Bullying in Elementary School

Parent Q&A

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  • Bullying in Elementary Schools

    (1 reply)

    My son is currently in 4th grade and has been in 2 different elementary schools. In both schools, he was verbally bullied and even physically attacked. 
    He is one of the younger kids in his grade, an easy going kid, and always thinks the best of everyone, so he was very hurt by his “friends”. We told him how to find real friends, how to respond to bullies, tell the teachers, even enrolled him in martial arts. Nothing seemed to help because it kept happening every year by different bullies. As parents, we are wondering why this keeps happening to him, should we get him some counseling? Classes? Psychiatrist? Any recommendations? Thank you!

    I am sorry you are dealing with this. It is awful to see our kids suffer. Have the schools helped at all? I know it can often be hard in public schools to feel like you are getting support regarding these kinds of things.  I would look into getting your child counseling. It can be helpful to both you and the child. 4th grade is still so young and kids can start to believe there is something wrong with them when faced with social issues at school that don't get better.  

  • Besting Bullying on Team

    (5 replies)

    Kiddo, 13, is in an individual sport, in a team environment -- track and field, gymnastics, swimming.  The team gets a score but really it's an individual sport.  You and Kiddo cheer on everybody on their personal successes in training and competition, regardless of placement.  Kiddo is dedicated and does well, usually with the top performers.  At practice, everyone is focused on training and while there's some socializing, exclusion is hard to do, but when it's, e.g., picture day, the other kids clump together and exclude Kiddo.  When it is team spirit week and the huge group goes to, e.g., bowling, Kiddo is left out of the lanes of age mates and takes on the role of big kid to the littles in another lane, likewise on "twins day" is left to make a triplet with a younger set.  Head is held high, small attempts are made to banter with group, and patience is used in hopes that there will be a welcome to the group chatter.  On picture day, the circle eventually opened and welcomed Kiddo, but only after the exclusionary point was made.  Any advice for Kiddo breaking in?  The coaches are great for coaching the sport, but aren't trained in social connections; I'd be afraid they would botch any "fix" and clearly team spirit week wasn't a bonding situation. The parents are not much warmer than their kids so there's not an easy entrée there for a friendly discussion.  I don't think Kiddo is broken as Kiddo easily makes new friends with kids in other environments and has deep friendships elsewhere.  It is heartbreaking to watch and heartbreaking for Kiddo as many hours are spent pursuing fun in the sport with these teammates, but the team feeling is lacking.  Kiddo doesn't need team to be best buddy but less excluding and more inclusiveness would be heartening.

    You might want to read this article. Is your son really feeling the exclusion here? I have to wonder if this is more about you than him? He seems like he is dealing with the dynamic very well.  Maybe you're just not friends with the parents (perhaps you were a late entry to the group). 


    Oh, this is so hard when the bullying is just below the radar and involves excluding! What about trying to pick one or two of the nicer kids on the team and having an outside playdate with them? Invite them to a pizza after practice or a sleepover after a game/ match. If your son can form a bond with one or two kids on the team that may be enough for him to feel more welcome. I would keep trying until you find someone who is a good fit. Good luck. It is so hard to see our kids excluded!

    Hi, I hope you don’t mind a response that is more understanding than full of advice. You could be speaking of my son, who  is 12 and tends to be the “odd guy out” (the twins day scene you mentioned broke my heart, he has been in similar situations so many times, he too often gravitates towards the younger kids, because of his patience and sweet disposition, they often seek him out now) but his suffering has been in school, 4th grade was the worst but it’s been generally hard. We try and focus on the positive, his good grades, the solid friendships outside of school and actually looking at the reasons some kids  bully and realize they may be suffering someplace in their life. I don’t know if this is helpful but I do feel for you and your Kiddo. 

    As a parent, having to watch this is excrutiating. But I will tell you this: a well rounded, balanced individual who is committed to achieving better and better “personal best” s is perceived as a threat. There will always be the insecure ones, whose personal worth lies in beating others and winning. The person who competes to meet the challenge of improving performance every time and is totally focused on being his or her own best, that type of person is not going to gel well with the paranoid, insecure types. Those insecure ones flock together not necessarily out of camaraderie, but to keep tabs on each other. 

    This pattern gets cemented at a younger and younger age it seems. And embrace Kiddo for not caving into the craziness. Make sure your kid has a life and friends in other parts of life and ensure that Kiddo is aware that being a good athlete does not require being a cliqueish prima donna. Just strive for personal best every time and make friends elsewhere.

    For whatever it’s worth it sounds like my kid’s swim team. I am making her delay competition for at least two more years so she can ground herself in other interests and friendships and have a strong sense of self and social support outside the team so she can focus on her performance and not notice the shenanigans of uptight insecure kids. Good luck!

    My son competed in age-group swimming since he was 7--he's swimming in college now. So as a parent, I've been there--and I will say this: Life is too short for your kid to put up with this kind of team dynamic. Unless your kid is new to the team and just hasn't had time to form friendships yet, or unless your kid is an elite athlete and absolutely has to train with this certain coach or team, the unhappiness isn't worth waiting it out or trying to make it better. Some team communities just suck, whether it's due to school-affiliated social groupings that exclude others, or socially or athletically competitive parents; or maybe the team's just not a good fit for your kid. Have a talk with your kid--maybe he/she/they would consider another team where the kids and parents are more welcoming, and the coaching is just as good.

  • Response to "bully" or aggressive behavior?

    (5 replies)

    My son is in elementary school and has had issues with another boy who liked to nudge him, push him, try to trip him, take away his stuff and run away with it, and just in general annoy him on purpose.  My son complained to the teacher but the teacher just tells the other boy to stop, or takes my son's things away from him and gives it to mys on.  She told my son to be patient becuase the other boy has difficult time in school -- based on my observations I think the other boy has some behavioral issues or maybe some mild disability (though of course I don't know for sure and I did not ask).  I'm sympathetic if the other boy is having difficulties but his behaviour is disrupting the other kids' education, and it is not ok.  I got sick of it and told my son that if the other boy ever hurts him physically he is allowed to retaliate (and if he is not the aggressor of the physical contact and does not escalate it he will not be punished) and that he should tell the other boy that and make sure the other boy understands that my son is done being on the receiving end of this behavior.  My son told the other boy after being pushed, according to my son:  "if you touch me again like this I'll punch you and I know karate so it will really hurt".  The teacher heard and I got a call that basically my son said it and the teacher admitted to seeing the other boy push my son prior to my son saying it.  I told her if she punishes my son for this and not the other boy for this constant aggressive behavior I'm going to the administration, the board, the social media and whatever it takes but this is getting ridiculous and unfair (yes, I overreacted but got very mad at this point).  She said my son will not get punished for this uttering.  It has been a week since and the other boy is keeping a nice distance from my son, which makes me and my son happy and our problem is solved (if I knew it would work I would have had my son do it a long time ago).  My son came home though telling me that this boy is now harassing another kid (a sweet, shy boy who is on the small side) and that kids told my son that the other boy is afraid to get punched so he won't "play" with my son anymore.  So, not my problem anymore but it really bugs me that this boy is getting away with it and that another kid now has to suffer this behavior (if he really has issues than he should be assigned an aid or get some help but other kids should not be suffering).  I feel like I cannot escalate this anymore since my kid is no longer on the receiving end but I feel so helpless hearing all these stories from my son about this kid, who is big for his age, intimidating other kids and making them deal with what my son dealt with for months before he stood up for himself and used the "fighting words" since "no" "stop" "i don't like it" etc. was not doing anything.  Who would you tell?  I don't know the parents of the kid who is the new "victim" of this behavior. The teacher is just waiting for the school year to end and does not want to deal with it.  Any way to address this?  

    You didn't mention if you had talked with the principal about this situation, so I assume not.  It takes a village to raise children, and this needs to escalate to the principal regardless of whose child is being bullied -- yours or anyone else's. A principal should be all ears listening to any parent who tells them about this sort of thing happening and continuing.  The boy doing the bullying needs help, as does the shy boy getting the mistreatment anew. You have information that will help the climate for the whole school and the principal needs to hear it. Time to escalate!

    You could see if a school counselor or the principal are any help.  Schools are often not much use in these situations because parents threaten to sue if their children are disciplined, and teachers often pick up on the message that higher-ups won't support intervention.  Also, there is a school of thought that argues that adults can't intervene all the time since kids need to develop the skills to handle this. 

    But your instincts are right--this situation merits adult intervention, since the behavior has only been re-directed and signals more trouble ahead.  What about the PTA?  You could raise this question at a meeting and see if you can get support to identify the victim and make sure this boy's behavior does not continue.

    How old are these kids?  I gotta say, the infractions you site sound like pretty normal kid stuff to me, not like some huge large-scale aggression by a "bully". You seem to express no compassion for the kid who, you acknowledge, may have some social/emotional issues going on.  Instead of feeling outraged by the mistreatment your son has experienced (again, which sounds pretty run-of-the-mill) maybe you should be concerned about this boy - a classmate, the child of a member of your community - is not getting the support he needs to function well in school.  Until you can come at the problem from that vantage point, you will only be unhelpful in this situation.  Let me be clear - if there was some real bullying going on here, I would say something different. But, snatching toys, nudging him, etc?  Come on.  

    I am so sorry that your son experienced bullying.  You don't mention your school district, but if this is happening in Berkeley, the lack of action by the teacher unfortunately sounds familiar.  If I were you, I would continue to push this issue even if your son isn't the direct victim any longer.  Kids other than the one who is being bullied or harassed are affected by the bad behavior, since they see how the bully treats other kids and are intimidated. Equally as important, the kids see how the adults who are in charge respond to the bullying--whether they stop it or allow it to go unchecked.

    In other words, you still have standing to complain and you should.  You should inform the teacher about what you hear from your son about the bully's behavior.  I note that everything should be documented in writing.  If you have a conversation in person or by phone, follow up with an email along the lines of "I am writing to confirm that today during our telephone conversation, I informed you that …."  If there isn't any written documentation, it is very easy for the powers that be at school can deny that they were ever aware of an issue.  Yes, this is a cynical take, but it is reality.

    As far as who to tell, I would continue to complain (in writing) to the teacher, but start copying the principal on your emails.  It sounds like your son has an inexperienced and/or ineffective teacher and the principal needs to know that this teacher is not responding to parent and student complaints.  I would also be very clear that this student's harassment is adversely impacting the learning environment and is making the other kids feel unsafe.  Even though you don't know the "new" victim's parent, I suggest that you reach out with an email or phone call to say "my son told me that your son is being picked on by another boy.  I just want to make sure that you were aware of this."  Maybe the parents responds and maybe they don't, but it would be helpful of you to let them know. Sometimes kids don't share troubling incidents at school so your note may be the first that the parents have heard about the bully.

    As a last, and dispiriting, note, don't lose heart if the behavior continues.  As I intimated above, we have found that in Berkeley, the adults in charge at school don't always seem to appreciate the impacts of bullying or aggressive behavior, and don't address it across the board.  The district as a whole "talks the talk" about anti-bullying, but the reality on the ground is mixed at best.  We have found some teachers and principals to be responsive to complaints but others appear utterly indifferent.  A kid should not have to deal with being called names, pushed or touched repeatedly or having items stolen from them, and if they do, the students perpetrating this behavior should be punished and taught that such behavior is wrong. Sadly, we have found that some kids who harass and bully others are given a pass and worse yet, the students who are being victimized are made to feel guilty for complaining. I applaud you for standing up for your son, and urge you to continue your advocacy.  If those in charge at schools hear more from parents and students who are being subjected to bullying and harassment, maybe this behavior will be addressed.  

    We had a similar issue with our 8-year-old son. We did something during a period that was particularly stressful for him (his teacher acknowledged the bullying but didn’t do much to help). We sat with our child and and drew up two charts that we filled in halfway: 1. Normal kid stuff and then 2. Bullying. That way he could better prepare to assess the differences. He was able to fill in his boundaries within each category. Then we acted out scenarios of bullying and repsonses. He was able to see both sides (in his case, the other child had just moved here from another country and felt inferior, perhaps). We did this for a few weeks and, yes, it was painful (laughing, giggling, etc). Over time, it helped so much. Now my son has empathy (“guy did this maybe because his parents talk to him like this at home. I’m happy my parents are kind to me”) and helped him develop a language around asserting himself and boundaries. The year was rough (competitive environment and many bully-like behavior). One instance arose where we needed intervention. After documenting, we sent an email to his  teacher and principal. We met with both and what seemed to help us haiving a game-plan in place. The school doesn’t do much about their bullying issue. So we had to take measures into our own hands when defining the problem, our boundaries and  providing a solution via a plan. This was the key to our success. I’m sorry you have to go through this. It can rip a parent’a heart out. We looked a total is as real life training for the future. 

  • My son is at one of the bigger BUSD elementary schools and takes a really long time to feel comfortable enough to someone to call them a friend. Well, he recently became close with one kid who no longer wants to play with my son anymore. The other kid is telling my son that he won't be his friend unless my son gives him some of his lunch. How can I tell my son that he shouldn't "buy" any friendships? I'm sure the other kid probably just wants space and to play with other kids (he's not a mean kid), but my son is so slow to make friends that he is heartbroken over this and isn't sure what to do.

    I'm so sorry. Understanding social cues and negotiating friendships is part of education, please ask the school for support in addition to other resources. One of the best on-line resources I have found is Kidpower, and you can arrange training sessions for your school, parents and students with their experts.

    The social cues just get more difficult to navigate as kids get older. If this is an area where your son has misunderstandings, please look into that as well. 

    Best wishes. My kids had similar experiences and they were heartbreaking,

    Quite aside from the moral lessons you contemplate, the fact is BUSD is strict & serious in forbidding students to share any food at lunch, snacktime,  or any other occasion at school.   This is as absolute as the school staffs can make it.   Berkeley regards food allergies (and individual dietary choices) with deadly seriousness.   If your kid is caught giving so much as a Taki to another child, they will both be in trouble.   It is a matter not of manners but of safety, and rightly so.

    Maybe that kid is really hungry. Why not try putting extra food in your kid's lunch so he can share? Generosity is a good lesson to learn. 

  • Our child is in 3rd grade at a Berkeley elementary school. Yesterday another child cut in line, and our child asked him not to, to which the other child said that he had a gun in his bag, and if our child did not apologize to him, he would shoot our child. Out child told their teacher, and was directed to the principal. We were informed of this as an incident of being 'verbally mean', and told that the other child had been reminded about being kind and respectful. Case closed.

    Are we naive in thinking that this is a more grave matter? What should our expectation be here?

    I don't think that response is adequate. I would address that with the principal and if I still had an issue I would go above their head to the district office. 

    Yeah, this is more than a case of being "verbally mean."  It's an incendiary threat, and needs to be addressed. 

    In all likelihood, it's bravado, but it's a poor sign that the child who made the threat thought it was a useful thing to say--apparently he's learned that people with guns get respect and attention.  This puts him at risk as well as all other children at the school.

    Hello there. Just file a police report 

    let the school know that you are doing it.

    Was the bag immediately taken and searched before the child had a chance to remove and hide a possible gun? Was there follow-up with the family of the child who made the threat to check if the family owned a gun (which might be brought to school in the future, if your child does not toe the line)? You are not naive at all in thinking this is a grave matter. Threatening to shoot someone is not verbal meanness. It's a death threat. Elementary kids do bring guns to school (and have in Berkeley). If the threat had been made by a 2 or even 3 year old, I would brush it off -- but not with an 8 or 9 year old. A third grader whose mind jumps to making a death threat to intimidate another child may well live in a household where guns are spoken of or even used in menacing ways.Calling it verbal meanness is ludicrous and sends a VERY strange message to both the child who made the threat and your child. Under the discipline policies of BUSD, the child's threat is grounds for suspension and expulsion.  l would demand that the school take this incident very seriously.

    I would go up to the District (assistant Superintendant)on this one. We once had a kid say there was a bomb, and it was taken very seriously. Hopefully there is no actual gun, but seems like this should be escalated up a bit!

    I think the school handed the situation appropriately.  It was a case of verbal bullying.  Although the word 'gun' was used no actual gun or any weapon or any actual violence was involved. Assure your child that he did the right thing by asking for help when another child threatened him and that you are very proud of him for using kind words at school.  Be aware the school cannot inform you of further actions they may have taken with the other child and his family.  If a conference was held to understand the other child's behavior and/or a referral for therapy was made the school cannot tell you this for privacy reasons.

    How does your child feel about the resolution? If they are ok, it makes sense to let it go. If there have been other incidents with this child and your child, or your child is scared, pursue it as a case of bullying. I believe there is a BUSD complaint form for bullying incidents. 

  • There is a pattern of two first-grade boys who are bullying my kindergarten son at recess (K and 1st grade have recess together). After it became clear it was a pattern, I talked to the teacher. She then talked to the kids and their teacher and the bullying stopped for about a week. Then one of the kids bullied my son again just before the Thanksgiving break. (I am writing this over the T-Day holiday.)

    My son is an introvert and tends to be alone at recess, which probably makes him an easy target. I've observed recess (before the bullying started) and the yard supervisors literally sit on their butts. Most of the incidents have happened at the lunchtime recess, so the teachers are on their breaks.

    The bullying includes: walking in circles around my son and then knocking him over and/or punching him. He has had a bloody, swollen lip and another time, he bit his tongue hard and it was sore for a couple of days. Most of the time, grown-ups aren't aware of anything that's going on. I am working with my son on going to a grown-up for help!

    I have signed up for a Kidpower class, and in the meantime, I have coached my son to say loudly and strongly, "Stop [bully's name], don't push me!" (or whatever the bully is doing). The last time it happened, my son says that a grown-up (he isn't sure who) took the bully to the office after he strongly said "stop!"

    What happens after a kid goes to the office for this type of thing? Are his parents' notified? 

    I'm starting to wonder if I'm not getting the full story from my son (or if part of it is made up?). There are some details that aren't clear. My son says he doesn't know if it was a man or woman grown-up (odd that he wouldn't know that) who took the bully to the office, for example.

    I have polled all of my friends about this and they tell me that as this age, bullying has only stopped when they have personally talked to the parents. Everyone also says to talk to the principal, which I will be doing on Monday, I suppose.

    Does anyone have any advice on how to handle this? Do I really have to go to the principal? Any other suggestions to empower my son to stand up for himself? I am not against him pushing/hitting back and have told my son that it would be OK to do that. I would consider martial arts, but everything I read says that kids aren't focused enough to do martial arts until they're 7. 

    Thank you, o wise ones!

    Of course you go to the principal! Why would you hesitate? Are you feeling shy or are you worried it'll blow back on your kid? Listen, you have to advocate for your kid. There's only so much a kindergartener can do. And even if you could get him martial arts training, what is he gonna do, give the bully a karate chop and then get sent to the office for being the aggressor? That's what's going to happen, and the bullys' moms will be all "waah waah waah, our snowflakes are the victims here." Talk to the principal, say this is completely unacceptable. Do not let the principal tell you the solution is to keep your kid inside while the bullies get to be jerks to someone else's kid. Demand that the school get a Playworks coach -- they teach the kids schoolyard games to keep them engaged so they don't become bullies out of sheer boredom, and they also teach the bullied kids how to change the interaction (but kinder is really too young to expect this!!!). 

    I don't think it's odd that he wouldn't know who took the bully to the office. 

    The teacher should be better at intervening and changing this behavior. The school should have an anti-bullying policy. At our school (in WCCUSD), the teachers of the young grades (K-2) are geniuses at redirecting the energy of aggressive kids and drawing out their better selves. I've watched it happen. They are not usually terrible kids, they just need an abundance of guidance. 

    Go forth and advocate! Give 'em hell!! 

    I think it's appropriate that you speak to the principal, and teachers. Afterwards, write an email thanking them for meeting/speaking with you, and recap what you discussed. Print out the email and keep it in a folder, along with a piece of paper noting any incidents, as far back as you can remember. Hopefully this will get straightened right out, but if not, you have a record. The teachers may already be aware of these first-graders, and there may be other kindergartners now or in the future who will be a target. Yours can be part of a communal response to help the first graders understand the meanings/consequences of their actions.

    As far as the accuracy of your son's reports: believe him. He needs you to believe him, AND you can assume that you don't know all sides of the story when you speak to the teachers. It doesn't surprise me, for instance, that he can't remember if it was a male or female adult who took the kid to the office - your son was stressed out from the incident, and wasn't thinking clearly, as anyone would be.

    The kidpower class sounds great, and my concern about encouraging him to hit back is that HE would then get in trouble, which would be so dang unfair! My kid was bullied in K/1st too, and I spoke to the principal who spoke to the parents, which worked.

    Ari F-M

    Just in regards to your question about "do I have to go the to principal?" 

    Yes! That's what she's there for. Bullying shouldn't be tolerated. And the monitors should be actively monitoring your son and the others at this point. Ask the administrator to sit in with you and the teacher. Not because you want to get the teacher "in trouble" or anything but because you are a team. 

    From this point on you must become a warrior with no patience who will absolutely not accept wishy-washy responses from cautious bureaucrats hiding behind Cali-soft peace-at-all-costs policy.  Your kid is getting intimidated & assaulted.  So be nice enough not to assault principals or teachers but DO intimidate them.  Do some research to find out the hardball consequences with which you can threaten hesitant adults if they hem & haw.  

    Understood, it's difficult for school officials to act decisively against bullies (especially in California, especially in Berkeley).  But be alert:  the instant someone seems to be afraid of going 'too strong' against bullies & hurting their 'confused' childish natures, you call "Bullshit!" & bring the attention back to yoyr kid getting assaulted.  The instant someone seems to be afraid of possibly angering the bully's parents, show that YOU are ALREADY angry & every bit as likely to take legal action as any defensive parents of rough kids.  

    Bullies & often their parents laugh at the counseling-style consequences brought to bear on their 'emotionally confused child' who likes to beat the crap out of a weaker child.  Bullies are not all 'misunderstood,' they are violent.  THEY HURT YOUR CHILD.  Doesn't that outrage you?  So show it & get results.

    You might read the chapter "Bullies" in the book "Boys Will Be" by Bruce Brooks (1993, Henry Holt).  A bit dated, a bit rough, but perhaps also a bit spine-stiffening.

    I'm sorry this is happening and want you to know you are not alone. It happens all the time, but that does not in any way excuse it or mean you shouldn't take action. I think it is perfectly appropriate to go to the principal: s/he is an available resource and should be able to help. You don't have to know the answers (including how much your kid may or may not be "exaggerating"): you just know that your kid is having a hard time during recess and he needs the adults in his life to help him out. Principals have a professional duty to make sure all kids are in a safe learning environment, and with any luck your principal will help you understand what is going on and help you come up with an effective response (hopefully involving the classroom teacher as well). Please don't be reluctant to use the principal as a resource. I don't think you should talk to the parents yourself, but this is something you can discuss with the principal, too. 

    I have a child who, when younger, seemed to attract bullies. I found that some principals are effective in the way they handle these things, and some are not. I think you stand a pretty good chance in BUSD of having a principal who responds well, but follow up and keep checking. You are your child's advocate, and I think it is very important to act and take what the child says seriously. In general, I think kids only complain about these things to parents when things are really a problem for them (I know there are exceptions, and every kid has a different way of interpreting and communicating these things, but remember YOU KNOW YOUR KID BEST, so trust your judgement about what he is saying. The exact details don't have to be 100% accurate: the point is that something is going on that is creating problems for him). 

    Kid Power is a great resource. Some martial arts studios offer classes specifically for younger children. We loved Studio Naga on San Pablo Avenue. They teach an Indonesia form of martial arts, and have a class specifically for 5 to 7 year olds (sometimes includes even younger kids, or beginners who are older). Studio Naga has a wonderful, inclusive, family friendly environment, lots of kids of different ages (many of them great role models), very kind and dedicated teachers, and experience with kids who are shy. One reason I love the studio is that the senior leadership are women, which tends to make it less macho feeling than many martial arts I've had contact with (though the leadership is still totally tough and bad-ass). Call them up and ask to speak with Louise, who runs the studio, and tell her your specific concerns. 

    Best wishes to you and your son. Sounds like you are being wonderfully proactive. Kids can really be mean, and it is the duty of adults to show them how to be kind and respectful. 

    Yes, go to the principal. Let your son know that you have his back (literally). He's too young to have to do this for himself! He needs to know you will make sure he is safe and your actions will speak louder than your tutoring him.

  • I have a 10-year old daughter and is in a public school in an affluent city. She had 2 BFFs last few years but felt excluded by both of them so she left them and try to make new friends this year. She tries to maintain friendship with these 2 ex-BFFs and asking for playdates outside of school on one-to-one basis but these 2 girls seem to 'gang' up and reject the playdate invites and of course she's hurt. They had made untrue and unsupported comments about my daughter to other girls. I made the mistake of clarifying the situation to one of the parent and now that parent had also turned against me. I know it is best to allow kids to deal with the issues themselves but I was just trying to explain to the mom the 'untrue' comments about my child but I was told by the parent that 'she trusts her own child'.

    My daughter is kind to her friends and not aggressive in nature, but this seems to make her a target to bullies? There's a classmate she tried to befriend with, had playdates, brought that friend to movies, dinners, sleepovers, did activities together. This friend found another good friend in the last week and now seems to gang up with this other friend against my daughter - they would call her names, took items (pencils) from her without her knowing (but she saw her took stuff from her desk and gave it to her 'other' best friend), and then this girl gave out birthday party favors to her class, she gave my daughter the 'ugliest' item and said to her 'You deserved this'.

    Unfortunately I don't belong to any parent cliques and wonder if this is affecting my daughter's relationship in school. With each event (e.g. halloween, school activity, etc) I scramble around unsuccessfully to ask for other girls for her to do the activity with because most girls already have their own 'cliques' to do things with.

    I don't know if this is a public school behavior, and wonder if a private school with smaller groups will help create healthier relationships/friendships? I am just surprised that such girl drama already starting to exist in 10-year olds. I always think girl drama start during teenage years.

