My girls love to climb the trees at their school.
As soon as they see me at dismissal, they hand off their backpacks and run away with their friends – stopping a moment to see me for a quick hug and a snack.
I mill around nearby, talking with other parents and watching the girls when they call out to me.
What happened last week, though, caught me off guard.
“You can’t come up here,” he says. He’s peering down on her, less than a foot from her hand. He dictating his presence just as she’s securing her fists onto the first available branch. He’s with two fourth-grade pals and they’ve claimed her favorite tree.
“Yes, I can,” she shoots back. “It’s not your tree.”
“It’s not yours either,” he refutes. With that, he steps firmly on her perching hand.
“Hey,” she cries. “That’s not cool.”
“You know who you look like?” he taunts.
Ignoring (or likely missing) his tone, she innocently expects him to say Taylor Swift. Lately, a handful of people have told her that she resembles the star.
“Annabelle,” he continues. The haunted doll.
She runs away.
I’m pushing Stella on a swing when she reaches us. One look and I can tell she’s on the brink of tears.
“Hey, honey,” I put my arm around my third-grade girl. “What’s going on?”
She rubs her hand.
“He’s a jerk,” she spouts. “He’s a stupid jerk. That’s what he is. A stupid jerk. I want to punch him.”
She continues to rub her hand.
“What happened?” I ask.
“I wanted to play in the tree and he wouldn’t let me. He stepped on my hand,” she says with a furrowed brow. “Hard. Really hard.”
“And then he called me Annabelle,” she says before I can speak.
“Annabelle?” I’m say in wonder. Is there a look-alike girl in the school named Annabelle?
“You know, that creepy doll, from that creepy movie,” she says matter of fact.
My mind flashes to the posters I’d seen at Old Orchard mall. Right, Annabelle … eek, she’s so freaky. My dear girl does not need her own Freddy.
She moves from me and starts boxing the nearby bushes, “He’s a jerk. I just want to punch him.”
I move toward her and say, “I’m so sorry, honey.”
She saying “what a jerk” and pushing at the foliage as I add on, “That was mean that he stepped on your hand. And it’s not cool to call you Annabelle. He’s being a punk. You look nothing like Annabelle.”
“Much more like Taylor Swift,” I nudge her and evoke that Veronica smile.
Problem solved (??).
At least for the moment, she shakes it off and runs toward her friends once again.
Yet an hour later at Noodles & Co., she seems both frustrated and pensive.
“What’s going on?” I inquire.
“He’s such a stupid jerk.”
She’s still on this. F#%@!!!
Words are powerful and her feelings (and hand) were hurt.
I’m there to listen and guide her. He was cruel to her with the foot stomp and the Annabelle comment. I mean, Annabelle, she’s really creepy.
“That was jerky,” I concur. She’s hurting and I get that, but I’m a novice at the meanie dragon and my mama protective claws come out.
Veronica has a girlfriend with her at dinner and the three of us talk it through the foot stomping/name calling until she’s at peace. Honestly, I think she handled it well. She made a play to get in the tree, she stood up for herself, and when her words didn’t work, she walked away and found an adult.
I believe in teaching your children to advocate for themselves, to speak up, and to stand up. My girls have no problem letting you know what’s on their mind and setting boundaries. They’re friendly and kind, but they’re confident and okay with drawing lines.
Coupled with the girls’ school’s climate of inclusion, of respecting self and others, and intolerance of bullying, I thought we’d dodge the fiery, hurtful bullet.
But I was naive.
Even with systems in play … even when you speak up for yourself … kids will be mean and words are powerful.
So, as a parent and teacher, I will continue to teach my girls to advocate for themselves, to speak up, and to stand up.
My favorite strategies are role playing and reading.
I pick a scenario and the girls and I discuss and practice possible responses. Role-playing increases their ability to set boundaries when I’m away. It also shows my girls that I understand the realities of bullying and are on their side. These interactions give them a conversation to refer back to when problems arise.
Role playing and reading are methods I use regularly to move through hot topics.
Three Books I Love that Address Bullying
- One. It’s not only an incredible book for colors and site word practice, but the message is clear: “I for one stand up,” and “Sometimes it just takes one.” If you don’t have this book, amazon it. It’s a must on your bookshelf. Also, this school’s dramatization of One is cool and worth a watch.
- Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade. Sally McCade stands up to bullying and learns that one person can make a difference.
- Chrysanthemum. This is a story about name calling and teasing.
What have you found works with meanies? How do you bully-proof your children? I’d love to hear from you.