apologizing for everything she’d done to my daughter and promising that it would never happen again.
“And she meant it, too,” Punky said, smiling happily. “She was really nice to me for the rest of the day. I feel a lot better now, because I didn’t understand why she was being so mean to me.”
“Aren’t you glad you told me what was going on?” I asked her. She nodded. “Not only is Mandy being nice to you now, but by telling a grown-up who could do something about it, you may have stopped her from treating someone else this way down the road.”
I kept tabs on the situation for a while after that, making sure that Mandy continued her good behavior. So far, no problems. Punky is noticeably happier after school each day and after a few rocky months, she has finally started to bond with two of the girls in her class.
The other day, she was quiet during her afternoon snack.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked her.
“I’m thinking that I’m really lucky I had such a good bully,” she said.
“You mean Mandy?” I asked her. She nodded.
“She’s a lot nicer now. And she admitted to the teacher that she was being mean to me. A lot of bullies wouldn’t have done that.” She paused.
“She was the best bully I could have asked for, really,” she said.
Way to look at the bright side, kid.
Image via Eddie~S/Flickr
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What a good girl you have.
Thank you. 🙂 I agree! I am lucky to have her.
I really want to hug Punky right now. The heart on that child…I know you are so proud of her.
I am! All the deep thinking makes for a complex and sensitive child, but it’s worth it. 🙂
Wow, she is wise beyond her years. What grace.
Yeah that reporting to the teacher IS a good idea to alert them to the situation but sometimes the bullying gets WORSE for being a “tattler”.
I know. I think at eight, this was a good solution. I realize it’s going to get a lot tougher to deal with bullies as my kids get older. In this case, I knew that “Mandy” loves her teacher (along with everyone else in the class) and I think that having the teacher’s approval was very important to her. Also, she has been VERY nice to my daughter ever since. I wonder if Mandy was trying on the “bully” personality and found it wasn’t really working for her… I hope so!
Your children are almost mirror images of my children ~ except mine are blondes! Your Bruiser and my Caden? Same. And your Punky is the soul sister to my Alayna….I relate to every single story you tell here. Thank you for sharing.
That’s awesome, Amanda! 🙂 Thank YOU for commenting.
She is so smart!!!!
That kid is the poster child for optimism!
Let’s just hope she stays this way! 😉
Punky is the greatest! She always impresses me.
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When my oldest daughter was about that age she was getting bullied by a boy in her (I think 4th grade) class. It started out verbal but eventually escalated to physical – unfortunately for him. My eldest has been a bit of a tomboy since she was born (she still refuses to wear pink or dresses) and we had been rough-housing for all of those years. I am a former HS/college wrestler so she has a basic understanding of some beginner holds. We also have owned a set of soccer-boppers for a long time. I’m sure that you can see where this is heading…
Little punk got in her face one too many times – poking his finger in her chest and mouthing off. Next thing he knew he had a black eye from a quick right cross and was laying on the floor with her on top of him alternating short punches with either hand. (I don’t know if “a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of [her].”)
Sure, we had to go see the principal and tell him how appalled we were by her behavior.
I bought her ice cream on the way home.
Maybe I’m a bad parent.