    What is your experience with school girl drama, and how do you manage them? I know this is a great learning experience for my daughter, but it just pains me to see why she's the victim of such treatment by other girls of the same age?

    I am so sorry you have to deal with this!! I don't know what city you live in, but I would ask the school what they think. I would also ask to have dinner with the parents and the girls to talk about it. I do not think that girls being bullies to eachother is a nessesary learning experience that they can sort out themselves.
    As far as not having a parent click, I guarantee you that there are other odd woman out moms who feel the same way and you should find them. Everyone seems to think everyone else has it together except them, and I know this just isn't true! Everyone is trying to figure it out.

    The only way to avoid the "Mean Girls" syndrome is to have her at a school that won't tolerate it, which, unfortunately, won't be a public school. (They just don't have the resources to handle it.) Certainly it's one way of thinking that parents should stay out of it, unless you see patterns with your daughter that repeat in all social situations, in which case there's something she's doing that's inciting the others' behavior.

    But. I was a "new kid" in many schools -- we moved a lot -- and my role in those schools often morphed, depending on the demographics, the moon, the tides, whatever -- sometimes I was popular, sometimes a nerd.

    I think parents who think their kid should just "lump it" when they are suffering are insensitive. Sometimes your kid is just swimming with the wrong school of fish.

    Only you can make the distinction as to whether the esteem of these girls is worth fighting for. It might not be.

    Why do you want your daughter to be friends with them?

    Use the experience to talk about feelings, compassion, fairness. Volunteer with her in hospitals, shelters. Talk with her. Good friends don't need to look good or be cool. Let her understand the difference between being accepted and valuing integrity. Find friends outside that place.

    I wish you both the very best.

    Things wouldn't be better in a smaller school. Believe me---they would only be worse. We had my daughter in a small private school, and it was a nightmare when the other girls displayed cliquish behavior, because there weren't other girls around to hang out with as an alternative. 

    I do not mean to suggest that this is in any way your daughters fault, but it sounds like she broke up with her best friends yet still expects to be friends with them? I don't really see how that is possible. That would require a level of meta cognition that they are just not capable of. One thing I've been working on with my daughter is to break away from this concept of the BFF. I've been trying to teach her that it's not a useful vocabulary because we have lots of different parts to is and we can't expect or even want one person to be the right match for all the different parts of us at all times.

    i know that this is painful for both of you, and I'm sorry!

    So very sorry your daughter is experiencing this.  Unfortunately, it is apparently normal behavior & not restricted to public schools.  My daughter had this problem with a fine local private middle school.  It was heartbreaking.  middle school is the time for this.  It was all over by the time she made it to Berkeley High. The middle school faculty was fairly oblivious to the problem.  I wish your daughter well.  Speaking with her primary teacher is how I would proceed.

    My 9 year old had a covert bully off/on all last year. This was in spite if the fact she is in a smal private school that really works with kids to be inclusive and kind with each other. I can only imagine what public school might be like.

    That said, I did nothing to engage the other kid's parents. Alerted the teacher, had a couple of conference and it blew up at the end of school. My kid is actually well-liked and usually very socially skilled, but so ingrained in the "catn't say you can't play" model that she had no skills for standing up for herself and setting clear and effective boundaries.

    This year, my and the other kid have a decent alliance. What happened? The biggest thing I did was load my kid up with every "American Girl " book that deals with friendship, drama, assertiveness, rumors, etc.. five books total, I believe. Had my kid read them and we talked about it when she brought it up. Very helpful. Second was we shored up extracurricular and church involvement. Other parents have also focused on the girls makeuing church friends, and there have been three bday parties there and multiple play dates out of that. She is also joining a swim team and drama group as well. She did tennis too, and some nice connections came out of that.

    In sum, we did three things: exposed her to a new and better skill set for dealing with that crap-effectively "bully proofed" her. Then we got her to focus on building a sense of mastery in a variety of activities that gave her self-confidence, widened her horizons. And third, she had made such a variety of friends in various areas of her life that she quit caring about what the covert bully was doing or not doing. That combined with skills from the American Girl books totally neutralized the bully. Now last year's bully jockeys to be friends with my daughter and my kid simply quit caring one way or the other.

    I urge you to step out of the drama and work on the bully proofing strategy first. I say this because if you use the term victim to describe your kid, you will only disempower her and make her feel even more helpless.  Expand her horizons into the community so she can feel a part of things and learn to blow off the pettiness. It really does work.

    Only if all of this is done and the bullying intensifies should you go to the teachers or school. The code of silence amongst kids runs deep. Unless it gets really out of hand it is usually better to work to improve your daughter's life, outlook and skillset. Once learned she will carry it with her forever.

    Best of luck! Feel free to email me if you like.

    I think she needs to find friends outside of school. Maybe in the neighborhood, in dance class, or art class or chess class. She needs something going on in her life in addition to school. 

    Elementary school is such a small pool of friends.  I saw this happen to my daughter in 4th grade (30 years ago).  She went on to have the best group of supportive friends from College and doesn't remember way back when...but I do.  I think joining an after school group such as Berkeley Girls softball, or ballet class, horseback riding, etc. opens up the pool of possible friends and takes off the pressure of class.  We even had friends from other schools as previous friends went to private schools before coming back to BHS.  Good luck.  Your daughter will survive.

    Oh gosh, please don't blame this on public school. Our public school has a very strong social-emotional curriculum and any adult at the school would shut this behavior down.  I'm not saying the kids are all angels to one another, but they know what's unacceptable.  When kids step out of line (rarely happens!), the adults know just how to handle it.  I don't have any advice about how your daughter should handle things, but I'm sorry she's having to endure mean girls.

    For dealing with any kind of bullying, I always recommend Kid Power. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews



5-year-old being teased at summer camp

Aug 2011


My confident, outgoing, socially-adept, and friendly 5-year-old son just had his first day at Cal Explorers camp. He has been so excited about it and I've been excited because I felt he would be in good hands. But today he told me he had a bad day and that he was teased quite a bit by the older kids. One episode in particular involved an older boy calling my son a name and then mocking his talkativeness. It seems that there were a few other episodes of teasing by older kids (all in one day), but I'm having trouble getting my son to talk about specifics.

What should I do? I don't want to overreact, but I've been slow to react previously (re: an abusive teacher at a preschool) and then regretted it. How can I coach my son to protect himself from or ignore teasing? And is it too soon to talk to the camp counselors, or should I give it a few days? (Of course, by the time I get a response the camps session will be nearly over.) Just trying to figure this out. Kindergarten is around the corner. anon

As someone affiliated with a summer camp and a mother of 2 elementary-age campers, I'd encourage you to talk to the counselors as soon as you know about a problem. Be non-confrontational but honest about your concerns. It's hard for the counselors to see and monitor every interaction in a group of kids, and they'd appreciate knowing about your experiences and concerns so they can make adjustments and recommendations, maybe make sure your kid is hooked up with a buddy his own age, and keep an extra eye on the kids involved in the bullying. Mom

Name calling and mocking is never acceptable and you should speak with both the counselors and director of the camp immediately. They can't help the situation if they don't know it is happening. Get it on their radar as soon as it happens and follow-up with your son and the counselors to ensure it stops. If you can't visit them in person you should let them know you would like to hear a response by the next day. Hope this helps

I also have a very outgoing, talkative son and I do believe he is teased a bit on occasion. Two thoughts come to mind: First: I think it's important to help your son find language that he can use to curb the bullying (''When you say that, it upsets me. Please stop calling me names''). Polite directives will hopefully give him confidence. Second: I do NOT think it's inappropriate to talk to the counselors. It is their job to insure everyone is safe, both physically and emotionally. There are times when it's unclear who said what, etc. However, bullying is brutal. I'm lucky in that my son goes to a school that has a VERY strong no-bullying policy. I encourage him to work things out himself. Follow your instincts. Doing both may allow him to practice protecting himself esp if counselors are aware of the situation. Good luck. anon

Darn, my 5 year old son is there as well this week and next, so I wish we could buddy them up. Mine's not so shy, but is generally pretty fun to hang out w/so that might help. I would definitely speak to his counselors. They need to know so they can pay closer attention and protect the little ones. They really want the kids to have fun, so they'll want to know. Hopefully he'll make some friends and they can all watch out for each other and avoid the mean kids. This is a good opportunity to talk w/your son about how he's going to run into kids who aren't nice and how to handle it. My 8 yr. old is at the Blue Camp and they seem to be encouraging them w/points towards prizes at the end for their group when they are nice and/or do what they're supposed to. Not sure if they're doing the same w/the little ones. Good luck, don't be shy about speaking up, and hang in there! Graham's mom

Immediately talk to the counselors in charge about the bullying. Give it one more day. if things are not different and/or if your child no longer wants to go, keep him home. He's a sensitive boy. At five some children (especially) boys, may still not be ready for Kindergarten. My son wasn't ready, so after almost half a year with him being miserable in school, we removed him. He started kindergarten again at age 6. It turned out to be a good choice. He managed to make up for lost time graduating HS a half year early. amma

I would not wait. Bullying will get worse if you don't address it immediately. Show your son that you are his champion and that you won't let this happen to him. Hold the camp and the counselors accountable for his safety and well being. He's not old enough to worry about how his parent's intervening might make him look weak. Also, your son needs to hold strong and show the kids that what they are doing is NOT affecting him (even if it is). People have power only if we give them that power. Your son needs to keep his power. (Perhaps too much for a 5 year old but it's worth a shot). Finally, he has a right to defend himself. If the other kids do something he should tell the counselor. If the counselor does nothing then he should take action. One person's perspective. Best of luck. stop bullying at camp

As soon as your child tells you of any teasing/bullying, follow up IMMEDIATELY with counselors, teachers, etc. If the people that are watching your son don't know, then they can't watch for it, find out the whole story, do something about it. So many scenarios - e.g. a counselor may well have seen it and talked to the other kid separately; the bully may pick on others; the counselors do have a big job and bullies are sneaky so the staff WANTS to know and WANTS to fix it... You HAVE to help both your child and the staff by speaking up immediately. You don't have to storm in there with accusations and shouting, nor do you downplay it and apologize. You approach them calmly, with concern. ''This is what my child experienced. I thought you'd like to know.'' By doing that you are teaching your child that you are there to help, that others want to help, that there is no shame in asking for help, that it's important to speak up and not wait it out. Mom of Two

Hi, I am so sorry to hear about this. My son attended the Cal Explorer Camp last session and is attending this session as well. He is right around the age of your child and hasn't brought up bullying. In fact, he absolutely loves it, so I am wondering if these are somewhat isolated incidents or a couple of kids in particular rather than part of the culture of the place. I think that you should specifically talk to the leaders of his group and alert them to the situation. They will probably do some group discussions about bullying and teasing and reiterate that this behavior is not ok. Unfortunately this is something that you are going to have to deal with a lot in the coming years - at camp, school, even among friends. The more we talk about it, the more we empower the kids to speak up for themselves and to speak up for each other when they see it happening. Don't wait to bring it up. Cal Explorer camper mom

Talk to the counselors NOW. It is their job to make sure every camper feels safe and as happy as possible. They need to intervene and talk to these older kids, explaining that making fun of others, bullying, teasing, etc. is unacceptable behavior. Berkeley mom

Talk to the counselors immediately. That is their job. Your child is very young, and if older kids are picking on him, he probably doesn't have the skills yet to deal with the bullying of older kids. If you allow this go on much longer, it will be to the detriment of your child. The counselors may not even be aware that it's happening, so you need to tell them. anon

I'm sorry that this happened to your son. I would definitely try to reach people at the camp and bring it up. They should be paying attention and tuned in to this sort of thing and do their best to nip it in the bud. I would also talk it over with your in a matter of fact way. Of course, you do want him to tell you what happened and you want to be sympathetic but not make too big of a deal out of it either. I could go on and on about ideas for how to talk to your son about it, but my most useful suggestion is that you sign your kid up for a Kidpower workshop. Check it out online -- these wonderful workshops will help your kid be physically and emotionally safe and give you all kinds of strategies for coping with the big bad world. Good luck. anon

I believe the best course when this happens, at ANY camp, is to find an opportunity the next day to speak with the on-site coordinator, and if need be the overall director. Try to have the discussion initially without your child present. Talk with the coordinator/director about how they typically address such issues. They will have a plan if they have experience. The coordinator/director will then (after you leave) take it up with the group counselor. Let the coordinator know that you'd like to follow up with them the next day. If you have to take a bit of time off at the beginning or end f your work day (if you have a job) then do so. It will be worth addressing the issue ASAP. Specifically about Cal Camp (including Explorer Camp), I have found it to be extremely well run and have found the management and staff to be quite responsive. When we needed a special accommodation for my kid (that I did not foresee) I wrote a note, spoke with an onsite director, and the matter was handled quite well. Cal Mom

My son has been going to Cal camp for 5 years and occasionally problems like this have cropped up. I have found the staff to be extremely receptive and helpful every time I've had any sort of problem. I usually just stop by the office on my way in, or when I'm picking up my kid, and I speak with whomever is there in the office. They have either solved my problem immediately or connected me with another staff person who did. They are used to handling these kinds of things and I think they do a really good job of making sure that every kid has a good experience at camp. With my son, I can't always tell exactly what the problem is based on what he tells me. He never remembers anyone's name or any details about the situation. He will say something like ''there's a mean kid in my soccer class.'' But I've learned that even though he is vague, if I can tell it's bothering him, there is usually something behind it. When I've talked to a counselor, they've known right away who or what is causing the problem, and they've fixed the problem. So I really recommend speaking up right away! love Blue Camp

I can't tell you what you should do in regards to coaching your son how to best deal with a bully, I'm not a parent and I will leave that advice up to someone who knows more. I am however a Summer Day Camp Director. As a Camp Director I personally take bullying VERY seriously, especially when it is an older child bullying a younger child. My hope would be that you talk to the Camp Director the next morning during drop-off. I personally would recommend talking to the Director rather than the Counselor. If you talk to the Camp Director the Director can watch the interactions of the bully and your child. The Director may be able to see interactions that the Counselor does not (such as meal times and bathroom times when all the children are together). Bully can quickly escalate, I hope that you talked to the Camp Staff and had them help with the issue. px

Anon: This is a topic we talk with parents about at camp quite often. As the camp director at Explorer Camp, I want to share with you what we typically tell parents who come to us with this concern.

First of all, we want children to be able to tell their parents when they are feeling teased. Whether it is playful antics that have been misinterprted or intentionally unkind words being said, your child is expressing himself and sharing that he is upset and that is important. No child wants to go to a camp where they feel made fun of.

The next step is to talk with your child about the problem so it can be identified and understood. It sounds like he is able to tell you exactly what was happening so the next step is to help him problem solve. Ask him who he thinks he can go to at camp to help him with this. Listen to see if he names his group leader or another staff member. In a camp or school setting he will start to learn that there are other adults that can help him. If he doesn't identify someone, you may need to suggest people.

Then, if he is willing, go with him to the camp office and talk to the person he feels is best able to help him. We like to get the camper involved when they are ready so they see they have some power in problem solving. Often, parents let us know in advance so we can have the staff prepared for the discussion. If he is not yet ready for that level then absolutely you should talk with the camp. We always want to know as soon as possible when a camper does not feel safe at camp. We work to teach campers life skills which include: identifying a problem, possible solutions, and how to select the best solution and evaluate the effectiveness (Stop, Plot, Go, So).

Intervening on your son's behalf teaches him he can go to you with a problem and also be part of the solution by working with the camp staff to develop skills when another child is not being kind or friendly. We love to have parents who want to be part of our process and we always want to know as soon as possible. At school or camp the teachers and staff are there to work with you. If you are hearing that someone is being unkind, mentioning it to the teacher or staff can alert them to a potential problem. Of course children do need to learn to work out their differences but the adults around them are there to facilitate and support the problem solving, not to solve it for them. You may feel like telling the camp or school will prevent your son from learning to problem-solve on his own, but I think including the adults gives them insight into your child's perceptions of what is going on around him and will ultimately prove a richer learning experience. Wendy A.

Were this my child, I would alert the camp director(s), immediately, esp. given what we now about the immediate and long-term effects of bullying. I urge you to go above the counselors because very often, no matter how well-intended the counselor, they are usually teens whose own radar and psychological problem- solving is not fully developed. A camp director worth his/her salt will have zero tolerance for bullying and include your child in the problem-solving part of the bullying. But please lose your self-consciousness and get someone of authority involved. It's important to communicate to your son that he merits being treated only well. Good luck to you and your son. Anon

UPDATE -- I wrote the original post about my son's experience of being teased at Cal Explorer Camp. The morning after writing that post, I spoke with the camp counselor. She was very responsive and assured me that they wanted to hear when there were cases of teasing. I don't know what she did, but I do know that my son has not mentioned any other problems and he loves it at the camp. Thank you for all of your support. I will definitely be less hesitant to speak up in the future. anon


How to support 2nd grader through teasing

June 2011


I have a 2nd grader going to 3rd in the fall. this year he's started to get teased by some of the other kids in his school. I think it's likely to get worse before it gets better for him. He takes things personally sometimes when his friends don't mean to be mean, but also a few older kids have started teasing him (and others) repeatedly. He doesn't talk with me a lot about it but if I ask the right questions I can get him to open up sometimes. He's small for his age, very smart and likes being smart. he's not good at the sports they play at school but takes gymnastics and is good at that and likes to ride his bike and play frisbee. He is basically a sweet kid but slightly immature and says he feels like he is ''different'' and sometimes lonely. He gets plenty of sympathy from his dad and I as we were both teased at various times in our school year (older than grade school, though) and I think this has been a comfort to him. We have done kid-power workshops and he says at school he either walks away or tries to laugh it off as we have told him is best do, to not encourage escalation. But these strategies don't help him feel better about himself. What else can we do for him? are there books he can read to get some perspective on the teasing or to deal with it when it happens? other resources? mom of a tease-ee

Hi - I'm so sorry that this is happening to your child. The school year is winding down now, so he'll get a break this summer. But you should be pro-active about it next year and talk to both his teacher and the principal and get it to STOP. Also, if it's not too late to reach out to his teacher this year, talk to him or her and see if the teacher has any insight into how to make it better next year. There is always the chance that your child has a role in the teasing that you're not aware of (he's a big goof ball at school or he's grown to want the negative attention. It happens. . .) and the more information you have, the more helpful you can be to your child. So, whatever your child's role, work on that end of it. And if the kids are just being mean and looking for someone to pick on, get the adults involved next year and make it clear you want it to STOP. You want the adults paying attention both in and outside the classroom and having zero tolerance for mean teasing. Also, keep telling your kid things like, ''Well, you're a great kid. Now you have more information about these other kids. Sometimes other kids choose to do bad things.'' Pump him up, in other words. Good luck. mean people suck

If this is continued teasing by the same kids then you need to address the teasers. Yes, most kids get teased at some point, and we do best if we ignore it and don't feed teh fire by showing our upset....ideally.... But in the long run it's the teasers who need to know that it's not acceptable. It's summer vacation now so hopefully your child wont' see the teasers for a while...see what happens in the fall. I'd go to the teachers first and then next to the parents, or try talking to the kids directly...in a non threatening ''nice'' way ie:''why are you saying these things? How do you think it makes him feel? How would you feel if someone said that to you?'' etc. I was teased endlessly when I was a kid because I had really dark hair on my arms (girl). My parents told me to ignore it. They never went to the teacher or talked to the kids or their parents. I endured this teasing for years till I got out of that school. Your child needs you to go to bat for him and go directly to the source. former teased schoolgirl

This is so hard. This is an age when many boys become more ''sporty'' at recess and that leaves the less sporty boys feeling very 'out of it'. I'm sorry that teasing has accompanied this. For actual teasing, you should enlist your child's teacher and the school principal for help. Teasing incidents at my child's (public) school are treated seriously and quickly by school staff and in my experience can be squashed quite quickly at this age. In terms of him finding a place and a group of kids or a friend, that is another issue you should address. Schools can help by setting up other things for kids to do at recess. This can be harder in tough budget times, but having the library open at lunch recess, having a computer room or chess club or other lunchtime activities that are less sporty can help kids who are less so find a home. On your end, helping him connect with other boys or kids in his school will help. Also, I find these things can change -- your kid's interests may change. Now my son is entering fifth grade and ironically, he is getting more sporty just as some of the more sporty boys are becoming less so -- and they are finding themselves in a nice middle called ''Tag'' -- basically, they play tag instead of football or kickball at recess and it seems easier for kids to join in this game who don't feel so sporty. Hang in there and keep working at it -- little things can help and things do change. anon


Aggressive 1st grade bully - is school responding adequately?

Oct 2010


My son is a tall, good-natured, and athletic boy who likes school and has many friends. Last year, there was a boy in his kindergarten class who was problematic and well known among all the parents to be a bully. My son had problems with this child occasionally, but I tried to be cordial to the parents when they - rarely - showed up for school events. However, their son was obnoxious enough that I specifically requested they be placed in separate classrooms this year, which they were. Last week this boy put a jump rope around my son's neck at recess. I was livid and so furious when my son told me that I got choked up when I left a message for the principal to call me at home immediately. I met with the principal the next morning who was alternately condescending (assuring me that their is a child like this boy in every grade) and sympathetic (she acknowledged that she would be upset if her child were treated in a similar manner by a classmate). She did call both parents (they are not together) and visited the first grade classrooms to discuss safe jump rope use with the children. The school policy does not allow for suspension of children younger than 9.

The parents have not approached me to apologize or assure me that they have disciplined their son. The principal, who I believe does not have a high opinion of the parents, felt no good would come of approaching them. I've informed my son's teacher that: a). this is not my son's first negative interaction with this child and he is somewhat afraid of this boy, b). my husband and I have told our son to stay away from this boy at recess and in the lunch room, and c), we would appreciate any further advice she could offer. His teacher said she would: a). inform the lunch/recess monitors of the situation, and b). talk to the bullying child herself.

My husband and I told our son that we want him to stay away from this boy, but if he must defend himself he doesn't have to worry about the repercussions. We've told him to get a teacher, aide or the principal immediately if this boy bothers him in any way. So far, he is staying away from this kid (they do have some mutual friends) and playing with other children at recess.

I may observe recess this week. Should I take any other actions to protect my child? I am still furious with this kid and his clueless parents when I think about what happened. anon

I would recommend looking into KidPower.org - this is an non-profit organization that teaches self protection skills in a non-threatening and no fear based class. It is a one time class that is taught in Berkeley and all over the Bay Area. Once you and your child take this class you will have the self confidence that your child will know how to take care of himself in a very positive and confident manner. Bullying and how to handle it is part of the class. Once my son took this class with me, I felt so much calmer and I didn't worry because I knew he could take care of himself. We did the class several years in a row and I even took the Full Power class which teaches how to protect yourself and your children if you should be attacked while you are together. It is a great organization founded by a Mom!! Jeffrey

When my daughter was in first grade (OUSD), she was choked against a chain link fence by another first grade girl (one hand around her neck, the other covering her nose and mouth while pushing her forcefully against the fence). Later my child & I and her classroom teacher were threatened by the girl's grandmother. We documented incidents in letters to the principal.

Personally, I would not be satisfied with your principal's response. Choking is a serious situation. In my daughter's case, the principal designated a person to keep the girl under observation at recess or the child spent recess inside under supervision. (The girl had physically dominated other children, too. We were told that the child could not be expelled or suspended but the principal was creating a paper trail that could lead to appropriate action.)

The first grade teachers for my daughter and this child worked to keep them apart at transitions and lunch. We (parents/teacher/principal) gave my daughter training on how to stay safe at recess. At the end of the year, we requested in writing that our daughter would not be placed in a second grade class with this child.

Read the student conduct policy for your district. Was it followed? Document everything. Send a letter to the principal describing the incident, detailing the principal's response (as I understand from our conversation on XYZ date, you will be doing XYZ because) and if needed include concern that you aren't confident your child is safe at school. Talk to your child's teacher about how the school handles these types of incidents and what she/he recommends to keep your child safe.

The principal and teachers satisfied us. But if not, we would have continued with the following: If the school did not follow District conduct policy, write the principal (copy the District Superintendent) and ask for a written explanation of why not. Keep saying that you're concerned your child is not safe.

Find out which District Administrator is responsible for student conduct & safety. Send copies of your documentation. Discuss what should/could be done in your child's case. Document this conversation by letter. Always express concern if you don't think your child will be safe at school and ask for further steps to keep your child safe.

If you get action that satisfies you, make sure everyone you've contacted is thanked in writing. Been there, too

Sounds like the school is responding appropriately, but maybe you are not. Why should the parents apologize to you? And what does the fact that his parents attend school functions rarely have to do with anything? Sounds like you and the other parents labeled this 5 YEAR OLD very early on. I'd stay away from you too. What more are you planning on doing? Getting a lawyer or something? peeved

To answer the question in your title, yes, I think the school is making an adequate response. Everything that the teacher and principal said sounds like they are being realistic and responsive to the incident that occurred. I think what you need to focus on right now is you and your reaction (your 'fury'). It sounds like you are so spooked by what you think could have happened with the jump-rope that you could potentially create a further issue for your son. Please remember that the boy you are so furious about is a child like your son. As much as you look down on his parents, he is not a monster. You can not force your way of resolution onto another family even if you feel it is reasonable or the obvious thing to do (i.e. approach you to assure you of disciplining.) I think you have done plenty to prepare your child in the event of another incident. It is now time for you to take a deep breath and let him be a first grader. I know it seems hard, but he will be at the school for years to come. Another thought is maybe you should send him to Kidpower. Good Luck. Elizabeth

Hello, I can sympathize about the distress you are feeling and also the anger. Seeing our children being bullied and physically hurt is probably one of the hardest things to experience as a parent. I think you have responded appropriately by involving the principal, the teachers, and trying to reach out to this other boy's parents. I do want to offer another perspective. I am a psychologist who works with children who have conduct problems and with their parents. It sounds like your son and this other boy are 6 or 7 years old. This is still very very young. While your fury at this child is understandable, he's also just a little boy. Many children that I work with also display some of these same inappropriate behaviors--bullying, aggression, teasing, etc... Particularly at this young age, I think it's important to try to have compassion for these children (as well as for their victims). It is never okay for one child to hurt another, and school's should absolutely be vigilant about protecting students. However, the bully also needs help, and likely his parents do too. Frequently the parents of the children I work with are very worried and concerned about their child's inappropriate behavior--they are also embarrassed, and often do not have good solutions about how to help their child behavior more appropriately. This can come across as not-caring or as being uninvolved. Bullies are often rejected by other children in the class (which is understandable--who would want to play with a bully?), but that perpetuates their bullying behavior. The best school solution for bullying is to have programs that help support victims to stand up for themselves, but also that help incorporate the bully back into the social scene in a supportive way. As an individual parent that may be hard for you to do, but if there are ways to help reach out to this child and his family it may be possible to prevent this bully from turning into a much more serious problem as he gets older. Another perspective

I am sorry your son has had negative encounters with this ''obnoxious'' child. It sounds like you are really judgmental about this kid (''his parents are not together'' ''they have not called us to apologize'' ) Here is what I wish for you. Compassion toward this child and his family. (something bigger might be at play --serious illness, drug/alcohol problems, etc.) There could also be cultural or socio-economic differences where it is not in their mindset to ''call and apologize.'' When we were growing up there were mean kids and nice kids. My parents and 99% of the other parents did not call the principal in tears nor did they march down to the school for a meeting or to watch me at recess. (that is called helicopter parenting) They simply told us to avoid the bad kids and protect ourselves if/when needed. Plain and simple. Please please give your child some room to work this out--he does not need you standing over him at recess. Our job is to teach our kids how to navigate through life and this is one of those times where he will figure it out if given some room to do so. anon

As a first grade teacher and a parent, I can tell you the school responded according to what's acceptable. Honestly, your post made me cringe. The children are in the FIRST grade. The boy didn't try to kill your child purposely. That you are still so angry at the child is unreasonable. He's 6 years old. From your story, he appears to have issues with respecting personal space and impulse control... but he's not awful. His teacher will work with him, and hopefully his parents work with him as much as they can. You don't need to go and observe recess and get any further involved. What are you going to do? Chase the kid around the playground telling him to stay away from your kid? Or are you going to write down everything and report it to the school admin and demand retribution?

As for the parents not approaching you - you said yourself that the parents are split up, are rarely seen at school. You don't know what happened in their home. Perhaps they DID talk to their son, or punished him in ways you can't imagine... Why do you want them to kowtow to you? SO you can get personal gratification that you are a better parent than they are?

It's great that you have focused your attention with your child on teaching him to stick up for himself by telling a teacher or by just plain old sticking up for himself... but LET IT GO! The way you are carrying on, you're kind of turning into a bully yourself. Holy Helicopter parenting!

We learned a thing or two about bullying this year in my daughter's kindergarten classroom. There was a real loose cannon who was all over his classmates -- unprovoked hitting, kicking, spitting, name-calling. He kicked his teacher and at one point even kicked the principal! What I found out was that, as a parent, I don't have the right to ask for anything to be done to or about the offending child. However, I did request that a 5-foot rule be implemented and that all adults who had responsibility for my child were to be informed that this boy was to stay 5 feet away at ALL times, that the parents of the bully were to be informed of this policy in writing, that at least one parent was to be informed in-person by the principal, and that the principal would also oversee a conversation with the child and his parent(s) explaining that he was to stay away from my kid. The principal agreed to this request. It was no guarantee, but it made our stance very clear to everyone involved that this boy was not to lay a hand on my child again. Fortunately, the boy ended up changing schools, but I believe the onus is on the school to ensure every child's safety so ask for whatever you need to make sure YOUR child is safe. The bully should be the school's problem, not yours. Momma Hen

While I understand your concern about your son's safety completely, I am wondering if you might be able to look at this from the other parents' point of view. Having a child with behavior issues is scary and frustrating, often overwhelming for any parent. It is not always the way it seems, and is often not just a ''discipline issue.'' If you can find how to contact the parent, you might ask how it would be best to handle it. Have a meeting with the two children? Talk about mistakes and how to treat each other safely and with respect? Try not to come down too hard on the ''bully'' because generally, kids do not want to do the wrong thing, and if they do, find out the reason. Does this kid realize what the alternatives are for getting what he wants? He may have some social skills learning issues that need to be attended to. From the other side and it's tough.

It seems clear that the school is responding adequately, but that you are just (understandably) still mad about the whole incident and are looking for somewhere to focus that anger. The principle called you back, had you in, listened to you (and, BTW, I don't see mentioning how common this is as being condescending), called both parents, and spoke in class about jump rope safety. The teacher agreed to talk to the lunch staff and the boy. What more do you want? They can't control whether the parents call you. You can call the parents, but don't be surprised if you don't get a satisfactory response. The school can't control that either. You've done the right thing, and only thing really, by telling the school and especially by getting your son to understand what he needs to do to take care of himself.

I am not belittling your fear. Ropes, or anything, around necks are no joke, and I have been adamant about instilling that in my son since he was a toddler. But, it is not uncommon for kids not fully to understand the seriousness. I had two kids over the other day and saw one put a rope around the other's neck to help pull her on the swing. Yikes! There was nothing bullying about it, they were both having fun, but it goes to show that kids will do these incredibly dumb things because they just don't know.

I think this is one of those cases where you just have to be upset and then take care of your son in the ways you have done. There's nothing more to do. I mean, what would you suggest - ostracize the kid? Kick him out of school? Jail him? What would make you happy? He's six years old - how much punishment do you need to assuage your anger at this first-grader? His parents may be losers (which is just more bad luck for him). Don't look for satisfaction there. Your son is learning self-reliance, which can be the silver lining here.

Last year, in 1st grade, my son put a jumprope around a girl's neck, scaring her. My son might have been playing doggy (which they were doing at home, though nothing tied around the body) and/or he might have been intimidating her. In general, he's not mean, but he's very bossy, willful, and skillful at intimidation. He needs help and he's getting help at home and at school.

Since you've been advised that the parents aren't receptive, here's what our school has done. 1) Son was put into a school-based anger management group. 2) School counselor observed him in class and spoke with teacher to assess behavior. 3) After another (minor) incident, he was assigned to organized play at recess times, for greater supervision and structure. Everything they've done has been geared to support his socialization and success.

I would hate to see the bully victimized rather than his behavior addressed, because it's very likely he's acting out of feelings he doesn't know how to deal with (shame, rage, terror) that may be caused by abuse/trauma somewhere in his life. -- Parent who empathizes with both children

I think you have approached this well so far. Here is my advice: - Do not contact the parents outside of school as that may set up a dynamic that will go no where and may make your home or phone or email a target. - Keep checking in with your son about how his day went, if he was nice to everyone and if kids were nice to him. Don't make a big deal over this one kid (by asking every day about the kid) so your son will be spared form obsessing on him if your son is ready to move on. - Keep telling your son to go tell an adult ASAP if he sees this child bullying another child or if he experiences bullying himself. - Be at school at least once a week while your son's teacher or a lunch aide is there so you can casually check in to see how things are going in the classroom and on the playground. This allows you to keep tabs on progress with the bullying issue without seeming to be focused just on that one kid. - When you are volunteering, be objective and keep your eyes on all the kids.

Do not target that one kid who bullies. But if you see him bullying another child, get another adult's attention if possible, so that more than one of you is witness to it. Do not focus just on that child or you will be seen as taking retribution out on him. Do not over-react and get yourself in trouble. Do not do anything that gets you barred from volunteering atyour son's school. That would be worse. Focus on telling the kids ''what we do at school is _____.'' where possible and not, ''DON'T _____ !'' unless it is an urgent safety matter. If something happens on the playground that you experience, tell one of the staff and write up an account of it, if possible. Again, be objective, and your observations will carry far more weight. It is good you are looking out for your kid and giving hi skills to deal with challenges now. school mom

Your principal is, unfortunately, right; there is a bully (maybe more than 1 ) in every grade, every year. I teach elementary school and find this true. I think that you did what you could. Everyone involved acted appropriately (except the bully). I think you can confront the parents if you want to, you have every right to do so, but it probably won't get you too far, but it might make you feel better. All too often kids act the way they act because of how they were brought up; so the parent won't be surprised at their child's behavior nor will they probably think it has anything to do with them. You asked your child to stay away, the best advice. Your child, throughout his life, will meet bullys of all sorts, this is but one lesson in how to deal with them. I would say, let it go. an OUSD teacher

Based on your description, it seems to me that the school is responding adequately to what happened. I would say that if something similar happens again, you have grounds to talk to the principal again, ask to meet with the other parents, etc. But based on the tone of your letter, I would like to pass along the advice that you need to chill out a bit. Once our kids get to school, stuff like this happens (and is not always as clear cut as it seems when our own darling child is telling us what happened). We won't always like the other kids at school, or their parents, or agree with how they parent. However, speaking as a parent with a few more years of kids in school under her belt than a first grader, I think you need to trust a bit more in your son's and the school's ability to work this out. veteran parent

Been here, done this. You and your husband need to contact the PARENTS immediately-in no uncertain terms you say YOUR KID CANNOT TOUCH MY KID- choking isn't really a mild issue??Then you need to speak to the child,preferably in front of another adult-his teacher. with your son in tow so there is NO mistake you need to tell this BULLY-stay away from my son-you are not allowed to touch him. Two of my four sons have been bullied-2 different countries and 12 years apart. Both time the principals tried the ''boys will be boys bullsh*t. I don't have sons who are bullies and I'm not trying to raise them to be like that so I don't let them act out or be victimized by children with limited impulse control. Your husband might need to caLL THE DAD-men do better with other men...according to my husband and often he has resolved these issues much faster by way of the father. mom of five

I feel very upset just reading your submission. The principal's response seems very inadequate to me. I would contact the District Superintendent: 1. There should be a school-wide intervention re: bullying. There is good curriculum for this. The principal should really be on top of the school climate and there are some very good programs for this. 2. I am also worried about the bully. What has happened to this child? Does this child have some mental health issues? The school psychologist should meet with the child. My grandson was in 5th grade last year in Orinda and was being stigmatized and bullied. His parents really got involved and kept meeting with the principal until she realized how serious the problem was. I am a retired teacher. Here are a couple of links: http://www.stopbullyingnow.com/parents.pdf and http://www.stopbullyingnow.com/ Anonymous

Hi, I'm really sorry that your son has had to deal with this. That said, it seems like the school has responded adequately. They called the parents, they visited the classroom, I assume they called the ''jumprope'' boy into the office and gave him some consequences. The best thing for you to do is to make sure every incident is ''on record'' so that they can take action later if the behavior continues. To get the kid evaluated or expelled, there must be a record of this behavior.

I noticed you continually make reference to the parents not being together and not showing up at school events. I think you should really try hard not make judgements about people because of their marital status. Single parents have more trouble coming to school events and that doesn't necessarily mean they are bad parents. Frankly, the best parents in the world could have a kid with poor impulse control who might act this way, so lets try to give other parents a break.

As the mother of boys, I also want to say that putting a jumprope around someone's neck is NOT OK. But it is within the range of normal. Meaning, any boy I know (if he was all hyped up and having a poor impulse control moment) might do this. They should be punished and taught not to. but I guess I am trying to say that it doesn't make this kid a monster. I know its hard to see it from that perspective when its your kid getting the rope, but if this is his first infraction, I agree with the principal that he shouldn't be suspended or expelled. Now if this behavior continues, action along these lines should be taken. anon

NOTE FROM MODERATOR: A number of people responded to last week's posts by expressing shock at the responses received. About half the people were shocked by the posts going one way and the other half were shocked by the others. So... I am editing out the expressions of shock (it just inflames an already very sensitive issue) and just communicating the additional advice that was sent. Thanks for understanding!

I disagree with many of the responses people offered to you about your child's encounter with a classroom bully. I agree with the suggestions that you contact the District or even the Board. Of course the ''bully'' has problems and hopefully his parents or the school will be sure he gets the help he needs before he grows into a violent person. But as a mother, of course your first priority is to protect your child. Go the distance on this and be sure your child is safe. Best of luck to you. Susan

I disagree with some of the answers you received. I didn't think you were being judgmental of this child when i read your post, but rather at his parents.

I don't care who his parents are and what their situation is. They are still his parents and expecting them to do the right thing is completely appropriate. I completely understand that it's a bad situation for them too and i don't think their child should be made into a monster. However, if they don't contact you at least through the school, then their son will never learn to do the right thing. We all mess u pand have issues and we would all do better to learn to deal with them.

At my son's school, in the rare occasion this has happened, the teacher and principal meet with each parents separately then everyone together. This not only helps calm things down between the parents but more imporantly it shows both kids, that there is something good that can come out of a situation like this.

Conflict resolution is an important part of being an adult and you doesn't get magically learned at 18. If iwere you i would insist on a meeting, not to judge or yell at his parents, but to help figure out a solution. If raising kids takes a village, you really have to involve the whole village! anon

I had to gently chime in about one of the replies given in the last newsletter about the ''bully''. One poster said to talk to the child in front of his teacher or another adult. Sorry, but you can in no way do that at school. ALL children need to feel safe at school, and a mad mother hen coming in and talking to this child, whether in front of an adult or not, is totally unacceptable. That's the teacher/principal/parent's job. don't be a bully yourself

I read your post and the responses to it and think that you got some great advice. My only bit of advice would be to avoid confronting the child. Getting in his face and telling him anything is going to make you look bad and probably won't help. Quite frankly, you will end up looking like a bully. I generally more concerned about parents who are loose cannons and/or helicopters than I am about kids trying to figure everything out. -a mom

I agree with posters advocating empathy for the aggressor as well as the victim. The solution will be more successful if approached that way, and this boy is so little, he can certainly still learn new ways of behaving.

I disagree with some of the other posters, however. I remember being quite unhappy at times when adult supervision was inadequate. I didn't know how to solve these kinds of big social problems on my own and they just got worse and worse. I always felt better on the occasions when my single mom had the time to help me out.

Just because our parents were less involved and we lived through it doesn't mean it was the best way to grow up. I mean, infant car seats are good innovations, too. Not all cultural change is bad! Anon

Your post kind of rang a bell with me because when I was your son's age, a boy in my class (I'm a girl) also put a jump rope around my neck. I think he was trying to ''lasso'' me or control me in some way. I took it as nothing less than an attempt to strangle me and got VERY upset. Which brings me to the second reason your post caught my eye... your post says a lot about how upset YOU are but does not mention at all what your son's reaction was. How did he feel about it? What did he do? I don't recall telling my parents when that kid put the jump rope around my neck. I do recall actively disliking him for the rest of the school year, and I do recall experimenting with a variety of ways of dealing with him, ranging from ignoring him to making fun of his stupid clothes to kicking him in the nuts on the playground. In hindsight, I think that was really healthy. I think it was a part of growing up and learning how to relate to others, which is what elementary school is all about.

I think you did the right thing by informing his principal and teacher - it makes sense to keep an eye on the situation and make sure it doesn't turn into a pattern of bullying and intimidation. But I don't think there's much more you and/or the school can or should be doing. And I'm sure you want your son to develop into a healthy, strong person who is comfortable negotiating with others and capable of dealing with hard situations. How is he going to learn to do that if you don't let him? It sounds like you have discussed with him the various ways he might react next time - great! Now stand back and trust him to handle his own life a little bit.

Also, give yourself a break! You sound like you're stewing about a bunch of things you can't control - like whether and how this other kid's parents punish him. I know it's hard, but let go of that, if you can. Take yourself out for ice cream instead. Kids can handle more than we think they can

One of our daughters was assaulted on the playground; it was 1st grade, the boys were suspended for a day. Yet, two weeks later they were selected as ''student of the month.'' I was livid with the principal and the teacher and honestly wished that I had called the police dept to file a report because I think the system failed those boys as well as my daughter. About a year later, I learned that 6 months before my daughter's assault, the school had experienced a similar yet even more profound event (5th grader sexually assaulting a 1st grade in the bathroom) and had failed to respond appropriately. mom of 4


Daughter in 5th grade being bullied/excluded

Oct 2010


kind of a crummy few months for the 10 year old 5th grader; she's been drifting away from her little peer group but has some other friends as well. This original core group has gone from being passive to actively excluding her; her attitude is one of 'i want to be nice to everybody, but they aren't my friends anymore' and she has deepened some of her previous more casual friendships. The little core group has responded, with varying degrees of success, by trying to co-opt these newer friends, eg, ''if you are friends with her (my daughter), you can't be friends with us'', making life lonesome for my daughter.

she is managing with surprising dignity, and enjoys the friendships she has outside of school, classes, etc and really likes her teacher this year who seems to be oblivious to the whole thing. Any suggestions for how i can support her in this difficult time? i'd like to poison their peanut butter

I'm so sorry that this is happening to your daughter. I have many suggestions. One is to check out the website called ''Teaching Tolerance.'' They have many good resources and materials on bullying. The other is to talk to your child's teacher about this issue! The school should be involved in supporting your child. But when you go in to talk to the teacher, go in with an open mind so that you can learn what -- if any - part your child has in the dynamics. Is it simply a case of the mean girls randomly deciding to exclude her? Or, is there something about her behavior that makes it hard for her to fit in? Which of course, does NOT justify the other girls being unkind in any way, but is still an important part of the puzzle. Are you close to the parents of any of the girls who are the ''queen bees'' in all of this? If so, you might be able to talk to them about this problem. Lastly, since we can't control what other children do and can only hope to guide and support our own children the best that we can, I often tell my son (when kids are unkind --or worse), ''Well, now you have more information about so-and-so'' and I talk to him about whether he still wants to consider so-and-so his friend or not. But in the end, I really think that the teacher and the school should be involved. It's not ''Lord of the Flies'' out there and this nonsense that ''kids will be kids'' is just that - nonsense. The kids depend on grown-ups to guide them and help them learn to be kind, considerate, polite people. The kids who might have the tendency to be bullies or purposely exclude other kids need support to! They need to be taught that such behavior isn't right! And the kids who know the behavior isn't right but don't have the courage to stand up to the ''queen bee'' (or alpha male or bully) need support to! They often feel pained and conflicted and need to be supported by the school community so that they feel they can say, ''No, actually so-and-so CAN sit at our lunch table'' or whatever. Good luck and I hope you get the support from your school community that you deserve and that the situation gets better for your daughter. anon

Talk to your daughter and ask what she wants. She sounds ok with it all, and everything will change next year in middle school. Talk to the teacher and ask her to keep an eye on it too. At 5th grade you also have to be a little bit conscious of how your kid will react, so I'd definitely make sure she's on board with things. You are LUCKY that she takes things in stride and has other friends and doesn't seem to care much. I'd advise you to talk to the parents, except that: 1) it might humiliate your daughter and 2) parents don't always react the way you think. My (younger) daughter went through a similar, though less extensive and less direct episode this past year, and I have to say that while I''d never want her to go through that again, she has gained much in maturity and insight, and she's learning how to take care of herself. Remember that you cannot change the behavior of other people, particularly people who are unkind--and generally they don't believe they are being unkind. If your daughter is a good friend to these other new friends, you probably don't have to worry so much about them getting sucked away by what is possibily the ''in'' crowd. And really, you want your daughter to have good, reasonable, kind friends who support her, not somebody who will go away at the drop of a hat. It's a good age to learn to toss the friends that are lousy. ANd it's a good time to develop your daughter's self-esteem by realizing that those kids are not worth her time--and it's not about problems with your daughter, it's about social deficits on the part of the bullies. To the extent that these bully kids are really excluding others, there will be other (good) parents who know what the score is. Befriend those kids, and let the bullies figure out over the next few years that their lack of social skills won't serve them well. Rent ''13 going on 30'' and talk to your daughter about it.

Gosh I can't tell you how frequently I hear about this! My friend is just pulling out of a terrible year and has some great insite (and hindsite) DONT POISON THE PEANUT BUTTER! Funny thing is, her daughter didn't notice it as much as she (mama) did, cause she felt it from the other mothers too. I think what worked best, was she found one girl to be a best buddy and organized all kinds of awesome adventures for just the two of them. Star Belly Sneeches are unimportant. (remember them at the highschool reunion? Still sneeching) We also made a point as adults to include her and play with her. What has happened is she (the girl) is delightful, unspoiled and great with adults. All things pass, and they are watching us, so don't talk down about anyone, rather make you and your daughter's life glamorous and worthwhile. Thank God your daughter is not an excluder. That means she will be a great woman Good things to you. RR

Please, poison their peanut butter! Okay, maybe not, but this happened to me at that age. I was so traumatized in the end that it took until college to recover. If I have. What would have helped me? A supportive and aware parent, like yourself (good on you! And on your daughter for being so strong and mature!) and changing schools. On the other hand, this happened to a friend who had loving parents, and she just laughed when the girls in her grade behaved like harpies, sending her hate notes, and never felt as miserable as I did... Good luck! I hope we hear how it goes. Anon

1. Enroll your kid in a local kidpower class. www.kidpower.org. They frequently have classes in Berkeley. Works wonders!!! 2. Every group has a leader. Who is the leader in this case? If this is a group known to you, you most likely know the parents. Talk with them about the exclusion thing and manipulating your daughter's new friends. If you are not comfortable with that idea, invite the leader via her mom to a playdate at your house or to a fun joint activity you monitor (Great America, Ardenwood Harvest Festival, ferry ride to SF and walk Pier 39). Nothing like bonding with your enemy! If you are not comfortable with that, talk to the teacher and have a conference with your daughter, the leader and both parents and talk this out, stressing that this is not okay. This meeting could also be facilitated by the school counselor. Anonymous


First grade girls' exclusion and name-calling

Sept 2010


When does bad manners in 1st grade girls cross the line into bullying or relational aggression? My 6-yo 1st grader (whom adults say is friendly and likable) is reporting interactions such as (a) being intentionally ignored, (b) being called a ''cry-baby'', (c) being allowed to play only if she assumes an assigned role, (d) being told to ''go away'' or get to the back of the line, and (e) being deliberately told that she was not invited to a birthday party. These behaviors are coming from girls she considers ''friends''. It's a small school, so friendship opportunities are limited, and my daughter is unhappy that she has no friends (in her words.)

What can I do to help my daughter, who is somewhat shy and sensitive to begin with? We've tried playdates, birthday party invitations, park meetups, etc., but the situation hasn't improved, and she has not received many reciprocal invitations.

What can the school do to help my daughter and make it a safer, happier place in general? For various reasons, we don't want to change schools, and the teacher, at least, seems willing to work with us.

Thanks for any ideas. Don't Know What to Do

Your school could be doing a lot to counteract this, particularly when the children involved are so young. Experts have developed school-wide programs to help reduce this kind of behavior. You should contact a child development specialist for advice. I recommend Dr. Lane Tanner. anon

What you are describing is bullying. And, at this young age, I don't think that you are doing your child any favors to let her stay in that environment. She is in first grade. Girls only get nastier further along in school.

So, specific techniques...kill with kindess and attract flies with honey. Everyone's favorite topic is 'yours truly.' So, work with her on conversation and interest.

My younger is on her way to getting elected prom-queen. She is five. She has that interesting and interested personality. She loves to draw people out -- her questions are not very sophisticated, but she always wants to know how many siblings a child has, what their grandmother's name is...and she compliments up the wazoo...every conversation starts with how much she likes some article of clothing or piece of jewelry that another person is wearing. She will literally stop someone in the street to tell them how beautiful they are or ask about how they do their hair...

In contrast, my elder (7) is reserved. She doesn't have a best friend, though has many with whom she is friendly. But, I am much more watchful of her. She is a dear and kind person, but I am afraid that she will get pushed around or bullied in the future. It happened in kindergarten. The good news is that the bully was my best-friends daughter, so we were able to have an awful and uncomfortable conversation without recrimination. There were a few tense months, but we got through it and our daughters two-years on are very supportive of each other, though not best friends. -anon


5-year-old's ''best friend'' is a bully

May 2010


My 5-year-old son is a high-energy, very verbal and outgoing kid. He likes to be physical, wrestle, play sports, etc. The style of play can involve a lot of chasing and wrestling, but it's not out of control and the kids with whom he plays know the limits - with one exception. I'll call him X. X regularly instigates both physical roughness against kids who DO NOT want to play rough, and verbal meanness and belittling talk towards some children. Unfortunately, our son reveres this child and considers him his best friend. X speaks with authority about all possible topics, and our son believes every word. Lately X has been encouraging our son to engage in rough or disrespectful behavior towards others. Moreover, when X is mean to him (deciding that they're not friends that day, telling him he's stupid, etc.) his feelings get very hurt. This occurs on a regular basis. I ask him why he would want to be friends with someone who isn't kind to him, and I encourage him to play with others - but to no avail. He values this child's opinions above all else, wants to like the same things, wear the same clothes, etc. It eats me up inside when I hear him say that tomorrow he can't wait to somehow be X's friend again. We have had after-school play dates with lots of children, but other moms have told me that when those children try to play with our son at school, X gets between them and prevents it. I am deeply worried about this, and at a loss as to how to best help my son. We want him to respect others, to be able to stand up and object when he sees that something isn't right, and also to respect himself, to have the self-esteem to not want someone who doesn't treat him with kindness. Should I be worried that this is setting an example for future relationships? I feel like I should be able to do more to help him with this, but I don't know what to do. Worried mom

aren't humans interesting? It's fascinating to watch the playground and see little CEO's, Lawyers and Marketing Mavens. Bullies are attractive because they are powerful. Look around and see if you can't find a little organic farmer, veterinarian or musician, make friends with that kid's mom and make that little guy a friend of convenience. I think it does matter alot. My son is eighteen (sigh) and the playground bullies are still that way. RR

Dear Worried Mom, Let me first say well done for sighting this situation and deciding to do something about it! The late pre-school and early elementary years are when children learn how to be friends, and what to expect from peer relationships. You've made a good start by arranging playdates with other kids and widening your son's social circle. It seems to me that you need to have a couple conversations: first, with your son. Maybe you've started this already, but your son needs to know that X's behaviour is not how friends act, that friends don't make each other feel bad, and they don't try to keep each other from playing with other kids. Secondly, you need to speak to X's mother or father. X is not too old to change his behavior with some parental (and maybe professional) intervention. There's something at the root of his behavior, and his parents need to find out what it is and address it. They won't be doing X any favors by letting him continue this behavior. You may also want to talk to your son's teacher or principal about this situation, since much of it takes place at school. I spent several early childhood years playing with a ''best friend''who wasn't very nice to me (though with girls this manifested itself differently);i never said anything about it to my parents, since they were good friends with her parents, but it's shaped many of my social insecurities to this day. You have the power of knowledge, and I applaud you for taking this first step to act on it. Wishing you the best.

You say that X interferes at school. Have you talked to the teacher and asked for their assistance in this (e.g., when the teacher sees X interfering, then go over and redirect X firmly). Perhaps you can also continue the conversations with your son about why you don't think X is a very good friend to him and to other children, and you can say no more playdates with X, thus limiting your son's contact with X to only school. It will be summer soon, so that would put an end to that, at least for a bit.

I am also wondering if there is something going on with X (recent parental divorce/other traumatic event). Have you talked to X about this behavior? Perhaps if you told X that if X wants to play with your son, then that behavior will not be tolerated, that might get your somewhere; at the least, your son will see you modeling behavior that you would like him to grow into. good luck!

I feel for your situation and hope that you find a solution. My advice would be to let the school know about your concerns and request that the boys be placed in separate classes next year. Many school are planning classes for next year at this time, so it is the best time to let them know about your concerns. I've found that student's friends are often determined by the class. anon

I know your situation from experience... My heart goes out to you and I know how painful it is to see your son in this relationship. We're in a similar situation with our son, although I'll admit our son's ''best friend'' engages in verbal manipulation more than physical violence and doesn't seem to be as much of a bully as your son's ''best friend.'' (Although I've learned from school that he's slugged my son a couple of times when he's been mad at him.)

I agonized over this relationship as I saw the gulf widen between my perception of it and my son's perception of it. I wondered if I was imagining things to be worse than they were. It wasn't until teachers recommended complete separation after school hours and noted that my son seemed to be trying to escape the relationship, and then subsequent remarks from parents about the other child cordoning off my son from other kids and even spontaneous remarks from other kids being ''mean'' to my son that I decided to separate them as much as possible.

Here's what we do: First, I never belittle the other child to my son and definitely don't try to make the other child appear like someone to be shunned.

Second, we no longer have playdates. I did try talking to the other child's parent after he slugged my son and chased him around the afterschool classroom (!) but to little benefit as he is apparently a different person around his parents than when they're not around. And understandably, even the most empathetic parent is going to have trouble hearing their child is engaging in antisocial behavior. They might not even recognize that what appears to be benign behavior, such as apparent great affection toward or devotion to your son, can quickly turn to bullying and manipulative isolation. So try talking to the parents, but don't assume they'll hear your side (easily).

I did suggest to the other parent that each of our sons develops new friendships and we're working actively at this. (And my understanding is the other family is doing the same.) I'd really recommend being proactive about this as other kids were already getting the ''message'' from the other child that my son was someone they weren't ''allowed'' to play with. That alone gave me pangs of sadness for my son, who is very gregarious. So dilute the impact of the bully's control of your son by making contact yourself with other parents who live nearby and getting to know other kids. If you can afford it, find an after-school class outside your school catchment area for your son. Encourage friendships with girls as well as boys. Show your son what constructive, nurturing friendships are like.

Finally, we also put our collective foot down on any exclusionary behavior from our son with any child, such as declaring so-and-so is not our friend or making statements to other kids like ''we don't like so-and-so, do we?'' We reminded our son that this behavior is not nice, that it hurts people's feelings and that it does not nurture friendships, even with collaborators. This behavior was unfortunately somewhat familiar to him from preschool, and it does seem like something much younger kids gravitate toward to solve conflicts or express their frustration. This unfortunately means they do still spend time together on that schoolyard but I feel insisting they are separated completely would be worse.

You are doing absolutely the right thing by reaching out for advice and I really hope this helps. I'm so sorry you're going through this. Please know that it will take effort on your part to guide your son to better relationships. You are among his best role models. Hopefully you'll get a lot of helpful responses. (And if any replies are of the ''toughen up and leave him alone'' variety, ignore them!) Feel your pain

Could your child develop a new social environment either by changing his existing environment or by leaving if change is not possible? Have you spoken with a teacher about the dynamics and your feelings about the child's influence on your son? What is the school's policy on bullying? Please consider: your son may not truly like the child but just may be trying to adapt to a situation where this boy has too much power and being a smart kid he would want to 'tend and befriend' rather than becoming a target himself. I am having a similar situation at my daughter's school and was livid that the teacher pretty much allowed bullying because he was friends with the child's mother and because the director thought kids should be left on their own socially. They need loving guidance to help them feel safe and learn to navigate social relationships in my opinion so we just got a refund for next year. My daughter was defending this child and calling her a friend because she wants everyone to get along. The child was constantly in her face in a friendly or unfriendly way (depending on the day and her mood) but even her friendly mode is aggressive so I observed the kid and am trying to teach my daugther to ask for space and assert herself. If leaving isn't an option look into starting an antibullying program with other parents. Your response is a healthy one and good luck nipping this in the bud. anon


1st grade bully with germ phobia

Jan 2010


I need some advice. My daughter is in first grade and one of her classmates seems to bully her. I have volunteered in in the classroom on several oocasions and have noted that the girl does seem to try to push my daughters buttons. she also does not stop when I point out her behavior At first I though she was just a ''brat'' but after further observation I have found the little girl is a bully. she is also afraid of catching a disease, she is fearful of germs and afraid she can get sick by thinking about it, washes her hands several times a day and seems to get easily upset if she doesn't get her way. I wonder if all of this is related. I tried talking to the mom who became very defensive. The 6 yr old is a twin and her sister is not a bully or germ phobic, she has plenty of friends. I do not want to be an alarmist but.... How do I talk with the mom? I have talked with the teacher who acknowledges there are issues but what can she do? I think I may be seeing things that a parent will try to ignore and I maight be the same if it were my child but.... is there a way to help or should I just forget about it call the kid a brat and make sure that my child doesn't interact with her?

You are not specific about the type of bullying behavior that you say this girl inflicts on your daughter, or its impact, so it's hard to say what you should do. I would suggest, however, that you adopt a more compassionate attitude towards this first grader who seems to be struggling with phobias and other problems. Calling her a ''brat'' (even if you don't use that word publicly) is not constructive.

If I were you, I would not try to approach the girl's mother again, but work with the teacher to find solutions. Teachers can have an impact on bullying behavior. You can also talk with your daughter about ways she can deal with it. There are probably good web sites and books on the topic. Anon

Please, ASAP, write-out your concerns (expressed as your experience and your worries), and send your information to the school teacher, school councilor, school administrators, AND school district right away.

It is very likely that this mom has not figured-out what to do to help her troubled child. It is possible that this troubled child needs psychiatric counseling, medical intervention, or other help. The sooner effective help is provided to this troubled child, the more likely this child will have a happier life.

More important: Whatever problems this troubled child may have, your job is to protect your child NOW before your child is also in need of psychiatric counseling. Mother of a child who was bullied

I'm not clear what behavior is causing you to label this girl a bully, other than your observation that the girl knows how to push [your] daughter's buttons. I'm pretty sure your daughter knows how to push other kids' buttons, too. That's normal among kids this age.

You can't make the environment around your daughter an annoyance- free zone, nor should you try to. There are going to be irritating people everywhere she goes, for the rest of her life. I would work on helping your daughter deal with people who bother her rather than trying to fix them for her. This little girl can be an important part of your child's learning process. Please try to look at it that way. ------------------------------------------ I think talking to the teacher is good, which you've done... And, most importantly, teach your daughter. This will not be the first ''bully'' she encounters, unfortunately. Look into Kidpower, etc. Bullies identify their prey for a reason, and my sense from your post is that you are intervening a lot. I respect that you are protecting your daughter but give her the tools. Also, I'm very anti-labeling, and while the other girl may have some issues, etc... be sensitive to judgment and labeling. Their family may have some tough stuff going on, etc. teach your daughter

I generally don't like it when members post their non-pro medical diagnoses, but here I am about to do it! What you're describing are classic OCD symptoms. That DOESN'T mean that's what's going on with this child, but I have a child who exhibited very similar behavior and is being successfully treated for OCD.

So kind of you to notice and be concerned... However, unless you know that child's parents well, I would suggest you not talk to the mom about it. (Unless you can think of a really non-threatening way to approach the parent?) It is a very sensitive issue, and many parents get hyper- protective (obviously!) about their kids, and may react defensively, feeling that they are being judged as parents, etc. Or they might just be scared, and having a hard time facing a potential problem.

The teacher, I think, IS an appropriate person to share her observations with the parents - not make ''guesses'' about what ''It'' is, but to just describe the child's behaviors, how they affect the child (as well as other children) in the classroom, and to express her concern for the child's well-being. She could ask the parents if her descriptions match what they see at home, if they'd like the school to recommend a counselor, or if she can support them in some other way. I'm not sure if it would be appropriate or not to ask about or suggest a Dr's involvement. (I'm trying to think how I'd've felt... I was the proactive one in our case; the teachers were too inexperienced to recognize a problem, and the other parents just thought our kid was ''the bad kid.''

A good child therapist, an excellent child psychiatrist, some (seriously monitored) medication, a better school and one year later, my child is a different, MUCH happier kid! (And we are MUCH happier parents!) I hope this kid (and parents) get the help it sounds like they (MAY! need. anon

I realize that you probably have the best interests of this girl at heart, but I think that it may be best to keep your opinions to yourself. Just chalk it up as a child that you aren't going to like.

Honestly, if I were this little girl's Mom -- and I say this, knowing that you mean well -- I would have little to no interest in your opinions on my child and your perception of their problems. Would you go up to the parent of a significantly autistic child and tell the parent that the child can't talk? Well, you may be dealing with a similar issue here. This child could have integration issues (frequently mistaken by well meaning parents at 'bullying'), she may have OCD (the germ phobia was the way my own grandmother's mental illnesses, including OCD, manifested itself)...I am sure that Mother has a pretty good idea that her child is different and is probably working on these issues.

The best piece of advice that I ever got was, 'don't judge another mother and her children, because you don't know what they are going through and the Mom is probably doing the best that she can. just another Mom

This is a delicate situation. Of course I don't have enough information to really know what is going on, but I strongly suspect that this child's aggressive behaviors are related to her anxiety. I am sorry for your daughter's experience, but it is this other child's well being that sounds really concerning. Unfortunately, raising the issue again with the mother will probably not be helpful, UNLESS she gives you an opening. For example, if she expresses concern that her daughter doesn't have friends or is getting into trouble at school, then you might, empathically, suggest she talk to a child psychologist or social worker. The other alternative is to talk to the teacher again. If the child is disrupting the classroom or having social problems at school, the teacher certainly has a reason or even an obligation to discuss the problem with the mother.

No need to expose your daughter to this girl, but please try to remember that this young child may very well not be a brat, but instead a very anxious child who needs help learning to manage her emotions. Liz


My child keeps getting hurt

Dec 2009


Does anyone have any input on what they consider appropriate physical behavior in school? I'm concerned over the basic safety of my child while he's in the care of his school. My child has been kicked, hit, choked, shoved, and bonked in the head. This is not a bully situation, just that my child seems to be on the receiving end of wild behavior, of which happens both in and out of the classroom.

Are there any other parents out there that have concerns about the safety of their children during school hours? I'm interested in hearing from other parents and what you all consider appropriate (normal) physical behavior at school.

Please don't suggest I talk to the school, as I have. And they would like me to believe that all this is ''normal'' behavior. anon

My oldest child seemed to be an ''incident-magnet'' as well. At first, I was worried that he was being bullied (and in some instances he was) but then I came to see it as an issue concerning the playground supervision.

Yes, some (a lot) of physicality is normal kid behavior. Rough-housing is going to happen. But our kids shouldn't be coming home as bruised and battered as they often do. At our particular school, I have observed the recess times and noticed that the staff is often engaged in personal conversation, coffee-drinking, ''on-break'' action... failing to realize (in my opinion) that they are supposed to be ''ON''... perhaps more ''on'' than at any other time of day.

Many parents at our school have noticed this. Many of us have suggested that they increase the number of staff supervising recess times. The school has continued to tell all of us that it is all ''normal'' and that the school has at least as many staff supervising as all of the other schools in the area.

So I don't have an answer for you. I am pretty much letting you know that the situation is the same in other places... at least one other place! It does seem to come in waves, which is probably developmental.

Best of luck to you and your child. anon


Bullying - 5th grade girls

Nov 2009


My fifth grade daughter is complaining about bullying. She has always had a lot of friends and still does although she is not interested in the hanging out and chatting girls do. She still prefers to run and play. She is strong academically and physically and doesn't have a shy or quiet personality. There is another girl in her school that somehow seems to feel the need to assert her dominance in their grade and the way she is choosing to do it is by getting a gang of kids, a mix of boys and girls, to target my daughter. She has been ribbing her and just generally goading her and being snide. My daughter has been holding it together at school but she doesn't know what to make of it or how to deal with it. She doesn't feel like her teacher is equipped to be helpful and, frankly, in this case I agree. She is sad. From what I know of this girl's parents I don't want to call them. They seem like the bullying type themselves. Very strong, sort of overly confident types. My daughter has tried just telling this girl to cut it out. She has attempted to say things like ''good job'' at P.E. She doesn't want to back down but I see how eaten up she is. I know bullying is a part of these years but it is new to us and we aren't sure how to help her. Confused Mama & want to help

I really don't know the answer to your question, but I have my own personal perspective, which is something you could try (I'd love to know if it works). When I was in 5th grade, I, too, bullied some girls. I also was bullied myself. I bullied because I felt very insecure about being liked, and I thought this would gain me friends (bonding against a common, easy target). It's really awful, I know, but it's not I really was thinking about it. Only in retrospect can I see. Anyway, if the girl I was bullying would have confronted me directly, and in private, and told me how it hurt her and upset her I would not have been able to continue. In fact, it would have shamed me and made me respect her. I think what makes it possible for girls to bully is to objectify the target. I never really let myself think about how I was affecting the other person or I would not have been able to do it. So, for example, your daugher could ask the other if she'd be willing to talk with her for a few minutes after school, or whenever (I think it would be easier if it were not during school). Then she could say, ''I realize what you are doing is fun for you, but it's actually really upsetting me and hurting my feelings and making it difficult for me at school. Can you please stop?'' I think then it would put the bullying girl in a position of having to respond and it would be awkward and difficult for her. But she'd have to face herself and the person she's hurting. After that, she may stop. But if the situation continues, then I would suggest putting your child into a new school where she can get some relief and a new start. Empowering her to deal with it directly i think is the best thing. dp

My daughter is in 6th grade now and has experienced some bullying from both boys and girls over the last few years, but never anything with a group organized to target her. Also,we have been fortunate enough to have teachers that could respond effectively. It sound like you are giving your daughter excellent coaching and like she has good skills herself.

My advice would be to go the the principal, if the teacher cannot help. A friend of mine in a similar situation took this course with much success. You can try to finesse it a little so the teacher's feathers are not ruffled, and ask the principal's assistance in this. But I think getting an on-site adult involved that will be effective is key. Kids really benefit from adult allies in these situations. What always helped my girl most was knowing that she had someone in authority on her side and that the school explicitly took a position that bullying is just not okay. She felt supported hearing this message clearly, even if the other child did not recant and/or stop immediately.

Also, are there any other parents you could talk with so that maybe you could go into the principal with another parent or two and make it a class wide agenda item to tackle the bullying problem in your class. Ideally the goal would be to cultivate a shared and consistent message that BULLYING IS NOT OKAY.

Lastly, keep an open heart toward the child who is doing this. It never helps to close your heart, esp. to a kid who is troubled. To my mind, she must have something hurting inside or hurtful stuff would not be coming out of her. She is worse off than your girl in many ways, because by being hurtful to others she is doing damage to herself that will be hard to repair. I hope this helps. These things are not easy. You and your girl have my best wishes. Lisa

I was devastated in 5th grade when my daughter was bullied. There was no help from the teachers or for that matter the principal of the school. So I planned lots of activities outside our school district--lots of opportunities for my daughter to be successful elsewhere. Sometime in middle school my daughter found a great group of girls with similar interests. They were not the ''popular'' girls--I call those popular girls ''excluders''. Then in high school the ring leader bully with the difficult mom--sounds similar to the girl and the parents you mentioned in your post--anyway, the girl that was so mean to my girl--the mean girl had a drug overdose! After a trip to the hospital in an ambulance, the girl is ''fine'', but I realize now, what I didn't then--is that it really wasn't the other girl deciding not to be friends with my daughter--it was my daughter realizing that this girl and her friends were into something that my daughter didn't want to be a part of. So by pulling away, my daughter was bullied. I'm not even sure my kid consciously knew that she was pulling away. It was a dreadful time. BUT!!! Thank God my daughter did not hang with this group. I'm so very happy that she has her friends with values similar to ours and is doing really well in school. That is another thing that we emphasized with our daughter was to concentrate on her studies. When she separated from the bullies in 5th grade her grades improved and her confidence did as well. It wasn't as easy as all this sounds. Starting in middle school, my daughter became progressively happier. I hope that when your daughter is in high school that you'll be able to answer a post with an upbeat message as well. I hope this helps give a different perspective. Momhashindsight

Dear Confused Mama & want to help, Bullying is a MAJOR problem which can cause a mess of trouble even later in your daughter's life. I know- I was one of those kids who always got beat up. I would address the problem head on. Find out who and call a meeting with the principle, teacher(s), and parents of the child. It doesn't matter if the parent of the other child believes what is going on. This can spiral out of control VERY fast and if you don't take the bull by horns someone will get very hurt.

It's not only for the sake of your daughter but also for the girl who is bulling your daughter. She needs to know that is not acceptable at all under any circumstances. I understand the teacher and the other child's parents may not be helpful but your daughter has the right to get an education in a SAFE environment. Your daughter deserves fighting - even if you have to call the head of the school- go up the latter until you get a resolution. http://www.education.com/topic/school-bullying-teasing/ http://ag.ca.gov/publications/safeschool.pdf#xml=http://search.doj.ca.gov:8004/AGSearch/isysquery/2dab5e9e-8536-4e6e-a93f-69df230e95fd/1/hilite/

Bullying should NOT be apart of childhood school years. This is a myth!!!! You don't have to shove a person into a locker just to make a point. Get your hands on the policy of the school. It has to have something in there about such things. If it doesn't get a ''No Bully'' policy enacted in the school with appropriate consequences. In the end... zero action means the adults in the situation are enabling the bullying to continue. The two sites included are very good for advice. I worked at the Attorney General's for a program called ''Safe from the Start'' we addressed bullying and other types of school crimes. Please email me if you want more information. Z

Immediately enroll your daughter in a local Kidpower class. Please google for their contact info. Very effective! Great techniques! Also talk to the classroom teacher about it. Having these other parents called in for a conference with the teacher and maybe you and maybe or not with both kids can be very effective too. If the teacher/prinicipal sends the message that bullying is not okay, it doesn't matter what these ''strong, over-confident'' parents think. They have to digest the teacher's/principal's message and adjust their kid accordingly, if they don't want to see their daughter in detention. Kidpower will teach your child how to be no fun for a bully to tease. You and your kid may want to take a look at the general culture of this school and see if your daughter fits in with the general crowd - the way she dresses and the way she communicates. I am not in favor of conforming kids to a norm, but I am a mother of a 7th grade girl who is very observant about what is going on and very keen in navigating herself. She is with a nice open group of friends and stays away from cliques, however, has good individual communication to members of cliques. She attended Kidpower at age 4 and age 9 and has never been bullied. Anonymous

As a former 5th grade teacher, I know exactly the dynamic you are talking about. It's true that even though we, as teachers, are aware that things are going on, sometimes we are not able to do anything directly unless we witness something personally. The bullies in my class were the girls, and all kinds of studies and research has been done on girl bullies. They absolutely operate differently than boy bullies. The girls are less likely to outright threaten their victims - Instead they will recruit other girls to help torment, they may text message or use the internet, or any number of less direct acts of surreptitious violence. It's true that everyone wants to be on the ''correct'' side of a girl bully, so sadly they are more often than not very popular. That popularity can be the most hurtful and confusing part for the victims, but it sounds like already your daughter is also trying to get on the bully's good side by complimenting the girl during P.E. The dynamic of bully-equals-popular seems to peak in middle school, but starts to wane when the girls are about 16 or 17. By then, girls start to grow weary of kissing up to a mean person, and the bully will either need to change or will find herself eating lunch alone. My advice is to keep encouraging your daughter to develop strong group identity among her similarly athletic friends. Get her involved in lots of after-school and extra-curricular activities that will keep her among a group dynamic that is healthy and designed to encourage success, not meanness. Don't hesitate to inform your child's teacher what is happening, but know that sometimes the interventions from grown-ups can make the situation worse. Meg

I guess this is just the age for mean girl traits to show themselves. I have a daughter in 5th grade also, and have heard similar stories from a couple of her friends' parents. Fortunately, so far my child has managed to stay out of the drama. But if it did happen to her and she was unable to deal with it and needed help, I would not be above approaching the child myself. I might even invite her over for a playdate, take them out for ice cream, and have a chat. Chances are, from what I understand about bullies, she has no idea the effect her actions are having. Kids just operate without thinking. This would certainly cause her to think about it in the future. I would keep the conversation very amicable and not blaming; just a, ''So, I've been hearing that (hurtful actions) have been happening. I was kind of surprised to hear about it, so I'd like to know what you think is going on.'' Then even if she denies any involvement, I'd have the opportunity to let her know that it is an issue that has been bothering not only my daughter, but our whole family. I might even throw in an anecdote about another situation where a bully's parents were contacted and even school officials were involved, because it is a very serious thing. anon

You've got to stop this for your daughter's sake, or she will suffer emotionally and have very low self-esteem. 5th grade for my daughter was the worst year ever. She is now a senior in high school and doing great, but she suffered a lot because of her 5th grade experience. You do need to address it with the teacher, and then the school principal. In my case, it was another girl's mother that was interfering. Her daughter was an only child, and this mother wanted to make sure she had this one girl as a friend all to herself. This mother constantly ''volunteered'' at school, and her motive was to monitor her daughter all the time and make sure her daughter had a friend. This mother was telling my daughter directly that her daughter and this other girl did not want to be her friend. She even had the nerve to call me directly and tell me that my daughter was not leaving her daughter and this other girl alone, when all she was doing was being on the same playground, she had no choice, she had to be there. I went through all avenues and finally as a last resort called this mother up and told her to stay the hell away from my daughter. I took it up with the school and they drastically limited the amount of time this mother got to spend at the school.

Another time (another daughter) my daughter was being verbally abused at school and I just went in to ''observe'' in the classroom and just gave a few very stern looks to the two boys doing it, and it stopped, never said anything to the boys, but they got the message that I was looking out for my daughter.

I have three daughters and believe me these issues come up regularly. You have to stick up for your daughter. My oldest is in college now and all three of my daughters are strong and have good self-esteem. Mama Bear

I don't believe that bullying should be accepted as a ''phase they go through'' at any age. The reason I have come to believe that parents and teachers should be very proactive about this is that when I was in middle school, one of my classmates who was bullied mercilessly committed a serious crime in response to the psychological torture and was subsequently incarcerated. In other words, his youth was ruined and others were hurt in the process. It doesn't sound as if your daughter is anywhere near that kind of state; she has parents who love and support her, for one thing, and my classmate didn't. But it is an unsupportable situation that is cancerous and should be addressed openly. Have your daughter list the incidents, preferably with dates and locations and participants. Give the list to the teacher and the principal. Call the other girl's parents and tell them exactly how it is. If I were the parent, I would definitely want to know. If they try to shine you on about how this is normal behavior or you and your daughter are too sensitive, just tell them: bullying is poisonous and it hurts everyone involved. mother opposed to bullying

I teach fifth grade and have found these resources useful. The Skin I'm In By Sharon G. Flake is an amazing book and might be a good read aloud for the class if your daughter's teacher is open to the idea. Either way, I'd read it with her. Steps to Respect is a great anti-bullying school program that I've used. It teaches real life skills about how to make friends and stand up for yourself. You might want to talk to the teacher and then the principal to find out if they are open to purchasing the program. It has helped my students and has given me the tools that I need to deal with bullying. kr

You may be interested in checking out the current American Girls video ''Chrissa Stands Strong.'' They have it on DVD, but you can also find it on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECoeiHOKMn4=1

I ran into it while making a purchase, and I watched the first couple of segments before moving on, but it looked pretty good so far. If nothing else, you coudl watch it with your daughter and have a discussion about what you think about how the main character (Chrissa) responded to the bullying. I haven't been closely observing 5th grade behavior for a while, but the examples in the movie seemed a little unbelievable to me (i.e., it just started from nowhere and was just plain mean-most of what I have observed comes from someplace more understandable if still regrettable or reprehensible, and this girl with a close family doesn't think to talk to them about it, but I guess that's necessary to set up the problem that needs to be solved). But maybe that's more true to life and I'm just unaware of it. I got bullied a bit as a 7th grader, and it inadvertently taught me that my bully was chicken (I showed up at the place where she told me she would beat me up, and I was the only one there.) I also didn't intervene as a 4th/5th grader when some kids were bullying another girl --she wasn't a very nice kid, which adds a little complexity to the equation (not that I'm proud that I didn't know how to step in)--and since some of the ''bullying'' I've observed has also involved the kid who thinks he or she is ''bullied'' actually bullying other kids, it's worth checking out your own child's culpability. Supposedly the Chrissa movie also deals with standing up for other kids too. (I think you can also get the DVD directly from American girl, rather than watching it in 9 or 10 segments of 10 minutes each.)

There is an article on slate.com, ''Bullies. They can be stopped but it takes a village'' by Alan E. Kazdin and Carlo Rotella. You can go that website & search for it if you would like to read it. I lost your original post, so I'm not sure if it is on point with your question, but it is a thoughtful article with possibly some good ideas--I read it a few months ago, I can't completely remember all the advice it had. I hope it helps! anon


Is my 2nd grader being bullied?

May 2009


Either my child is being bullied or it's normal boy stuff, with my son being very sensitive (which he is). I'm not sure how to decide. My son is in 2nd grade, tall, somewhat awkward, and highly social and empathetic. He cries easily. Probably an easy kid to bully. He gets on well with most of the kids in his class. This year, there's been a kid I'll call Bob in my son's circle of friends. Bob is at least a head shorter than my son, and highly athletic. Lately I've been hearing an awful lot about Bob. About half the time Bob is a friend. But the other half of the time there is some kind of problem.

Earlier this year my son gave Bob a couple of small toys, because Bob wanted them. I didn't mind that, but shortly after that I began to hear stories about Bob making fun of my son. We bought a couple of ''cool'' cartoon T-shirts. My son was really excited about them, but the first time he wore one, Bob made fun of it, and the shirts have been in the drawer, unworn, since. Lately my son's lunch has been coming home, uneaten, because Bob thinks it's yucky and announces it to the whole table. This is stuff my son loves and specifically asks for. I don't care so much that my son doesn't eat, but it bothers me that he kowtows to this kid, and I don't even think that will solve the problem. My son says he tries not to sit by Bob, but that Bob specifically comes and sits by him.

Last night my son started crying, and told me that Bob had been ''accidentally'' bumping into him and hitting him in the crotch. He says it's not hard enough to really hurt, but that Bob does it on purpose, that Bob thinks it's funny, and that it really bothers my son. I'm pretty sure I actually saw this happen once, after school, when I was picking my son up from his aftercare program -- so I don't think my son is making it all up. Apparently, all of this happens at times when his teacher (very competent) is not around -- the lunchroom, the playground, waiting in line.

My son does not want to tell his teacher about it (and doesn't want me to) because he's afraid he'd get Bob in big trouble, and then the rest of his friends wouldn't like him because he tattled on Bob. My husband thinks we should just ride out the year (about a month now) and see what happens next year. But I'm worried about just leaving it. I've been seeing stress symptoms in my son: headaches, after-dinner meltdowns, clinginess. Any suggestions? Anonymous

Please have a conference with the teacher and share all the details you have included here. You say the teacher is very competent so she/he will know how to assess this and know what to do. Regardless of the other child's role, you need to make sure your son learns how to set boundaries and not feel like a victim. retired teacher

Please HAVE THE PARENTS ADVISED of what ''Bob'' is doing to your son. Everything sounds like bullying but what is a huge red flag is the ''crotch'' touching. Don't just stand there, do nothing, and let your child continue to be abused. STOP WATCHING AND DO SOMETHING AND SPEAK UP FOR YOUR SON. The parents of this boy must be made aware of what their son is doing to your child. Write a detailed letter to the director of your school with a cc copy to the parents and request a face to face meeting, if you have to...IMMEDIATELY!!! I'm a mother of three sons. Please, don't let your child get traumatized. Boys are rough and so are girls but I don't recall any of my children ever advising me of a situation as serious as what this boy ''Bob'' is doing to your son. No, what your husband is suggesting of ''riding'' it out until the end of the year is NOT OKAY. That your boy is not eating, not wearing his favorite shirts and basically LOSING HIS IDENTITY to this ''Bob'' kid are big indicators that there are serious problems and he's so young! Unbelievable! Please stand up for your son and speak up. Yeah, children are mean when adults aren't paying attn and get away with this stuff...but speak up so that the adults are aware and perhaps the parents of this ''Bob'' will seek help for their son. Please stop letting your son be a victim. He'll resent you one day for not sticking up for him. If he's telling you all of these details, in his heart he must want you to do something for him. Don't let this go on any longer...please. I'm heart broken just thinking about all of the abuse your son is receiving on a daily basis. Poor thing. mother too

Putting myself in your shoes, I would talk to the teacher, ask to meet with Bob's parents. What Bob is doing is unacceptable and most likely your son isn't the only ''victim'' of Bob. By teaching your son to stand up for himself and not allow Bob to continue his behanvior will be a life long lesson. Your son needs to work out the issue with Bob with you at his side. You wouldn't want him to ride out other conflicts that he will encounter during his life. So this is a good opportunity to show him how to resolve conflicts.

If your son's main concern is how he will look amongst his ''friends'', you should tell him that his friends most likely have been ''bullied'' by Bob and most likely would like to have it stopped too. And if his friends stop being his friend for tattling on Bob, then they are not really friends to have anyhow. If your son is not being respected by the so-called friends then it's time to find some who will respect his feelings and thoughts. Bullies need to be confronted.

Yes, your son is being bullied. Kids cannot deal with bullying on their own -- they need adult help. Please read _The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander_ and talk to your son's teacher right away. Do not let this continue for an entire month!

Bullying can leave lifetime scars. (I know from personal experience.) Your son needs help now, and he needs to know his parents will stand behind him and do whatever it takes to relieve this situation. There have been many studies on the harmful effects of bullying, and most schools are instituting formal programs to deal with it. If your school doesn't, you should take your child out of that school.

Today, I would be far better off if my parents had taken me out of school and the bullying situation, even if I sat at home all those years and learned nothing. Please tell the teachers now and make sure they take action, even if your son is so terrified of ''Bob'' that he is unwilling to ask for help. This really matters, and will make a difference in the rest of your son's life.

I really feel for your son. I was bullied in middle school, and it scarred me deeply, and I still after all these years fantasize what would have happened if I just fought back. My parents sent me to Karate, but it never really helped, I felt that if I actually used it I would get punished.

I never got the support, well, the words I wanted to hear from my parents. I wanted to hear: ''Go get 'em son. Don't take that guff from them. Fight back.'' I tried everything else, talking it out, ignoring it, talking to teachers. But I never fought back. I became a magnet for bullying.

I think you should pursue all avenues before telling your son to defend himself, but if after trying everything else, your son should warn his nemesis, and if it continues, fight back. Fight back hard. This kid is NOT your son's friend. Bullies usually give up when their target refuses to take it anymore. Your son might get more hurt if he fights back. But if he learns to take it and suffer through it, he will not only be hurt physically, it will scar him emotionally for a long, long time.

I turned out pretty much OK, I have a great family, job, etc etc. But when I see a kid getting bullied, even if it's on a TV show or movie, it really hurts. I feel it all over again, and it makes me sick. Wishing I had fought back

To me that sounds like pretty clear bullying. I'm not an expert on this age group, since my only son is younger, but it sounds to me as if your son needs your help. Second graders are still awfully young and impressionable, and they don't have the life skills to be able to handle something like this on their own. I was a shy, sensitive girl who came in for a lot of this kind of garbage, and I would advise you to intervene quickly before your son internalizes a negative view of himself. It's so easy to believe the bullier and think that the problem is that there's something wrong with you.

I can understand your son not wanting to be seen by his friends as a tattletale -- I felt the same way -- so you'll need to navigate this carefully to be sensitive of those feelings. A reasonable first step is probably to talk to the teacher and ask if she can keep her eyes open for these kinds of problem behaviors, letting her know that your son doesn't want to be seen as a tattletale. As for your husband's idea of letting things blow over since there's just a month of school left, to me that makes sense only if Bob is not going to be in the class again next year. Good luck

I respectfully disagree with your husband that you should ''ride it out.'' Doing so just confirms that what Bob is doing is okay. It's not. If it were me I'd tell my son that while I respected his wishes, the teacher needed to be told because what Bob is doing is absolutely not okay, and against the rules of the school. Bob should not be allowed to get away with bullying. This is especially true for the physical abuse, which Bob is inflicting on your son. For the verbal abuse, I'd also help coach my son on what to say. I find that sometimes acting out a situation in advance helps kids to feel more powerful. Even if a kid isn't bullied, someone is going to say something mean, or insensitive to him or her. My son also had the lunch issue - kids would say, ''what are you eating, it looks like dirt!'' We talked it over and came up with the idea that we would make it sound as gross as possible, ''Actually it is dirt. And mold.'' My son's ability to turn the situation around and not get bugged seemed to stop the comments. This is a process though, and something to work on. For the immediate time being, you need to absolutely stop the physical abuse. Fed up with bullies

''Possible'' bullying? This is bullying and not acceptable. Call ''Bob's'' mom ASAP. Get the teacher, teacher's aid, playground teacher, and any relevant parents involved to stop this. It's not that all the adults and kids will talk about it together, but the adults around should be on alert and confront Bob when they see things happening. The teacher can also talk to Bob privately about it - then it's between just them. You are his advocate and these are the ways I've dealt with this problem in the past with a bully in my daughter's class. BTW, it didn't get better by itself, it got worse, and with adults involved, they missed 70% of the behaviors and it was an all- school-year effort. One excellent effect of it was that the bully's mother (a really nice person) would hear it immediately from the parents of kids being bullied. It became talked about in class in general, then any kids doing these things were called on it. (Unfortunately, the kids themselves would never stand up for each other even if they hated the bully!) Good luck. Anon

I can assure you that the behavior you describe is bullying. I don't agree with your husband that waiting out the year without saying something is the best approach. Your son's worry that he will be viewed as a snitch is a typical worry, but I'll bet there will be other children who will be very relieved that Bob's bullying will be addressed. Some children may identifiy with the aggressor or find watching the bullying behavior exciting, but it's more likely that many of them are feeling uncomfortable, unsafe, guilty and anxious that this cruel behavior goes unchecked.

In this situation, your son is suffering with no protection at school. If the adminstration (teacher and principal) are made aware of this situation and take effective action, you will be helping your son as well as this child's other present and future victims. It is possible that some type of intervention could also be of help to the bully himself, as he may be being victimized outside of the school setting or have some emotional/psychiatric problems which are going unaddressed.

Another point is that your son needs to know that you and his father will try to protect him. He's only in second grade. Of course you don't want to make a federal case out of every hangnail, but he is not able to handle this effectively on his own and you also don't want him to learn the lesson that he shouldn't ask for help or that asking for help doesn't help. Children generalize and they won't always generalize in the ways that make sense to adults.

The fact that your son is sensitive and cries easily may have made him an appealing target for the bully in this situation b/c it helps the bully feel powerful and effective, but it doesn't change the fact that your son legitimately needs assistance from the adults in this situation. It doesn't make the other child's behavior less bully-like. Best of luck to you and your family in resolving this unpleasant situation. Ilene

I'd say yes your son is being bullied, and no it is not OK. It is a part of childhood, but it is your job to support your kid and give him skills to deal with it.

The first thing you should do is tell the teacher. Also explain that your son is scared because he feels there will be reprocusions for telling. I also think while you are telling the teacher that you request your son isn't in the same class with this child next year. Even if you don't tell the teacher about the bullying (but I hope you do,) request a different class than this child. Teachers deal with this stuff all the time, they know what they are doing.

The power the bully has is that he gets away with it. I think your son's friends would be happy if the bully would stop too, but are also scared that they will be the next target. There are a bunch of books on Amazon about bullying. You can roll play with your child different tactics, and these skills will help your child the rest of his life. It will give him self confidence too. Telling isn't the only option. He can make it into a joke. He can yell ''stop bumping into my crotch, ASSHOLE!'' Sorry, at this age I would use the swear word, but you get my drift. He can walk away. He can say ''That's mean'' or ''I like eating seaweed, what do you have in your lunch?'' or ''You are a bully''. Explain to your kid also that no one gets to touch his private parts but him, a doctor with your consent or a parent with his consent.

A really good book for girl bullying (it's a picture book for kids) is Secret Bully. Although I have both a boy and a girl, my son hasn't needed this coaching yet. Most kids need the coaching. He is a good kid even if he is sensitive. Please don't let your child feel like he is a victum. The bullying gets much worse in the older grades. Personally I would want to know if my kid was bullying another kid, but from my obervations, most parents don't want to hear it. I guess I'm rather passionate about this. Hope this helps even a little

I was so bothered by your post I had to respond. First of all, I am a first grade teacher, and your son is DEFINITELY BEING BULLIED!!! It is not okay. ''Bob'' is manipulative and cruel. Your son is seeking his attention and approval, and Bob knows this. It is amazing what kids this age are capable of. I am not saying that Bob is necessarily all bad, but he is bad for your son. I have a similar dynamic in my current class: the ''cool'' kid that many want to be around, but is a very bad influence on others. You must notify the school. There are ways the teachers can help change the tone of the class without picking out certain indivuals, but we don't always know all the details. The bigger problem is that there will always be ''Bob's'' in life. You must work on your son and his self esteem. Teach him how to use his words - loudly if necessary. Find something he enjoys or excels in and foster it. Physical activities really are good for kids - karate, swimming, soccer, etc. Or music, dance, whatever. Try your best to surround him with good influences. Unfortunately, kids do get meaner as they get older, (of course not all kids, not even most!) and he needs to be prepared to deal with it. He also needs to learn to choose good, real, true friends. My heart goes out to you. Good luck! anon

You should talk to the teacher, discreetly, and express your fear of retaliation towards your son. The competent teacher has ways of dealing with this without saying ''Bob, So and So's tattled on you to his mom and dad and me and now you are in trouble.'' The school lunch supervisors can be told to be more attentive to this kid and act when he does something again. Maybe for summer you should line up some activities with nice kids and no Bob? anon

I am a second grade teacher. You should definitely tell the teacher. As a competent teacher she will try to take care of it. Things like this don't get resolved by just ignoring it because the bully will just keep picking on him. When I am told of a specific problem I deal with it and it usually gets resolved. The bully will hopefully feel bad because his teacher knows what he is doing. In second grade the kids usually don't want to look bad to the teacher and will probably stop doing it. The teacher wants and needs to know. If the other friends are good kids they will probably be relieved that this situation is over because it makes them uncomfortable too. One never knows who will be the next one to be bullied. Next time, tell the teacher sooner. If it doesn't get resolved ASAP tell the teacher again. Sometimes we teachers need to hear about it a second time too!

I am very sorry for your son. Please do not let this slide even though there is only one month of school left. Your son needs to know that his school is a safe place to be and that means action. He is reacting the way that many bullied children do--they often believe it is their fault when it is not.

Explain to your son that you have to take action--if not just for him but for others in his classroom. If the boy who is being mean sees he can get away with it, then he will be mean to other kids and not just your son.

Practice scenarios with your son to help him respond t bullying. He can say ''Stop that! I don't like it,'' or whatever will work for him, including walking away. My son ended up using humor because that worked with his personality and the bullying stopped that year. There are loads of websites that give suggestions.

Meet with his teacher and document what was said and what the next steps are. The way my son's teacher handled it was to talk about bullying generally as a first step without naming names. That helped enormously.

Please do not let the teacher have the two boys meet to ''talk it out''. Studies show that bully/victim meetings are not effective. The power is all one-sided.

Good luck. No more bullying

Regarding your post about possible bullying, please contact the teacher immediately. These things must be stopped as soon as they appear. Tell your son that any kind of hitting or teasing is not allowed and if Bob won't stop when asked, then the adults must intervene. Your son must tell the teacher whenever it happens as it is not allowed at school at all. Yes Bob needs to be ''told on'' and ''in trouble'' as he is doing something wrong. I recently went through this with a younger boy. He was not telling the teacher when hit or kicked by another child. Every time it happened I talked to the teacher and finally requested a plan for how the school would stop the bullying. You need to bring it to the teacher's attention until the school deals with it.

I also attended a ''KidPower'' workshop with my son and we liked it very much. It was very helpful with providing assertive techniques for young children to deal with bullying.

Don't sit back and let this happen - contact the school immediately. Bullying is not OK - and it is not OK for your son to be feeling bad about himself. Wish there were no bullies....

I think, you know the answer. Trust your instincts, yes; your son is being bullied. ItC,bs not ok to tell a child that his lunch or clothes choices are yucky. ItC,bs not ok for your son to go through school like that. DonC,bt give a chance for this 2nd grader ''Bob'' to become a thug in 5th grade. Talk to the teacher as soon as possible, if there is something your teacher can do, now is the time while the boys are still small!!! You need to teach your son to recognize this behavior as unacceptable in school or playground, and itC,bs really both his and your responsibility to report this to teacher and BobC,bs parents immediately. After all, you want to have a smart confident and assertive child, right? Lola

I have been in your shoes and urge you to act on this right away. I would go immediately to the teacher and tell her that your son is very stressed out about this and is showing it physically. I would expect the teacher to have a plan and I would also urge you to call Bob's parents. Some people may say not to but in my case, it was the right thing to do. It didn't really stop the offending kid's behavior but it put the parents on alert and it also was the only way they found out what was happening -- the school never involved them otherwise. I would spend some time at school if you can observing the interactions on the playground, classroom, etc. I would also keep a dialog going with your kid about it and teach him to tell on Bob when Bob does this stuff. Explain the difference between tattling and speaking up for yourself. Don't just ''ride out'' the year-- Bob needs to be talked to to put an end to the bullying behavior--it's not helpful to either your son or Bob if it just gets ignored by the school and you. I also think telling your son that you talked to the teacher is important...let him know you are standing up for him. Good luck. G

I think that what is important is the effect the bullying has on the child -- ie it doesn't matter whether what the other kids are doing to your child is defined as bullying or as normal. If it is seriously affecting your child, you need to get your child out of there.

A number of other respondents said that one should go to the director of the school if the teacher isn't responding. That is true, but in our experience, it doesn't really matter what the administration says about bullying when they talk to parents. In the end it's all up to the individual teacher to create a culture in the classroom.

My son was bullied quite badly during his kindergarten year at Park Day School in Oakland (bitten while standing in line at the water fountain, kicked while waiting in line to go into class, etc). When I asked his teacher about what was going on, his teacher told me, ''This is kindergarten. This is first grade.'' She did not expect anything different. The administration was much more optimistic, but they did not act. I noticed that another poster mentioned that their child was bullied during his kindergarten year at Park Day, and that they left the school, as we also did. My only regret is that we did not leave immediately. All a child needs at that age is to be safe. Forget the hopes and dreams you brought to the school, and place your kid somewhere where he feels safe. another mom


7-year-old's crush on the neighborhood bully

March 2009


My 7 year old son plays outside in the neighborhood with 3 other boys aged 5, 6, and 11. He recently told me the 4 of them planned to ring the doorbell and then run away at the house of a neighbor. My son backed out of doing this prank at the last minute so the 10 year old held his arms up and told the 5 & 6 year olds to hit him in the stomach, which they did repeatedly. After this my son kept playing with the boys and then later blamed the episode on the younger kids saying that the 11 year old (whom he worships) was 'just joking' and didn't mean to hurt him. The 11 year old has had some behavior problems at school and his parents are in denial/ ineffective disciplinarians. The parents of the other boys are much more 'hands off' than I am and let their kids roam unsupervised.

I am not sure what to do about this situation. My son always wants to play outside with the other boys and idolizes the 11 year old. I spoke privately to both the 11 year old and the 6 year old about their bullying behavior but have not told their parents mostly because they would become upset with me and then nothing would really change. I did tell the older boy that I'd tell his father if it happened again. When the kids play near me I am constantly intervening and stopping behaviors such as poking each other with long sticks, teasing, destroying toys, and other aggressive play. Of course this just drives the group into someone else's yard. It is hard to set limits for my child on where he can go since the other boys are free to roam where they please. I've praised my son for paying attention to how comfortable he feels doing something and told him that he should leave if the boys are doing something he is not comfortable with. He is very peer oriented (not very independent) and I know this will be very hard for him. I also signed us up for a Kidpower class. I'd like my son to understand that the boy he is idolizing is manipulating him and creating competition/exclusion in the group by playing him off against the other boys. We've talked about the dynamic but playing with this older boy is just so exciting for my son that he doesn't care. So now do I just let my son get beat up and figure this out for himself? Is my talking to the kids and then not going to their parents sending a wierd message to the boys? Any advice on how to handle this? thanks for your opinion

I'm so glad you had the insight to seek advice on this issue. Take your son completely out of this situation. He is too young to manage it on his own. This older child is a terrible, abusive influence. Do not let your son play with the kids in the interest of ''working it out'' or ''learning from experience.'' He clearly needs more guidance and doesn't have the emotional maturity to separate from this situation on his own. That's where you come in. He needs protection. And the older boy's parents should be notified. Their son is an agressive, abusive bully who's behavior should not go unchecked. And those little guys shouldn't be allowed to play with him either. But ultimately of course your main concern is your son's well-being. This may be hard on everyone at first and will require intervention: an after-school activity, a new sport, but something needs to take your son out of this situation before it escalates, before he gets hurt or starts modeling hurtful behavior. Do it right away. Will not get better on its own

Just let them play. You are totally over-parenting not only your child, but the others as well. Why is''roaming as they please'' a bad thing? It doesn't really sound like the ''hitting in the stomach'' was actually hitting in the stomach. If it was, he probably would have run home crying. Did you check for red marks or bruises? Kids play like this alot. Boy energy is at times aggressive. No one deserves to be bullied, but labeling kids is dangerous. (Labeling parents too.) peeved

Please tell the parents of the boys what their children are doing. Yes, you are sending the boys a mixed message by sayinga and doing two different things. If you want your son to step up to the plate and behave like a man, you need to step up to the plate and act like an empowered woman and SPEAK UP and tell the parents of these boys what their kids are doing. If they do something and implicate your child, you will be legally responsible for their actions. Please don't do this to your son or to yourself. And, no, IT'S NOT OKAY FOR YOUR CHILD TO GET BEAT UP BY THESE monsters. If he still chooses to hang out with them, then it's out of your control and he'll face the consequences, but, please, tell the parents. They need to know!! Do something. mom of boys

I don't care what the other parents do, those children should be supervised while playing outside, especially if you have one child with behavioral concerns. Also, don't let those children beat up on your child. As a parent you are there to protect your child; fending for himself will come later when you have less control over his activities. Felicia

Boys are weird, aren't they? Have you read 'Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha?'' I definitely think you're on the right track, teaching your son to remember to be responsible for his OWN actions, whatever other people are doing. Personally, I think you've potentially got a great opportunity because you have a neighborhood, and you're there and recognizing what's going on. Banning the bully will just make him more attractive. My daughter also commented on how much more exciting it was hanging out with a dysfunctional nasty group of girls than one where they were always nice to each other. She called the nice girls ''boring''. It's worth remembering that bullying is also usually at least as damaging to the kids that do it as to the ones it's done to. Bullies are almost always bigger than the kids they torment. They often have no idea how to read expressions of others properly, so they don't respond to signs of distress. And if no-one teaches them they won't learn. You could set up attractive activities to keep them busy in your territory (eg wooden construction, plant a garden, games, baking, take them places etc) and give them the supervision you mentioned (the supervision their parents aren't giving them). Running around with sticks isn't always bad - only when someone is getting hurt. You being there gives your son and the others lots of opportunities to know what's right and wrong. Give them chances to see how cooperation and communication are helpful and dissension and competition isn't. Point it out when they do cooperate, point out when they're helping one another, point out how that's what a big guy does. If possible, get an adult big guy to set an example. Or if that doesn't work, you can find an activity (a sport, music lessons, playdates etc) that takes your son away from home at the key times.

People surprise me all the time by reacting better than I expect. You might be right that the 11yo's parents won't do anything about the problem, but it's not fair that you don't even give them the opportunity to know or address this issue in their family. You also don't know what's going on inside of them when they seem to be in denial with you. Maybe they're embarrassed/defensive, but it bothers them, and finding out their son restrained your child and encouraged others to pummel him would be just the thing that makes them finally do something.

Next, no. Don't let kids beat on your son. He's 7. He may not be able to fully grasp that he's being manipulated. He may be angry with you for taking away his hero, but he really should be playing with his peers. 11 and 7 are vastly different, especially if the 11yo pulls power trips, gets kids into mischief they wouldn't otherwise get into, and importantly, is violent with them. I would not let the 11yo play with my child again.

Many people say ''boys will be boys''. I say it's time to stop colluding with minor acts of violence, thus saying they're okay. It's time to set limits. Stop worrying about neighbors being upset with you and instead, protect your kid; that's your job.

I am familiar with your plight. It is an awkward situation. I noticed another post about neighbor kids with constant head lice and a few responses about parents banishing those kids from contact with their kids. Along the same lines I have heard that your children's peers are more critical to their developement than their home environments and families. If that is so you need to decide whether the neighbor boy is the best influence on your son. We have been through a few similar events with our daughter. The first time we waited for her to figure out her new friend wasn't the best choice. It was a painful year of watching cautiously from the sidelines. Eventually she figured it out and moved on to better choices. More recently a much worse child pulled her into a tractor beam and the intense manipulative pressure caused several kids to be endangered as the result of our daughter being pressured to do things completely out of charactor for her. This time I just told her she could no longer have contact with this child that caused her to do things that endangered herself and others. Your situation is tough because you live so close and there aren't nearby options. I suggest finding a club or activity away from the neighborhood so your son has other things to do alot of the time and thus his time with neighborhood kids is reduced. I think you need to separate the two for now. Doesn't sound like the healthiest combination with the age differences. anon


Bullying & mean girls - private vs. public

Dec 2008


Of all of the many factors involved in choosing a kindergarten for my daughter, one of the most surprising to me is the fact that parents complain about teasing, bullying, mean girls, etc. far more often at private schools than at public (on websites, etc.), especially at these wonderfully progressive small schools than speak to respect for all, etc.! Is it just that a school's small size makes it a bit intense, especially for girls?

As a product of large public schools myself, I am attracted to the small class sizes of private schools, etc., but wonder if the negatives of being stuck in the same class with the same mean girls for 6 years outweighs the benefits. Obviously, teasing and great educational opportunities occur in both public and private settings, and I would just love to hear your experiences with this issue, public or private. bpn fan

In response to yr question about private vs. public mean girls: I respectfully disagree that this happens more in private than in public schools. It happens in both. It depends on the private school you select and how they answer the questions you ask about how they deal with this issue. We found the public school (5 years ago) had a difficult time dealing with social issues at all and the private school, being a self-selecting community, was much easier. The private school itself is out of the loop concerning this epidemic but the parents seem to be on top if it and willing to work on the issue as best they can; the public school parents were in denial -- girls will be girls. A lot is dependent on the classroom teacher and their own skill in dealing with social issues. I encourage you to ask the questions at ANY school in which you are interested. Good luck. Claudie

You hit it! We have had three girls go through kindergarten, and two went to private school (a very NICE private school, one that embraces everyone, talks a lot about community, and so on). Our experience is that the kids are, in general, a lot nicer in public schools. Although our private school classrooms were very small, they were also very limiting, not very many friends to chose from, and little done by teachers to address early on the bullying or just mean behavior of kids.

After our third daughter went through kindergarten, we switched to public and have been thrilled! Kindness and inclusion are discussed daily (not just when a problem arises), and the kids really are part of a community of caring and supportive peers. There is also huge diversity in public, and my girls are learning to accept and honor all kinds of people.

If I could do it over again, I would never choose private over public. Instead, I would choose public, and if any problems arose or if it was not a good fit, I could then switch to private. I feel that I did my girls a huge disservice--academically, socially, and morally--by sending them to a rich private school that in the end was a huge disappointment. Happy public school family!

I can't speak to ''mean girls'' in public school. My fourth grade daughter is at Prospect Sierra in El Cerrito. There are approximately 24 girls in each grade. There has been some turnover each year - natural attrition and the like do to job changes, etc - so there has been fresh faces to add to the mix each year. Also, in 6th grade a whole additional class is added in. This allows for choices of friends.

Regarding the social mix - Prospect Sierra places a big emphasis on social issues - kindness, respect, compassion, problem solving, open-mindedness and community. The teachers and staff have always been willing and able to get involved on an individual, grade or school level to work on any issues that may come up. I have found the parent body to be interested, active and involved in the social dynamic - all in a good way. The kids learn methods of problem solving and social interaction. It is even woven into the academic part of the curriculum. Sometimes, fourth graders, for example, will read the writing of younger kids and give feedback and suggestions on their work - learning to give positive examples and support.

So...our experience has not been one of ''mean girls'' at all. It is not to say that social issues, typical for the age, have not arisen. It just doesn't seem out of the ordinary and, in fact, there are the resources and willingness on part of the larger school community to work with the kids about positive social interaction. Public school is likely to have a broader range of kids and different types of issues but I would be hesitant to say that one, public or private, is likely to vary that much. 4th grade mom

There's more choice of kids in public schools, which generally we have found to be a good thing, and because there is more than 1 class, the kids are mixed up anew each year. So you aren't stuck in your place in the totem pole. We went to an expensive preschool & Oakland hills public school. We found overall the kids in the public school we went to were nicer. Maybe because their parents were relaxed enough to send them to public school. But on the other hand, if there is a problem with a kid in public school, the kid is staying at the school. Private schools probably have a smaller range of behavior issues. anonymous

It's possible that because parents pay (and donate) large sums of money to their childrens' private school, the teachers and/or administrators at private schools feel less comfortable dealing with teasing, bullying and mean girls (for fear of alienating the aggressors' parents). Our child is in kindergarten at a public school and the one bullying incident we're aware of resulted in a call from the principal, a conference with the parents, and a puppet show on the general issue in the class. In other words, it's just not tolerated (and we are VERY pleased). Bullying and teasing are real problems and awful for children, so I encourage you to make sure the school you choose takes it seriously. happy kid, happy momma

We left a private school in Oakland for precisely the reason you speak of: there were five kids who had been allowed to tease and bully my child all year, and with only 30 kids in the grade there was no way one could get away from them even with new classroom placements the following year. We had friends at a large private school that has four grades per class, and their child, who had been badly teased, was able to be placed for the next school year in a different class than all the kids who were bothering him. We heard that the problem was essentially resolved in this manner. In that sense, bigger is better, though the schools in question were both private.

I heard from many friends with kids in public school (in North Berkeley and Piedmont) that the physical bullying that was tolerated in my child's progressive private school would never have been allowed to continue in their schools; letters would be sent home, the principal would be meeting with families, etc. We were at a progressive private school that has received a lot of attention for its program of peace and mindfulness in the classroom. The teacher who runs that program is amazing, but the kids were unbelievably cruel. While I think public schools often feel more accountable in terms of bullying, and are more ready to use traditional techniques to curb it, it's not really a question of private versus public; it's more whether the individual school responds swiftly and effectively to incidents that come to their attention.

As the mother of an 8 year old girl, whether you choose public or private, make sure there are at least two classes per grade, and that several classes and grades are together at recess and lunch. That way the kids have more kids to choose to play with when the drama gets too intense (which it will, especially for girls). Also, try to find non-school friends for your child through outside sports and classes. -- public school mom

I have kids at St. Paul's Episcopal School in Oakland. There are two sections of each grade, each with small class sizes. Each year the students are ''shuffled'' so that the constituency of each class is different from year to year. You are never ''stuck'' in the same class with the same kids. My kids have made new friends from year to year, or become better friends with kids they haven't had in the same class recently. In addition, there is a new group of students that are admitted in the 6th grade that infuses the middle school with new energy and that has been a tremendous experience for my new 6th grader.

The school has a very strict policy against bullying or teasing of any kind. Students often work together in groups on different projects and the teachers are in tentional in mixing up students over time (eg in seating arrangements) and in projects to achieve a cohesive student body in each class. They have to rely on each other to get performances and projects done so they are more focused on getting along than their differences. I can see from my kids that they appreciate the strengths that each student brings to the class and appreciate them. I encourage you to explore St. Paul's where respect and citizenship guides everyone, in addition to its excellent academics, spirituality and nationally recognized service learning program.

All schools, public and private, will have kids that tease and bully, or at least try to. That's normal behavior for kids to experiment with at that age. So no school is going to be completely free of it. Anyone who tells you something different hasn't got their eyes and ears open. What you want to look for is a school that not only talks about their policies regarding negative behavior, but really acts on them as well.

When you're touring the schools, ask what kind of training the staff and volunteers have had regarding intervention. Ask exactly how the children are taught to care for each other. Ask for specific examples of real incidents and how they were dealt with at the time. Speak directly with the principal/director. Spend time watching the kids on the playgrounds.

As a parent of a boy in a small Berkeley public school, I can tell you that when an incident occurs, it's dealt with as instantly as is possible. Messages come home from the principal and the teachers, the offending child/ren write apology notes, it's discussed [in general terms, so as to better work on solutions] at the weekly community meeting, in the newsletter and in the PTA meetings... things are taken very seriously. It does seem to help that the school is small, as most of the kids and families know each other. [just last community meeting, in fact, four 5th graders were called up and applauded by the whole school because they stood up for a classmate who was being teased.]

From my perspective as a parent who is frequently at the school, that kind of attitude sends a very important message to kids and families - that not only is negative behavior not going to be tolerated, it's also totally uncool. --anon

Well, the mean girls show up in public school too -- my son had a LOT of trouble in kindergarten with a specific set of girls making fun of his handwriting and drawing (to the point that he told me ''Mom, everyone at this school thinks I am stupid and sometimes I do too''). However, in first and second grade this was never a problem. I think there were two factors involved -- one was the specific combination of girls. Since this public school has 60 kids in each grade getting rotated systematically between three teachers per grade, this particular combo has not occurred again.

Second, and I believe more important, is to what degree the teacher is on top of classroom dynamics, and willing to step in before there's a big problem. The kindergarten teacher wasn't; the other teachers have been. Based on my experience thus far, the most important factor in a small child's school experience is the specific teacher-kid-class interaction. More important than public/private, school API, curriculum, whatever. My biggest problem with some smaller private schools is that you only have one teacher per grade. If that teacher doesn't work for your kid, there isn't much you can do at that point. Karen


Helping 6-year-old recover from a year of bullying

July 2007


My 6-year old son was bullied at a private school in North Oakland throughout his kindergarten year. He was kicked, hit and bitten, but what I think is even more damaging is that there was a group of kids in his class that said incredibly mean things in order to exclude him. We are switching schools, but what I'm worried about is that he has really lost his trust and confidence in new social situations. Since the end of school, there's been a pretty miraculous change in his mood and he's begun to recover his old optimism, excitement and confidence, but I've noticed that in new social situations the wounds are really apparent. He no longer has his old confidence and friendliness, and sometimes he withdraws or puts up his defenses because he no longer assumes good intentions when kids approach him.

Has anyone else had experience in helping a kid recover from bullying? What was best to help them recover confidence in the world and in their physical environment? Are there certain kinds of activities that help? What could help a child who has been through this as they go through a transition to a new school? I'd be grateful for any advice. worried mom

I'm so sorry to hear that your son suffered so much. Let me tell you what happened when our son experienced bullying at a summer camp. My son is not a typical victim, proof that bullying can happen to anyone. The minute he got off the bus from camp, I could tell something was terribly wrong. No one talked to him. He didn't smile. In the car he broke down and cried. I was heartbroken. I know, it really hurts when your child is hurt.

What did we do? Over the course of a YEAR, we talked about it once in a while. We talked about bullying in general, sometimes in particular. It was a great lesson in the sense that it made him appreciate how damaging bullying can be. He didn't want to go back to the camp. At all.

However, at the end of June, he started to say he wanted to go to the SAME camp. When I asked him why: he said he wanted to try it again. Face his fears. You see, we had talked so much about things to do, say, ways to get help, etc., that although it took a year, he was finally ready to try again.

It may be a little too soon for your son. I definitely encourage you to keep on talking about it. Keep it low key but don't forget about it. You have all summer - take his pulse every so often and when school starts, maybe he'll have learned and thought enough about it to be less fearful - altho' again, as I said, it might be too soon (what's summer break 2 months?) so keep a close watch at school - maybe even see if you can take off time when school starts so you can be readily available, like be a room mother for the first week, something like that. Good [email protected]! Pro Cleaner

I'm so sorry to hear about what happened to your son. I was bullied as a child, and I'm sorry to say that I never recovered. I still have periods of intense self-doubt that can be triggered by various events. However, my parents denied the bullying and refused to take me out of school. So you are already doing something right by removing your son from the toxic situation.

I would definitely promise him that in the future you will immediately remove him from school or any situation where there is bullying. For me, the worst horror was that there was no escape. Let him know you love him, and especially, that you agree that bullying is bad and that you will protect him. He needs to know you are on his side. If he has that, he will be able to weather this situation and grow stronger again.

Research I have read shows that children this young cannot resolve bullying on their own -- adult intervention is needed. Please don't tell him he needs to ''toughen up'' or ''get used to it.''

Confront the parents of the bullies and the teachers. Your child has a right to a nurturing environment to grow up in. Homeschool if necessary. Good luck.

We had a similar situation in the public school only it lasted more than one year--he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder as a result. He has worked with a therapist at west coast children in El Cerrito for several years and also with a great but pricey specialist, Dr. Joan Lovett in Berkeley who did EMDR--a cognitive therapy with him with AMAZING results. I strongly suggest getting your child help immediately --good luck m

I'm sorry! Same thing for my son. Advice...(1) mention the history to the new teacher and ask her to help your son make friends, (2) keep in touch with his teacher--it is okay to give the teacher information she may not have, like if there is bullying (3) if possible, classes (or perhaps church or temple). I've found the college students who teach swimming are positive, for example. (4) if you have family friends or know some children who are nice, see if you can have them over. The general thing is, have fun stuff to look forward to and where he can develop socially, until it smooths out at school. (5) Let him move on and forget about it if he wants, or talk about it if he wants. Now that we are past it, my son is much more independent and is happy to ignore kids who act mean. anonymous


2nd grader's friends ganging up on him

Oct 2006


My 2nd grader son has always been a borderline ''highly sensitive child''. He is highly self-critical, gets frustrated easily, almost always howls with pain over the slightest scratch. Increasingly he's been telling me of how his best friend since infancy has been ganging up with other pals in his group against him, name calling and provoking my son until he cries or screams in fury and then laughing at him.

I've witnessed a few incidents, and it is disturbing. It's especially troubling since this behavior is frighteningly similar to my own playground experiences. I therefore know that the only advice my parents ever gave me - ''Just ignore them'' is near impossible. I know adults who have trouble ''just ignoring'' comments from peers, so what chance does a child have? It's a very difficult thing to learn, and it doesn't happen overnight. Their behavior also clearly classifies as bullying.

So, a few questions:

1) Where does one start in getting these kids to recognize their behavior and stop it? I do like the kids, and have good relationsips with the parents, which makes it harder to tell them something troubling about their children.

2) How can I help my son? One has to ''toughen up'' to cope in life in general, but I don't want him to think he's wrong in his feelings of frustration, sadness, disappointment that his best friend would do this to him. What's a realistic ''tool'' he can learn easily to help him cope, to help him learn to ignore hurtful actions?

3) Does a group of friends always have to follow a certain dynamic? Do kids naturally look for the weak one to victimize, belittle, make themselves feel superior? Is this just human nature and the way kids work things out? Is there always the alpha dog looking to stay on top?

Any advice, books, articles, sources greatly appreciated Worried Mom

It's pretty obvious that the bullies have learned that they can make your son cry. To immature children this may seem like a game almost- getting your son to break down. I would advise you to talk to your son and see if he can understand that the kids are actually trying to get him to cry.What they say to acheive this is not the truth. If all else fails, talk to the parents discreetly. Then, they can work on changing the behaviors of their children. This will usually work....... Redwood City mom

My heart goes out to you it is a tough situation. But it can be resolved in a way that helps everyone.

1. Read the book 'The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander by Barbara Coloroso. This book is wonderful at addressing complicated issues. Not to mention both sides of the bully coin. (For girl bullying it would be The Odd Girl Out Book.)

2. Make an appointment with the school principal. They should have a school policy that addresses what bullying is and what steps are taken when it happens. There should be a solution for this problem. (They should contact the parents of the children who are bullying once it is observed. That way the parents can help and are made aware of the situation. Their child will have consequences if it continues, from the classroom to the playground.)

We chose not to go directly to the parents as we thought that was best handled through the school. We also set up a lot of play dates for our child with different kids so that he was not isolated by the bully.

Talk to your son about how he feels. What words or behavior he can use when it happens. And to go to an adult. It is never ok to be bullied. (I would keep my past stuff out of it as it may be too much for him and colors the issue. )

Talk to the teacher every day to see how it goes. Tell him/her any of your concerns, feedback from your child. But take it to the top. Make sure the yard duty knows of the situation. Do a drive by to monitor the recess yourself. Report any concerns back to the principal and the teacher. Stay involved and proactive. I would also add that its good not to let your child hear too mcuh about how you feel about it. (Talking to friends on the phone, etc).

We just keep talking about everything including how the kids 'play' Don't accept Bullying

Fortunately, society is coming around to seeing what bullying really is - not a ''rite of passage'', but a negative behavior, like physical hitting. You did not say whether this was happening in school, but your best chance of changing the situation would be through the school, which should and probably does have a policy on bullying (many have no tolerance policies). The other advantage of the school is that many people can be pulled in and the parents of the bully cannot ignore the situation. If this is happening in the neighborhood, maybe if you can discretely videotape a situation and show it to the parents involved. It would be hard to ignore an outright bullying situation, but they may blame it on someone elses kid. Do you know who the ringleader is? That may be the best place to start. Anon

It is hard to sit by, but it's also hard to know when to let them learn to deal. In 3rd grade, my son's friends suddenly seemed to play very rough and nasty. Lots of insulting each other, and my son is (of course) sensitive, and had a hard time. I really had to coach him in how to deal. He and I did a lot of role-playing, where I would say, ''Okay now, I'm ''BOB'', and I just said you're a stupid dork!!! Then he would say, ''Oh Bob, you're NOT a stupid dork, don't be so hard on yourself!'', or ''Oh Bob, I love you too'', or something non-escalating. It seemed to work a bit. MC

I am so sorry to hear you son is being bullied. My daughter went thru the same experience at the same age - she was also a perfect target because she was smart enough to know she was being teased and the bullies could count on her breaking down. One thing that helped her very much was a social skills group where she could learn to pick people who would not make her feel bad about herself and practice skills like humor, which can defuse bullying. But having said that, I feel very strongly it is the school's responsibility to stop the bullying - whether is is by providing more supervision, including supervised activiites at recess, calling the parents of the bullies, or enacting consequences for observers - some (but not all bullying) is performed for an audience and if there is no audience the motivation for bullying is not there. The school can also attempt to provide an atmosphere in which caring behavior is modeled by adults and rewarded publically for children. In this culture we don't condone adults behaving this way toward each other so it should be equally unacceptable for children to be bullied concerned mom

Kidpower! You and your son will learn a lot from enrolling in one of their classes. We went many years ago, and the things that really helped my sensitive son when out on the untamed playground during lunch and recess: 1. Move away from those who are bothering you. 2. If that is not effective, in a loud firm voice say Stop it or Leave me alone, or some such thing. My son and I roleplayed this, and he needed coaching on saying it loudly enough. I saw him use this skill one time, first mumbling ''stop it'' with no effect, then saying it loudly and his classmate that was pestering him, did move away. 3. Get help from an adult.

I like these guidelines because it gives the young child concrete things to do, and recognizes that they may need assistance j

This would not be tolerated at my son's school, not even for a minute. Talk to the teacher, and if that doesn't work, move up the chain of command. It is NOT acceptable. Fran

Amazingly, just yesterday, my 2nd grade son told me about some boys bullying his best friend all recess long. Sputtering mad, I am trying to figure out how to effectively wise them up.

I got sucked into doing mean things with a gang of girls when I was in grade school. Fortunately, the victim cried and told me how hurt she was so I could know how she felt and not only stop, but I became something of a hero in my junior high. Standing up against kids who thought that it is cool to hurt people. I actually fought some too!

As a big ole mom, I'm not sure what to do....turns out my son'd friend doesn't tell or cry. Then, when someone steps in, he says it's Ok. He wants everyone to like him...??....he is so sweet. My boy doesn't know why he ''isn't brave'' and has been temped, he said, to join in.

I am going to try going there at recess and stepping in. As someone who did this, I am certain that the ''bullies'' have no idea. I have noticed in life that most humor is at someone's expence. Learning to have fun with out hurting others is a skill we all need to learn. AND it is not easy Hopping Mad


My 6-year-old son likes to play with a bully

June 2006


I am hoping to get some advice that will help me support my 6 year old son and the problem he is having with a classmate friend who is a bully.

I finally connected the dots with my sons complaints to me about a classmate and was amazed to see such a pattern. My son told me how the boy would pick fights with other kids who wanted to play with him. He told my son he would tell the teacher if he did not play with him ( my son thought he would get in trouble!) And this boy would poke and push my son through the day.

I spoke with his teacher to keep her up on it. The feedback I got was that they knew the other boy was a problem but that they were working on it. Now, in a summer class they have, together, things accelerated where this boy is always grabbing at my son and even poked him in his privates.

I have spoken to his teacher and to the principal. They have since been seperated them in class. (When my son would move away this boy would move back in) The princiapal has advised me to contact the superintendent of the district and make sure they are in seperate classes next year. (Something my son has also requested.)

I have seen the listings for Kidpower, and I am wondering if anyone else has additional suggestions for dvds? Books?

What I find additionally disturbing and confusing is that my son still likes to play with this boy at recess. He says that he is nice then. My son plays with other kids and seems to be well liked. He is very outgoing and funloving. We are having alot of conversations about choices and choosing to play with someone who hurts you, who does not listen to you. I don't want to forbid it because I worry that that will make him want to play with him more. I have suggested he play with other kids at recess. We are in the middle of this struggle so I would love some solid advice anon

It seems you are doing all the right things, except perhaps knowingly placing your son in a summer class with this bully. My son also wants to play with a neighbor bully, and I've struggled with the same issues, and it has taken some time to recognize the subtleties of behavior by both the bully and my son, which is similar to your son. The problem with bullies is that they recognize that their behavior is revered by other children as being stronger or more grownup. So if they are confronted with a strong-willed child who says no! to being bullied (e.g., my older son) the bully (my neighbor) will solicit the child (my older son) as a partner in bullying another (their younger brothers) as a form of play. It's hard for the non-bullying kid to recognize the difference between fraternity, play and bullying. I would suggest then to do whatever you can to limit interaction between your son and this bully. It will keep your son out of trouble and save him and others a lot of grief. You can't monitor your son's school yard play. But you could, for example, make a point of not inviting just one kid - the bully - to a special summer party you host for your son's friends, sending the strong message to your son that having this one 'friend' around isn't required to have fun

It sounds like you're doing what you can to protect your child from the bully, and you should continue to monitor the situation. However, if your son still wants to play with him at recess when he is being ''nice'', I wouldn't push him not to, other than to tell him that it's okay if he doesn't want to. I say this because one of the reasons bullies are bullies is because they are often insecure, feel awkward, often lonely, and find that the only way they can get attention from someone else is to be mean. If your son does what you want, i.e. stay away from the bully, he may find an increase in the bullying. However, if he really wants to stay away from the kid, you need to make sure he is safe from him. That might mean you show up an recess time yourself and monitor the situation. For the record, I would not hesitate one second from talking to the bully myself, and tell him that you will not tolerate him bullying your son. You might find, as I did once upon a time, that this approach works. The school won't like it, though, and neither will the bully's parents.

Also, continue to talk to your son and make sure he's feeling okay about everything on a daily basis, as I'm sure you are doing. The more he feels protected by you, the better he can protect himself. Anon


First grader has been targeted by bullies

April 2005


Our child currently goes to Franklin Elementary in Oakland. The bullying there is absolutely terrible. The playgrounds are undersupervised.(Large portions of the campus are completely unsupervised, others have a few children and even fewer adults functioning as ''yard duties'') My first-grader has been targeted both by specific bullies who apparently had a problem with him personally (pushed off of the slide repeatedly, harassed for liking ''girl stuff,'' hit, verbally harassed in general) and by random children (for example, one morning two kids he'd never met before jumped him on his way into the school breakfast and stole his backpack, taking his food out and throwing it around and smashing it).

Since a year's worth of fighting with the principal and the school district has done nothing (they don't have the funding for much supervision and the school has not been responsive) we are looking for a new school. There are good reviews of many Oakland and Berkeley public schools on the website, but I would like to see more, and more recent ones, and particularly ones focusing on bullying.

As I remember from elementary school, the school can have as many clubs and events and resources and innovative teachers as it wants, but if the students are harassing each other the elementary school experience will still be hell. So I would love to hear from parents about how their children's schools deal with conflict. Has your child been bullied? Does the school have a conflict management program for the kids? Does the teacher have a good way to deal with it, or seem to notice at all? What about the administration? Is your school remarkably free of bullying? Does it refuse to tolerate bullying? What do people there to do create a safe environment for the kids, and what specifically does or doesn't make it seem safe to you?

While we are mainly looking at Oakland public schools, I am interested in any public or private school anywhere - even if we can't send our kid there, it's good to know (for example) that there is a school that has been effective in creating a bully-free environment in which all children are respected (the Mills College Children's School comes to mind) or which doesn't care at all (like ours).

I should add that his first-grade teacher at Franklin, Ms. Wong, is a great teacher and has taught the whole class a tremendous amount and really cares about all of the kids and their families - it's the school itself that's the problem in our case. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Aidan

I haven't heard of any bullying in our neighborhood public school (Harding in El Cerrito) but it's impossible to tell if it never goes on. I know that the principal and teachers seem to have a strong commitment to violence prevention, safety, conflict resolution, and each family is asked to sign an anti-bullying pledge annually.

I have heard good things about two programs that might be helpful for you and/or other schools, both private and public: (1) the Kaiser Permanente Educational Theature Program called ''P.E.A.C.E. Signs''. This program is free but you have to sign on for the entire package and students, parents, teachers, and the principal are expected to participate. Several schools in the W. County District have used it with good results. The workshops and classroom curriculum focuses on bullying and self-esteem for elementary kids and coping with peer pressure for middle schoolers. The workshop leaders offer practical suggestions and role play to help kids deal with problems at school. If you would like to know more, contact Alicia at Kaiser, 510-987-2223. (2) KidPower is an excellent program but there is a fee. Children can take workshops on their own, they also offer school assemblies and have a comprehensive violence prevention curriculum. They have a website: http://www.kidpower.org/index.html I hope that's helpful. --Sharon

Had to respond to your message: ''...it's good to know (for example) that there is a school that has been effective in creating a bully-free environment in which all children are respected (the Mills College Children's School comes to mind) or which doesn't care at all (like ours).''

Unfortunately, the Mills College Children's School is NOT a bully-free environment. In our experience, children with differences are also NOT respected there. The staff had a very negative attitude about our child, as he was shy and not very sociable, tending to play alone. When our child was attacked by another student at the school, the head teacher took a very nonchalant attitude and the director tried to deny it had occurred, even though we witnessed it! So it is possible that your public school is not much different from the Mills school as far as bullying goes.

My suggestion is to look into martial arts, like Aikido for your son. Classes are offered to children as young as 3. Bullies are everywhere, and we encounter them throughout life. I adamantly agree that adults must intervene to stop bullying and teach children that bullying is wrong, but no matter how much you try to protect your children, there will still be bullies. Another parent intolerant of bullying

As for private schools, check out Aurora in Oakland, www.auroraschool.org. Our daughter goes there and Aurora places a big emphasis on developing community and treating each other kindly and with respect. It also is wonderful academically, but that is a whole other story! Good luck in finding a better situation for your child. By the way, financial aid is available. Lori

Undersupervised recess is unacceptable and dangerous. If you decide to stay for the great teachers at your school -- I recommend working with other concerned parents (and a teacher willing to assist in training you) and organize more parents to take shifts to monitor the school yard, equip them with loud whistles and/or perhaps a blow horn. Have teachers in the older grades bestow the honor of yard monitor to responsible students to partner with the parents.

This topic was my greatest concern when I was researching schools for my son. My child now goes to Paden School in Alameda, where bullies are not tolerated. The school embodies/practices an educational ethic called ''Lifelong Guidelines and Lifeskills'' that is integrated into the curriculum. The lifelong guidelines for the faculty and the children: trustworthiness, truthfulness, active listening, no put downs, and personal best. Defined by lifeskills: caring, common sense, cooperation, courage, curiosity, effort, flexibility, friendship, initiative, organization, patience, perseverance, problem-solving, responsibility, and sense of humor.

These core ideals are reflected in the daily interaction at all levels from the principal, the office and support staff, the teachers, the children, and their parents. So there is a feeling of mutual respect and community throughout the school.

This model should not and must not be unique to the schools in Alameda. Since the reach of this network is broad, I would hope that educators/ administrators have a system to reach each other to support and discuss what works. egl

It was a few postings ago, but I am still thinking about the message from the parent of the bullied child at Franklin in Oakland. I would like to recommend ''East Bay Conservation Corps Charter School''. My child (a kindergarten-age boy) will be going there in the fall (unless he gets into another public school that's a lot closer to us, and I want to emphasize that proximity is the only reason we'd not go to EBCCC). EBCCC is in the Oakland district at Alcatraz and San Pablo. No, the neighborhood is not the greatest but the teachers and the principal are incredible. From what little I've seen they are also very conscientious about supervising the playgrounds. First of all there are two separate and distinct playgrounds, one for younger kids, one for older. They are small, which if you want close supervision is a good thing. One day when I arrived unnanounced I found the principal and the teacher circling the older kids' playground-- literally like hawks, on opposite sides, walking around and around making sure everyone was having a good time. We also recently attended a Literacy Night event there and was impressed by the respectful behavior of the older kids. One even took my little boy on a tour of the school. I work with a parent whose child goes to Franklin and he, too, tells me bullying there is a problem. You are NOT the only one. His daughter (who is 7) is getting targeted. PLEASE trust yourself and do NOT let your kid attend one more year in this kind of environment. There are LOTS of other schools out there-- even public ones like EBCCC. I think if you meet the principal you will be impressed. It's not a great neighborhood but the school seems to be doing all the right stuff. And she won't blow you off like the teacher at Franklin. Melinda

I just wanted to follow up on a prior posting in response to your concern about bullying in schools. One person recommended Aurora School as being intollerant of bullying. I've had just the opposite experience during the 4 years my child attended the school. Despite a good job of ''talking the talk'', we found many of the staff, and the to be much too tolerant of bullying and teasing of several children in the school and really ineffective in dealing with issues that came up and completely ineffectual in dealing with bullying and teasing and often seemed to blame parents. The school recently implemented a ''Positive Discipline'' curriculum, but teachers and staff didn't really seem to understand it or have coherent plans to implement it on a day to day basis. It's approach is to do roll playing and things like that if a child is bullied, and not to implement direct consequences that affect the bully. That approach has not really worked in our view. Aurora is a very permissive school-- OK for some kinds of kids, but not a safe environment in our experience. We know too many kids in addition to our own who had real problems there with bullying that was not effectively addressed by the staff. Another Viewpoint


Kindergarten Bully Targeting My Son

Oct 2004


I am seeking advice about how to handle my five year old son being bullied at his private school. Since the first week of school, this bully has hit, kicked, bit, spit at or tried to push my son off of playstructures EVERY SINGLE DAY. I began leaving daily messages for the teacher which led to her and I having a meeting. The outcome was working on getting my son to tell her or another adult when this is happening and verbalizing his hurt to the bully. Yesterday, (six weeks later)I called another meeting, this time with the teacher and other mom. The other mom suggested that her child was being excluded as a cause of his daily physical violence to my son. I do not know whether or not my son and his best friend exclude this bully, but a) even if they do, it is propbably because they don't want to be punched while playing and b) there is no excuse for being hit everyday, period. Today, my child was punched again. Am I expecting to much, or should the school be more agressive in stoping this behavior? Or if not, should I tell my son to punch him back? Any expertise/past experiences or techniques are deeply appreciated. Fed up.

Boy, does your son's situations bring back painful memories. I was bullied almost on a daily basis by two neighborhood boys (and I'm a girl!) for about 5 years I think. They'd pick on me, kick me, and make mean racial remarks at me all the time. The school didn't do squat. I think part of it was that the teachers were overworked and also had a hard time thinking that the ''all american boys next door'' could do something like that unprovoked. Even when it happened in front of them, the school was very ''hands off''.

In our case, speaking with the parents did nothing, if only fanned the flames. My mom was a strong advocate of fighting back, even if I got two kicks, at least I got one back. So I did. But, being a little girl (ages 6-10 I think), it didn't do much damage.

However, here is what DID work (now I warn you, this is playing a little ''dirty'', but desparate times...). My mom has a vicious tongue and can really make someone feel small if she wants to. She normally doesn't use this, because honestly words can hurt more than punches. But I remember one time she was telling me her honest thoughts about the boys and I listened carefully as she made these funny, yet cutting remarks. The next time they bullied me (they'd do it to impress their stupid friends), I ripped into them, unleashing the cutting words of a 40 year old. I've never seen such power before. The boys nearly started crying. They weren't smart enough to think of a comeback and with each mean phrase (no cussing, just pointing out insecurities like one was fat, the other short, etc) I felt less like a victim.

I can honestly say that the bulling stopped from then on. Occassionally there was something, but it was minor and I had my ammo to fight back.

Now, as your son is only in KG, this may be too harsh a remedy. I would suggest another approach is to say that you will sue the school if they do not protect your son. You can document the incidents and probably have a good case against the school and the bully's parents. You can probably get an attorney to draft something for you. With the recent 'zero tolerance' of bullying (esp. with school violence) I think you can go that route too.

HTH, stopped being picked on

What a frustrating situation! I think the bully's mom touched on something -- that something must be causing her son's behavior. I am not suggesting that your son is to blame, but that something is going on with the 'bully' that is causing him to act out. Problems at home? Not adjusting well to kindergarten? The teacher and the parent should be working together to find the root of the problem and help the little boy learn that hitting is not okay and how to express his feelings with words. And, remind your son that he does need to tell a teacher right away if something happens so that they can address the situation. Perhaps explain to your son that this little boy is sad and confused - not mean - and could use a friend. (I hate to think that a 5 yr old is a true bully.) If you feel that you're not getting the appropriate response from the teacher, I'd go to the director of the school -- maybe they need to have more adult supervision on the playground during recess.

I am really interested in seeing the responses to this one! I have a son who's almost 3 and I often wonder what I would do in these circumstances. Without having any experience with this, I think you've tried the right approach so far and should pursue engaging the other parent and school some more. My gut feeling was to tell you to have your son hit him back since talking to the other parent has not worked so far - HOWEVER, we are dealing with little 5 year-olds (who are not totally understanding of social norms). I don't know what your son has said about whether he excludes this child or not. I think the school should be forced to step in and give the other parents some sort of ultimatum to work things out with their kid. At the! same time (I know this sounds really off the wall)if you did not find the other parent to be a vicious barracuda, maybe you could engage her and her son further and arrange a playdate with this other kid (with you supervising of course!) E

Having raised a son and never tolerated his being bullied, this is my advice: DO NOT keep sending your son to school if he is going to be hurt and/or tormented by this other child. Demand that the school act immediately and punitively, i.e. kick that other kid OUT, or get his parents to deal with the problem right away. There is nothing worse than being a small child and be forced to go to school knowing you're going to get beat up. It's so scary! I think the school's approach is okay, except that it isn't working. Obviously the parents are defensive, so stop wasting your time discussing the problem with them. They're probably modeling some kind of behavior at home that their son is acting out on, anyway! Your son needs to know you will protect him, at all costs, and it shouldn't always be his burden to run and tattle everytime that nasty brat hurts him -- someone needs to be looking out for HIM. And I'm sure you're paying a pretty price to have your kid bitten, punched and kicked. Surely the school has some culpability in this, and they need to act fast. If your son continues to have this happen to him, he's not going to be very eager to continue going to school, and in the end result, if this isn't stopped, you'll have a kid with problems that he never deserved.

To be fair, this other child obviously has issues; you don't know what he witnesses at home, and it's sad that he feels he needs to bully others. He's probably lonely and frightened and needs help, not isolation. Unfortunately for him, that is NOT your problem, nor should you and especially your son have to condone his behavior. Also bear in mind that if this problem isn't dealt with, this bully could well grow up and be a larger, more dangerous bully to your son and to others. It needs to stop NOW, and it is the school's responsibility and that boys parents responsibility to do something about it. Your son should not be his punching bag, and it is avoidable! Make the school do their job, or put your son in a different school, and don't put up with this for even one more day. Your child is depending on you. Good luck, I'm outraged on your behalf. heather

I have done a little research last summer on how to deal with bullying and here is what I came up with. Since your child is the one being bullied, he's the one who should come up with a solution with your help. The best thing to do is to have him practice responses with you until he feels confident enough to do it on his own. Since the bullying happens every day he should have a pretty good idea of how it will happen. Body language is very important. Standing straight, looking in the eyes, maybe putting his hand out as a stop sign and then convincingly saying the words he came up with. Tell the teacher about his routine so she can keep an eye on him. Definitely no violence so be involved. good luck

You are right to be concerned. Your child has a right to feel safe at school. The school should not tolerate bullying. This sounds like unusually persistent bullying for this age, though-- does the school doubt that it is happening the way your child says? If it is happening for this long, I assume other adults have observed it. What consequences have followed for the bully?-- Is the bully sent home for the day, or does the bully have any loss of privileges, such as recess or ''free choice'' time, or restrictions on where the bully can play, or extra supervision? If the school does nothing to the bully, over weeks and weeks, it sends your child a message that adults will not help, and safety is not really important to the school. You probably will need to give your child some extra listening time and cuddling time-- keeping in mind that your child should not think that he or she has to report being beaten up to get cuddling and listening time.

This is a time for you to be an active advocate. As a practical matter, can you observe an entire school day, without hovering or intervening, to see what the group dynamics are? (For instance, is the bully part of a group your child wants to play with, or doing the same activity your child wants to do? Is this an issue of unprovoked bullying or an issue of kids not knowing how to resolve disputes?) Can you make an arrangement with an older friend or neighbor child to stick with your child as ''protection''? Can your child stay with a group of his or her own friends for protection? Can your child avoid locations where the bully hangs out? Can your child eat lunch in the classroom or under the eye of a supervising teacher until the bully changes? Is the bully a child with impulse control or special needs who needs closer adult supervision on the play yard? Hitting is two-year-old behavior, but some children have to work harder on controlling their behavior than others. Each situation is different and needs flexible thinking. Best of luck. peg

This is a tuffy but, I have the most solid solution. I've had first hand experience with this situation...and it works!

First, you need to make time to drop by school during recess or outdoor play time. Don't tell your son you're coming and make special arrangements with the teacher. This way, you can watch for yourself how the process begins and ends. If the teacher isn't compliant, then go straight to the principal.

If things go the way you expected, what YOU need to do is to approach the bully and TELL him to stop. Be firm and motherly at the same time. One fair warning is all he needs. Especially since he wasn't expecting you. From that point on, he'll never know if you're waiting in the sidelines. Say something like this: ''Hey, __________, I'm so-and-so's mom, and he tells me that you've been hitting and punching him. Is this true? Because I talked to your mom and she told me that if you hit my son again that she and I will have to have a BIG talk. So, i'm telling you RIGHT NOW, don't EVER hit MY kid again.''

Even though you had a talk already with his mom, it shouldn't matter. It just means that you will actually have to have yet another BIG talk with his mom. Also, just so this isn't completely bias, try to weasle some info out of your son first as to whether or not he's instigating these situations, by himself or with a companion. There could be some things he's not telling you. Like the mean things he says or verbal teasing.

That 'bully' could also be defending himself the only way he knows how. tinygirl_oak

Your child should not be hit in school every day. You are not expecting too much to ask for action from the school, which has known about the problem for weeks now. Since you have met with the teacher twice now, without results, it is time to go to the principal. But no, don't tell your child to hit back. I am sure this is against the school policies, and may just escalate the problem. another kindergarten parent


Abusive 2nd grader

My daughter is 7 (a second grader). Lately I found out she is having a very negative relationship with one of her classmate. Heartbreaking to find out my daughter has been called as a loser for this whole school year, and she often gets threatened to give away her snack and lunch goodies. Her classmate threatened her by shouting very loud into her ears. My daughter describes her ears popped as when we drive up the hills. She was asking me how to escape from her classmate during her recess and lunch time. I had a successful conference with my daughter's teacher yesterday. We will all work on the problems and my daughter's social skills.


After we got home yesterday, my daughter and I did a lot of talking. I asked her to tell me everything which is bothering her at school. She started to cry hysterically. She said it is too gross to tell, then she tried to write instead. This same classmate is giving my daughter information about sex. This includes this girl wants to have sex with an eight year old classmate, and she reports her mother's sex life... My daughter said she made her promise not to tell, and she is afraid now something bad will happen to her. This is an ordeal for me, I am conservative and from East Asia. My husband thinks this is common in this culture. My daughter is the youngest at her grade, she was exposed to this unpleasant experiences when she was only 6. I can't describe my deep pain and I feel very sorry to my daughter. I do not know what to do about this, shall I talk to the teacher on this issue? Shall I talk to her friend's mom (I only met her once on the first day of school last Fall)? Am I over reacting?

No, you are not overreacting! The other child's behavior is utterly unacceptable and beyond normal childhood teasing. It sounds as if the other child has some serious problems which she is taking out on your daughter. Yes, you should talk with the teacher, both so that the teacher can protect your daughter and get help for the other child. In terms of helping your daughter, keep listening to her and tell her you are going to do something about it, she is not bad, and it is not her fault. I would seek out a compassionate counselor or therapist, preferably one familiar with your culture so that your entire family can feel understood. This has been a traumatic experience for all of you. I hope others will respond with specific referrals for you.

Dear parent of 7 year old daughter: I sympathize with you and your family during this grotesque ordeal. This is however an opportunity for you to show unrelenting support and strength to your daughter. I think the abusive child need counseling and she can't get it unless perhaps the parents are aware of what is happening. Perhaps you approach the teacher and principal first, and then have a meeting 3-way with the other parents. If you approach the parents as wanting to help their child and not necessarily wanting to punish her, the parents will be less defensive and more apt to be open to suggestions such as counseling for the child. I think the parents as well as the abusive child need counseling together. Good luck to you... I empathize with your daughter's pain. 6 or 7 is way to young to be exposed to sexual discussions. I know of a close friend who is traumatized to this day because he was exposed to explicit sexual books/games/theater when he was under 10 years old. Your daughter is lucky to have a concerned and perceptive mother like you who has caught this early.

To the mother of the child who was being abused by her schoolmate: You are not overreacting. Go to the teacher and tell her what you wrote, emphasizing your daughter's fears about being found out having told you about the sexual matters. No child should have to deal with this kind of thing. The classmate sounds disturbed and this should be brought to the school's and her parents' attention. Do not try to work it out with the other parent. That's the school's job.

This is a serious enough matter that you could tell the teacher you want a joint conference with her and the principal. If you aren't satisfied that they have taken effective steps to protect your daughter, ask them to guarantee that she and this other child will be in different classes next fall. You may have to consider changing schools if you don't feel confident that your daughter's current school is taking this seriously and will protect her.

Taking strong and effective steps to protect your daughter from this abuse will probably reassure her that you will keep her safe, and this experience will become less disturbing to her. However, you might consider counseling for her if, over the summer, she seems anxious or troubled.

I'm sorry this happened to your daughter. Abuse this severe by a schoolmate is not common, although it does happen occasionally. You are doing the right things, and that, in itself, will help your daughter deal with it. Louise

As someone who's worked as a school psychologist, here's my two cents: When I read about this girl who is tormenting your daughter, I see warning signs that she may have been a victim of sexual abuse or at least exposed to information inappropriate for someone her age. You might consider consulting with the school's psychologist (he or she may only work at the school a few hours or days a week) about the situation. He or she may feel it's warranted to investigate this girl's sexualized behavior and aggression a little further to rule out sexual abuse. At the very least, the psychologist may be able to give you some suggestions for how you might help your daughter cope with what's been going on. Given what you described, I am surprised the teacher felt the problem was simply with your daughter's social skills. Am I understanding correctly? Is this teacher aware of the aggression and bullying the other girl is displaying? I tend to side with you and not your husband. I think this girl's behavior is not normal and is probably an indication that she is angry about something and feels very badly about herself. As for talking to her mother, what would you hope for? I doubt that the mother would be able to quickly and simply put an end to the daughter's behavior. If your goal would be to alert the mother, then I'd say it's a fine idea to talk to her, but be prepared for her to get defensive and possibly very angry with you. But again, I wonder why the teacher hasn't called home about the girl's behavior already when it sounds so blatantly disruptive. For many reasons, sometimes children do tell stories, so you might want to make sure what your daughter says is going on is really accurate. If you talk to the teacher, I would work with her on ways to get your daughter to tell her when the girl is bothering her rather than suffering with it by herself. Most importantly, I don't think you are overreacting.

It is good that you helped your daughter to open up to you about the things going on at school that are bothering her. Most definitely talk to your daughter's teacher, and tell the teacher everything your daughter has told you since the last conference. Teachers are required by law to report any suspicions of child abuse, and it sounds like the classmate may be in an abusive situation in her life outside of school. Let the teacher, as a professional, handle this situation. Insist that the school protect your daughter from this other child. Teachers and schools must protect children or they can be subject to law suits. Reassure your child that she did the right thing by telling you about this situation, and that you are there to listen to and protect her. Ask the teacher's advice on what more you can do, as a parent, to help your daughter. Unfortunately, sexual abuse happens in all societies. Some societies hide it better than others, but it is a prevalent problem world-wide. Best wishes and good job. You are doing the right thing and you are a perceptive mother. Kim

To the parent whose 8 year old daughter is being harrassed by a fellow classmate--no, you are not overreacting. I would go to the teacher immediately and report what your daughter told you about the girl wanting to be sexual with another kid, talking about her mom's sex life, etc. In addition to protecting your own daughter, this other child might need protection also. Any 8 year old who is talking this explicitly and inappropriately about sex is troubled; very possibly something is going on in her home life, including some form of sexual abuse. The teacher needs to know all this and make some decisions on how to proceed. I *would not* go to the child's mother, as she may become defensive, or may be in some way contributing to her child's problems.

If I were you I would also go to the school principal and discuss how the issue of respect is handled at the school, as well as talk about yard supervision issues. Are there enough teachers out in the yard during recess and lunch? Obviously they can't catch everything, but their presence in larger versus smalller numbers makes it less likely for kids to act out. Also, request that your daughter and the other girl be placed in different classes next year.

I don't know if you or your husband have time to hang out or volunteer at the school, or if there's a way to seek out the help of the PTA to organize more volunteers in the school yard and bathrooms. Increased parental presence is helpful and most schools really appreciate it.

How wonderful that your daughter trusted you enough to confide in you. Good luck with all this.

I felt sick reading your description of what has happened to your daughter. This is not accetable behavior in any culture. There should be absolutely zero tolerance for this behavior at your daughter's school.

Yes, talk with your daughter's teacher. She must know what is happening. The teacher must talk with this other girl's mother. If the teacher is unresponsive (though I doubt he/she will be), then go to the principal.

Threats from the other girl should not prevent you from ending your daughter's abuse. The school is responsible for ensuring that your daughter is safe and free from fear. If they cannot ensure that, I would look to transfer your child.

My heart goes out to you. This is a pain that no one should have to endure. Linda

My daughter, now 10, is also the lowest on the pecking order in her 4th grade class. She also gets called names and is the brunt of jokes, though this has never progressed to outright violence as in your case. Her father and I (both raised in different Western countries) were both teased as children, and it is agonizing for us to watch her struggle with the same issues.

First and foremost, however, I urge you to question the teacher's approach. Working with your daughter to improve her social skills gives your daughter the message that SHE is at fault. Even if it works --which in my personal experience it does not-- what message does this send her, and what damage will it do long term? I would try instead to find for her and support relationships in which others accept and like her for what she is (we're moving schools and looking for new out-of-school activities to widen her circle of potential friends).

Secondly, please consider approaching the principal of your school about the safety of your daughter and others at her school. It is highly unlikely that your daughter and the harasser are the only ones being impacted. It will also show your daughter that you support her --the most positive moment in our daughter's situation came when we broke a lifetime's conditioning and told her her teacher had made a mistake.

The sexual content of the harassment is a new one for me too, and it has also come up with my daughter. She is the smallest in a class where the largest girls are already starting to develop. I'm very grateful that she had already had a facts-of-life talk with me. But perhaps this is another global issue best discussed with the school principal.

Good luck. And never miss an opportunity to tell your daughter how wonderful she is! Chris

You should definitely talk to the teacher and possibly the school principal. The teacher needs to know this is going on to protect your child and to help the other child, who may be being sexually abused. This is not normal in the USA, and is not considered ok behavior for children that age. Depending on the exact behavior/harassment, it may be illegal as well. Your daughter will greatly benefit from your concern, and all of the children in her class will benefit from your bringing it up with the teacher.

To the mother of the child being harrassed at school... This situation sounds horrible and I feel so sorry for you and your daughter. What is really horrifying is that this has been going on at school and no adult seems to have noticed it. Why are children talking about such things and acting in such a horrible way? Please tell your husband that this is NOT normal in our culture and it is totally unacceptable. I have been a teacher, my aunt is a teacher, my sister in law is a teacher and a very close friend is a teacher. I have never heard any stories like this and my friend teaches in a very rough part of Los Angeles. Schools that tolerate this are not good schools.

My first impulse would be to remove my child immediately. Although you may find it initially helpful to talk to the teacher and the other parents, this kind of behavior is typically entrenched in an individual school. You will not change their oversight policy and standards overnight and by the time you have any impact at all, it will be too late for your daughter. Also, you will probably find that this will make you very unpopular. Parents don't like to think of their kids as troublemakers and will most likely blame you for being a nosy mother.

Find a better school. Pay for it. Drive her there. Meet ahead of time with the teachers. Sit in on a class and observe at recess. This is the least we can do for our children. Good luck to you.

Your husband is mistaken--the behavior you describe is not culturally acceptable in the U.S. in any school, public or private. Whether to contact the child's parents depends on whether you think they are likely to take effective action to stop the problem. Frankly, I doubt that will happen; this child is seriously out of control and her home life sounds problematic at best.

You must speak to the principal of the school immediately and demand that this be stopped. No principal I've seen in the Berkeley schools would tolerate it. The sexual comments could well be construed as sexual harassment which is prohibited by state and federal law as well as BUSD policy. The other behavior is scary and threatening to your child and also intolerable. DO NOT stop with the conversation with the teacher you've already had. Put the administration on notice and insist that positive, tangible action be taken. You will be doing your child and all of her classmates a great favor. Timothy

In regards to the mother who's daughter revealed to her that a playmate was telling her daughter about sexual things. No this is not the way things are done in this country. This playmate is in danger and you should run not walk to the school authorities and report exactly what this child has said. She is being sexualized at a very young age and in an inappropriate matter. This is NOT appropriate behavior in this country or ANY country for a grade school child. She is possibly observing some type of sexual behavior in her personal life or perhaps being taken advantage of herself. As a trained rape crisis counselor and certified child abuse reporter I am extremely concerned about this classmate!

Now on a calmer note, how upsetting for both you and your daughter. Depending on your cultural beliefs now that the cat is out of the bag so to speak it would be important for you to have a calm conversation with your child about sex and reassuring her that although it is not for children that things of a sexual nature are not gross. She will likely have many questions and concerns over time. I wish I had a better response regarding playground picking in general or name calling although I do know that the papers had reported that Berkeley School District passed a rule that any bullying had to be dealt with through a series of meetings with the bully and parents which included some sensitivity training about how the other person might feel and what the child was hoping to accomplish through the name calling and bullying (sometimes it is as simple as wanting to be noticed or included), but the child needs to be guided into the realization of the reasons for her actions and their effects on others.

Personally prior to this new rule I had such a terrible problem with my children (including my son being propositioned on the plalyground by a girl) that I chose to home school my children. The funny thing is that people always worry that they aren't being socialized. Who needs socialization like that?!!!!

I'd like to address this question as a KIDPOWER instructor, but please realize that this venue is limited and the information regarding personal safety and bullies is extensive. Please contact me directly if you would like more information.

First of all, give yourself a pat on the back for noticing something wrong and for asking your child for information in a way that gave her the opportunity to tell you a lot of really tough things. Your own feelings about her experiences make a lot of sense; our child's pain causes us pain. When they tell us difficult things, though, and SEE that it causes us pain, everything gets even more painful because they don't want to hurt us. As the years go by, children who discover that their life experiences are actually traumatic for their parents will actually STOP TELLING adults about problems because they don't want to hurt them. It sounds like you have other supportive adults to share your upset feelings with, and I hope you're able to make time to do that with them so that you are in the best position to help your daughter.

So, of course your child needs validation that this behavior is all unacceptable, and of course she needs you to show that you care -- DEEPLY -- about her well-being. What she really needs, though, is your support in dealing with this situation. She needs your support, your insight, and your coaching. She needs ideas and a safe place to practice those ideas with people she trusts (like her parents, in her home). She needs to feel that you believe in her ability to take charge and that you will back her up if she ever embarasses, inconveniences, or offends ANYONE in her legitimate efforts to protect her safety. Take charge, by the way, does not mean stop or win. It literally means taking action instead of waiting for someone else to start and finish whatever uncomfortable or hurtful thing they're doing.

Children appreciate knowing that there are some things they CAN'T do, and they appreciate adults recognizing these truths -- which, by the way, are true regardless of our culture or political leanings: 1. There are people in your class/school/neighborhood who do things we don't like. 2. We cannot make those people disappear. 3. Bullies, for lack of a better word, have problems that make them unhappy, and they feel a little bit less unhappy when they bully. We cannot solve the bully's problems. 4. While we cannot control what other people say or do, we CAN control how we react to them.

Your daughter does not have control over what this other child says. However, she CAN take charge of her reaction to hurtful or upsetting words. We teach children the garbage can which is impossible to convey accurately here but is a skill that helps them recognize hurtful words for what they are and how to keep themselves from being hurt by them. You may have some other good ideas to build her skill in that area.

A bully wants someone to react. Sometimes they want someone who will cry; sometimes they want a fight; sometimes they want someone to feel scared of them. If you can get more information from outside sources as to what the bullying child is getting from your daughter (i.e. tears, expressions of shock) then you will be even more prepared to help your daughter take charge of her responses.

Regarding the made me promise not to tell part: This is actually quite stressful for children, and much of that stress can be reduced with basic family rules on boundaries. Our third boundary principle is Nothing that bothers me should ever have to be a secret. In addition, we even teach children that lying can be a great choice there: I won't tell IF you stop. (By the way, a person at this point in boundary setting has already been pushed REALLY far; boundary setting skills are powerful beginning far before this point). For your daughter, try going back to her and telling her THAT SHE HANDLED A DIFFICULT SITUATION REALLY WELL by promising not to tell, and then telling. That can help build her belief in her ability to take charge of situations that affect her safety or emotional well-being.

Yes, honesty and keeping promises are important. However, our children are safest when they know that their safety is more important than anyone's embarassment, inconvenience, or offense, and that it's OK to lie or break a promise when it's about their safety AS LONG AS they go to an adult as soon as they can and tell/get help.

As I mentioned before, the body of information on this topic is quite large, and I cannot hope to do it justice here. However, I hope these idea fragments will give you a chance to see this difficult situation from a perspective you might not have tried yet. Keep in mind that your daughter will, quite likely, NOT try anything she is TOLD to do; children in a situation where they need to make choices that affect their emotional or physical safety are more likely to do not what they have been told but what they have PRACTICED. Please consider signing her up for an age-appropriate self protection class like the ones we teach at KIDPOWER

Obviously, during all of this, there's the adult/school element: Most importantly is the issue of the other child's sexually explicit language and/or behavior. Any time children are using sexually explicit language or behavior, there's a risk of abuse, either that the individual acting out is being abused or that the individual is abusing other kids. When adults see or hear about this behavior, it's crucial that they inform the appropriate school personnel so that the school or counselors can check it out in further detail. Also at the adult/school level: Is bullying taken seriously? When children report problems, do they see concrete, effective action that addresses their problems? What proactive steps are adults taking to maintain/preserve physical and emotional safety? Your daughter, facing this child daily, cannot wait for this problem to be solved on a systematic level, which is why the individual-level skills are crucial.

You sound like a loving, involved mom. You HAVE the power to help your daughter with this, and you CAN take steps to help your daughter keep herself safe. YOU CAN DO IT!!

Sincerely, Erika Leonard Holmes, East Bay Program Coordinator http://www.kidpower.org

Your daughter's classmate is disturbed. This is NOT common in this culture, and it is not acceptable behavior. I urge you to get your daughter into counseling for this abuse (possibly the whole family, as such counseling often works better with everyone present), so she can see it is not her fault, that she didn't deserve it for being a loser or whatever other nonsense they are leveling at her. Definitely report the behavior to the school (the shouting constitutes physical abuse), and talk to the parent of the other girl (who clearly needs counseling as well). This is not OK, and you are not overreacting. Good luck. Dawn


First-grade girls teasing

Our first grade daughter is caught in a girl triangle. Her best friend has her own best friend, all of whom are in the same class. This girl teases my daughter so hard it borders on torment. The teasing girl is constantly putting down and excluding my daughter from play. Some of this I have heard and seen myself, others I get second hand. Today my daughter told me that the teasing girl was trying to convince her friend not to come to a Holloween party at our house to which they have both been invited and (my daughter reported that) she said something to the effect, I wish that we could kill her (my daughter). Well, if that didn't just ignite my maternal instict! I am not sure what to do. The teasing girl's mother is often scolding her for not being nice, so I am afraid that if I go to her, she might yell at her daughter who would then take it out on my daughter all over again. My daughter often goes to bed in tears telling me about what happened on the playground. Up until now, we have focused on how she can cope with this teasing, but I am feeling like it is getting more intense. Does anyone out there have any word of advice on dealing with girl bullys or a teasing triangle?


Have you talked with the mother of the girl in the middle? Perhaps involving her might help the situation. Her child may be feeling very uncomfortable with all this, and may be looking for strategies to deal with it. My son was in the middle of a triangle like this in 1st grade--child A trying to get him to cut off a friendship with child B, for whom my son was one of his only friends. Child B responding by telling my son he wanted him on his gang and that he had to choose. Even though child A really started the problems, child B turned out to be the bigger problem for my child. I turned to school resources--first the school's parttime counselor, who was pretty worthless for this situation, and then his first grade teacher, who had them talk it out in her talking-it-over chairs. (Child B was in a different class, so the teacher hadn't observed any of this. I sent her a description of the conversations, as reported by my son, at which point she took action--it was successful). What you describe sounds pretty extreme. I wouldn't hesitate to talk with the teacher or with the mom of the one in the middle. It was only 2 years later that I discovered that child A's mom knew nothing about the whole situation--had never heard of child B! I probably should have talked to her at the time, but didn't want to sound like I was criticizing her child (and my son was STRONGLY opposed to this). Child B's parents didn't speak English, so that wasn't an option for me to consider.

Regarding the girl who was being teased by her best friend and her friend. Since this is occurring at school, the mother can request a conference with the teacher (or just talk to her informally after school) and tell the teacher what's going on. It is the school's responsibility to address this situation, and they should take it seriously, especially since one of the girls talked about killing the other girl. She doesn't mean it literally, but it is the sort of thing that children need to learn they cannot say. If the mother doesn't get help from the teacher, she should go to the principal.

Your daughter needs to find another best friend! This would not be happening if your daughter's best friend was not open to it or even actively encouraging it by playing the girls off against each other. It's really hard to see your child suffer, but they really need to learn the skills to deal with these situations. Maybe this girl will never be her friend. Maybe she doesn't want to be her friend. Maybe she's not a very nice girl.

My son was in a situation where he and his best friend were very close and another child was jealous of the relationship and kept trying to be a part of the group. The other child's mother had talks with the teacher and each of our children trying to force them to play with her son instead of trying to find out why they didn't want to (there were some very legitimate reasons). The teacher also talked with our children and asked them to include this boy. I tell you, the situation went from no so good to really bad. I have always taught my son that I would not choose his friends and suddenly several people were trying to choose his friends for him (in a very different way than I had expected) and both children resented this. The 'excluded' boy saw that 'telling' got his mother and the teacher involved and used it extensively, or at least the threat to tell, to get the children to do what he wanted them to do. This did not win him any friendships and he found himself very quickly isolated in his class. After reproaching my son for alleged (and witnessed by me) teasing the boy I found out from his friends that my son had been reapeatedly teased by this boy first. So I guess what I'm trying to say is, be careful of your interference. Much as it hurts to see your child suffer (as this boy I'm talking about genuinely suffered), theirs is rarely the whole story.

I think our children need to grow up understanding and accepting that not everybody will like them and that's ok, and that they will not be invited to every birthday party and that's ok, nothing to feel bad about. Good luck with your daughter.

Ask the teacher to intervine. She could do any of the following:
* Talk with the three girls involved;
* Have a general discussion with the class about issues of including others;
* Help your daughter to foster friendships with other children.

I would also encourage you to help your daughter make other friends, as this group is mostly able to get under her skin because she cares so much about them and it is obvious that she does. I wasn't clear which girl was doing the most teasing. Would it be any help to talk to the parents of the other girl?


6-year-old daughter being bullied at school

Nov 2002


I need help with this asap please! My daughter (6 yrs) and 'gifted'--has been put in a mixed class of 1st and 2nd graders which was fine until a 2nd grader she liked started to bully her and treat her very badly. My daughter is as big/tall competent as 2nd graders and can read at a 3rd grad level. The 2nd grader in question, a girl, doesn't like being with 1st graders and she is making my daughter suffer for it. She has knocked her off the monkey bars in the air, whispered with bigger kids in front of her at recess and said ''i wish i could knock her off. '' (She daren't as I told never to do it again.) However, when I mentioned it to the teacher, she merely said, ''sounds like they need to work on their relationship.'' And that was the end of the discussion. We only found out this weekend how much more has been going on and our daughter did not want to get out of bed on Saturday. She has become extremely agitated and despondent and we are very concerned. The 2nd grader looks away from her whenever she says hello, and she pulls her pencil from her hand everyday. Our daughter is very social but this situation is compomising her confidence and ability to socialize with other new kids she's meeting. While sitting next to this 2nd grader in class, she is being completely ignored and given sullen looks if looked at at all. The 2nd grader talks with the other kids at the table. Our daughter is a gentle an diplomatic soul who has never hurt anyone. How can we handle this professionally? And how can we get this unhappy 2nd grader to change her behaviour? ?This is having a profound effect on our daughter, and she suddenly can't hold up the strong front anymore. Her sibling who has the same name as the 2nd grader is now suffering as a result as her older sister has become so unhappy.

A really great book on the subject of girl bullying and social aggression is called Odd Girl Out (I can't remember the author, but it's at Amazon.) I actually haven't been able to finish it because it is really difficult to read when you have a girl (I was getting too depressed). It addresses the issue of how corrosive that kind of behavior can be to girls, and talks about why that kind of social aggression exists and is so different in girls relationships with each other, as opposed to boys, and some ways to deal with it. Good luck, this is the hardest part of being a parent. Another mom

In addition to the advice in the archives, I would just add that it may be helpful to check the library for age-appropriate children's books on bullying. good luck

My heart really hurt when I read about your daughter being bullied. If this were my daughter, and I do have a daughter, I would write what amounts to a ''demand'' letter to the school principal--CCing it to the teacher and an attorney (even a fictitious attorney's name will serve). In the letter, I would outline the problem and guide! the powers-that-be about what you want done about it, immediately! I would say that the bullying has become intolerable, eroding your child's self-esteem/performance, etc. and you expect a meeting with the principal, teacher, and the child's parent(s) by a specified date. I would also mention that while you would like this to be resolved on a ''local'', non-legal level, you will not hesitate to invoke legal counsel if the school does not address this satisfactorily. You might remind the school that if an adult were bullying another adult this would be downright illegal and things like restraining orders would be instituted. Regarding involving an attorney: you would be amazed what a letter on letterhead stationary from an attorney can accomplish. Amazed. Finally, if you have to pay an attorney you can likely get your legal fees (an hour of consultation time/an hour of drafting and sending the letter) back in small claims court. If you get to the intersection of an attorney's letter, be sure to have a copy sent to the school district as well. Maybe my suggestion feels drastic, but my instinct is to do whatever will alleviate your child's sufferi Zero Tolerance for Bullying

My 7 year old boy has had to deal with some similar issues since Kindergarten. While his situations are more about teasing from multiple other children, I have learned some things. This type of situation involves a three-prong solution - you, your daughter and the school. No first grader should have to solve this situation on her own. While their are techniques to teach your daughter - humor, ignore, get help from peers - currently, in my opinion, she should be taught to ask for help and, possibly, to avoid the other girl. I tell my son that it is not tattling but really asking for assistance in the situation, something he had been reluctant to do in the past - I've even related it to how we as adults enlist others to help us with our goals. The school/teachers need to be available to help her, but, also talk to and/or discipline the other girl, seat your daughter away from the bully, watch closely when the two are interacting, etc. One other thing that we have done, once, is invite the child that my son was having most difficulty with to a supervised playdate - it seemed to help somewhat. It certainly didn't make anything worse. I try to remind myself that at this age all the children are trying to find their place, etc. These are just some ideas, I hope it helps. You might want to look at the book ''What to do when kids are mean to your child'' by Elin McCoy. ellen

My heart goes out to you. It is very hard to watch a child going through friend or peer abuse. I agree with many of the previous comments including reading the book ''Odd Girl Out'' by Rachel Simmons. As depressing as it may be, the author theorizes why girl bullying/teasing/cliques happen and why schools and parents are reluctant to get involved. For example,it is not unusual that the the aggressor child is a nice kid - could just be learned behavior from previously being the recipient or just is someone going through hard times. It was also enlightening to find that this situation happens to many girls (either as the aggressor, recipient or both) at some point(s) in their life starting as young as 7. Unfortunately, it can be a long road to a solution. In my daughter's situation, her teacher was useless, it took months to understand the problem and then too many more months to get her public school to recognize the issues and get involved. By then, the school year was almost over and the school did not want to invest much time or resources to find a solution. What did help was getting my daughter's former teachers and school aide involved. They either helped by getting the staff to listen, or talking with the girls (individually or with my daughter). Unfortunately, it was further complicated by the fact that some of adults/parents thought its just something that all girls do and your child just has to learn to handle it. Talking to parents was unproductive because they either felt threatened or were in denial. Now with that said, there are things which eventually helped. Your first step should be to talk to the teacher. If that teacher is reluctant (as in our case), enlist help from your daughter's 1st and K teachers. You could also request a Student Study Team assessment from the school to come up with strategies. If the bullying happens outside of the class, enlist help from those teachers/aides who monitor recess and lunch. Also, encourage your child to enlarge her circle of friends by getting her involved in Sports or other after-school classes (either on or off campus)that have group projects. Personally, I feel that parents should be putting pressure on schools to form ongoing friendship groups or conflict resolution groups that are assisted by trained counsellors (but that's another discussion). Lastly, there are counselors, although not many, that work with girls to give them strategies to deal with bullying. In my daughter's situation, we used many of the above suggestions and after a year she worked through the problem. What also helped was moving my daughter to a school that believes children need to learn to treat each other with respect as well as learning academics. Good luck and hang in there!!! annonymous

If you can stand one more response to the question of girl bullying at school, and what to do, I would like to add a bit of insight gleaned from our experience.

My daughter was singled out for some totally unacceptable treatment (shunning) by the ringleader of her childhood friends in the fourth grade at our former Berkeley public elementary school. The teacher was very skillful at addressing social issues, and spent time working with the kids involved. The ringleader then turned her attention to being rude to the teacher. The principal got involved. Before the semester was over, the superintendent had removed the perpetrator from our school and reassigned her. That seemed to be the only thing that would work. The bully didn't attend school for the rest of the year, and her parents threatened the BUSD with a racial discrimination lawsuit, so the superintendent at that time re-enrolled the bully at our school. Lots of parents got phone calls from the (new) principal about this, but surprisingly, we did not. I learned about this reassignment from a friend the week before school started. I began calling other schools, and found a wonderful independent school where there is a culture of kindness and respect and certainly nothing along the lines of what our daughter experienced would be accepted for a nanosecond. I heard that at the beginning of this year, the old cohort of bully and her friends had started a ''Hate Club'' at their middle school. I feel very sorry for those poor, unfortunate children.

Sometimes you can help to change the kids who are causing damange in our children's lives, and sometimes you can't. If you find you can't, I think the best thing to do is to find an environment where your child *is* treated well, with the respect and appreciation every child deserves. To ignore the abuse sends a message to your child that it doesn't matter how they're being treated, or that it can't be helped. Best of luck to you. This problem does seem to be fairly pervasive, but it's one we should address diligently. Sign me a much happier anonymous mom


Self Esteem Damaged by School Bully

Help! Over the last few weeks I have discovered that my son has been routinely harassed by a group of boys (lead primarily by one kid) at school. He is in a very small, mixed age classroom, environment. The alpha-male of the class is two years older than my son and whenever the teacher is not looking insults my child. He has made up a nickname that refers to my son's penis and masturbation. All the older boys follow this kid's lead, refer to him by that name and target him for all sorts of other put-downs. Even his friends in class support the bully, I think in order to protect themselves from becoming a target of the bully and the older boys. Even out of school, most of the other kids no longer want to play with my boy. He has become a liability as a playmate. My son had been a pretty well adjusted kid, with a good sense of self esteem. Since school began his behavior at home and at school has greatly deteriorated and he has become hostile and defiant. His posture has changed dramatically and he is beginning to develop a negative body image. He reacts angrily to the kids at school when they demean him and this seems to only empower the bullies even more.


When brought to the attention of his teacher, she was shocked that any of this activity was going on in her classroom. When we identified the top bully she was even more shocked and replied but he is the sweetest boy in the class.

I will meet with the head of school next week and fill her in on what is going on. I will continue to monitor and discuss the issue with his teacher now she has become aware of the situation. I have tried to help my son find words that he can use to disarm the bullies, and to help him understand that by showing anger, he rewards their behavior.

My questions are--Should I have a meeting with the bully's parents to inform them of their son's behavior? Should I meet directly with the bully, inform him that I, his teachers, and the head of school know what is going on and find his behavior totally unacceptable? Or, should I let the head of school take charge of the situation? (I don't think his teacher can repair things at this point.) What steps can be taken to alter a bully's behavior?

Most importantly--What can parents do to repair his sense of self worth? Since his peers have defined him as the class dweeb, how can I, or his dad help him recover? My heart is breaking to see my son suffer like this.

My son too has struggled with this situation, although in an environment where the teachers and parents seem more plugged into the situation. One suggestion that has helped us is to set up outside play dates with kids involved in the situation, which could even include the bully. Sometimes this helps the kids to develop stronger bonds and new ways of interacting while not under the social pressure of the school environment. Unfortunately, my son' s best friend started siding with the bully. We found that talking with the friend and his mom, and having a playdate, made him more aware of this and helped him to stop always siding with the bully. I've also tried to develop more communication with my son's teachers, although it's hard to keep my own feelings of protection for my son out of those interactions and to keep an open mind. When you talk with other adults involved, sometimes you learn things that you don't expect. One thing I learned from talking with my son's teacher, after having alerted her to my concerns, is that my son was teasing and taunting the bully as a strategy of rekindling his own power in the situation. We then had to work with my son to learn how to stand up for himself without picking fights (he's only 6 and these are pretty sophisticated social skills). I also wanted to note that, two months ago, Mothering magazine did a whole series of articles on bullying. They give a reading list of books on the subject. It's definately a problem that is endemic and needs to be addressed by parents in cooperation with teachers and schools. Good luck.

I am a teacher in an elementary school and you should godirectly to the principal and have the teacher also attend and the boys parents. Your school should have a zero tolerance for any bullying or inflammatory name calling. This bully could be a victim of bullying or abuse at home, as they usually are. If the school does not conform to a zero tolerance policy, remove your son! There are schools that have zero tolence policy. The school I work at in SF has that policy and all staff and students must adhere to it. Explain to your son that this boy has a problem with himself and feels a success in being a bully and that your son is not at fault. After themeeting with the principal and all adults involved request that a school counselor take on getting your son and the bully together away from all others to get to know eachother and why this is happening. Yes, the bully and any accomplises need to be punished. If I was the teacher I would address it immidiatley and stop it in its tracks. I take this kind of thing vewry seriously and you should too.....as you are. Remmeber, you are the main advocate in your sons life, keep doing a great job!

I would definitely contact the bully's parents. Though my children are both too small for school, I vividly recall when I was in school and a kid led a group of kids in calling me a kind of racial slur nickname. One phone call to the kid's parents and he stopped right away, and even gave an obviously coerced apology. I think that unless the bully's parents are absolute monsters that they would immediately act to modify their child's behavior. I would certainly want to know if my kid were acting in such an anti-social way.

Just be sure to approach them in a cooperative way, setting aside your (well justified) anger at their kid. I would also express a request that the parents not let the bully child know specifically that they are acting pursuant to a call from you, so as not to give the bully more information than he needs. If this fails (parents unsupportive), to be perfectly honest, I would probably tell the parents something to the effect of: I always try to resolve problems informally and being a cooperative person myself, I consider litigation an absolute last resort. But I do see your child's behavior as a threat to the well-being of mine and I see it as my duty to my son to protect him. I am sure you also feel the same way about your son. I would hate to have to take legal steps to have your son removed from school or to get all of us involved in costly, wasteful litigation over this matter. Please help me avoid this by working with me in modifying your child's behavior. My heart goes out to you and I wish you good luck.

I really sympathize with you over this, as my daughter had a couple of years struggling with being bullied. In some ways with boys it's easier because it's more overt - but teachers do very often miss what's going on. It is important to hit hard and fast - because your child is already demoralised and it makes it worse if there's no success when you (the Great Parent) step into the situation. The teacher sounds hopeless. The principal may be better.

I think you should MAKE SURE the parents of the bully are told what's going on - and possibly the parents of some of the children who are going along with it. A good friend of mine discovered only after six months (because the teacher never told her) that another child was living in misery because of her son, who was acting as an acolyte to another kid, his only friend. She was devastated that this had been happening and she didn't know. Kids reasons for going along are pretty varied, with size being a big issue. Of course, I found it hard to talk to the parents of my daughter's bullies precisely because they were friends that I knew well, it was hard to bring into a friendly conversation ...and your child has been making my child's life a misery...in the end it was sorted out by a teacher and a change of school principal, and I had also worked with my daughter on defense tactics that have helped her become a confident twelve year old.

I didn't have her change school or class because I liked the school in other ways, and thought we would get through it (which was a slow method). It's an option worth considering for your child, though. In retrospect I might have done some sort of move, but things went up and down over the months and at key moments I thought things were improving. I also didn't move her because I'd had some bullying experience, and found moving to a new school didn't help me get over it, really, even though the new school was better. I actually think my daughter is stronger from having got through the situation completely and on the last day at that school (three years after the bullying had stopped) one of the girls involved fell on her neck, sobbing and saying I'm so sorry for all the times I was mean to you which I think was an important experience for both of them.

Part of the process, for me, was getting together with some other parents, teachers, and the new school principal, to set up a better process for dealing with bullying at the school - it will always exist (very bad sign if teachers claim it doesn't) but it can be controlled and kids (both bullies and bullied) can learn other ways of behaving. There are lots of books on the subject, but I found some of the most useful material for prevention programs was in emotional education sources - teaching kids to recognize one another's emotions, being aware of the consequences of what they do, being able to resist peer pressure etc. Basically, any school that doesn't have an effective control and a prevention program will have uncontrolled bullying, and a proportion of the kids there will be suffering the same misery your son has been. So it's something that all parents should be promoting, not just the relations of known victims.

Incidentally, one of the most troublesome kids in my younger child's class was an angelic looking child. I always had difficulty believing such a sweet-looking kid could do the things I knew he did do. It seems like we all have stereotypes for things, including bullies.

I do hope that the school can be enlisted to put an end to the bullying. Perhaps the Parents Association can pressure the school to start a Bullying Awareness program. This would ensure that the harmfullness of this sort of behavior is made apparent, and that episodes of bullying or excessive teasing will be immediately reported.

As a counselor I often see the long-term damage of teasing and bullying in adults in adults with severely compromised self esteem. So, I suggest that your son get some help,even if the bullying is brought to an end.

The techniques that I use to undo the damage of bullying and teasing are Hypnotherapy, EFT and Experiential Art. EFT is a method of tapping on acupoints while the child and/or parent tunes into the problem. This rebalances the energy system and the negative emotions fall away. Kids like to tap on their body buttons, and it's not necessary for them to do a lot of talking about the problem.

Meanwhile, on your own, you might encourage your son to draw pictures of the bullying experiences. You can also ask him to draw pictures about what else he is afraid of, and about how he would like the situation to be.

Don't evaluate or interpret the drawings... just ask him to tell you all about them. This will give you more information, and give him a way of working on his stuff. You can also encourage him to keep a doodle diary that is his alone.

Hope some of this helps. Sincerely, joan

My sons are 16 and 18 now and over the years we have dealt with the bully problem in all its many forms. Maybe it is something all boys deal with, and unfortunately many of them will dish it out too, even the nice boys. In grade school it's mostly name-calling. In middle school and high school they get jumped by bullies, and usually they don't tell the parents about it. One issue for me was: what do you do if you raise your kids to be pacifists and some other kid threatens them or even just harasses them mercilessly in front of other kids? My older son as a freshman in highschool was suspended for a day for punching a kid who was bullying him. I was very disturbed about it, but he said, Mom, he was taunting me in front of the whole class. Everybody was watching. What else could I do? I had to admit he had a point - maybe his solution was the only one that would let him keep his dignity. It's complicated. Believe me, I never encouraged my kids to hit other kids, but we did have some what if talks after some of their friends had bikes stolen or money taken by bullies. My older son in middle school started hanging out with a big mean-looking kid (actually a very sweet boy) as protection from bullies, I always thought. And he in turn later protected his younger brother, challenging any middle-schoolers who messed with him. The younger son seems to have developed conflict avoidance skills. Or maybe he is just such an irritating person that everyone stays away from him, even bullies. At any rate, my kids were always VERY reluctant to have me intervene, and eventually got to the point where they would not tell me about it, for fear that I'd tattle. In retrospect I can see that they had to work out their own ways of dealing with bullies, because I was probably not going to be told about any incidents, and they were the ones on the frontlines, not me.

My advice is: it is very hard to get help from teachers, at least in larger schools. Certainly you should speak with the teachers and principal but don't expect the school to be able to solve the problem. Kids know how to bully without teachers seeing them. One positive thing you can do is to generate some good PR for your kid - by that I mean making the other kids think that your son is one cool kid. Does he have at least a passing knowledge of whatever fads the kids his age are in to? If not, do some investigating and get him up to speed. Can you get him some new cool thing that he can brag about or show off? I realize this is not the lesson we are supposed to give to our kids, but self-esteem is very important, and parents can do public relations for their kids that will improve their social standing. Kids are very fickle and not too perceptive and will suddenly start liking another kid just on the basis of one or two cool toys (or later, a pair of shoes or a video game). If your son is still young enough for you to create play dates for him without too much protest, you might try inviting the culprits over for some irresistable event - a trip to an arcade or Great America or something major like that. You will be there to make sure everyone has a good time. If this isn't an option, make sure your son has his own friends to hang with, setting up playdates yourself if necessary. If the situation continues to worsen despite your best efforts I hate to say it but I think you should change schools. Once a kid gets labeled, it's very hard to shake it off and it could stick to the kid for years to come, especially if he is in a small school.

Good luck Ginger

Rather than focusing on the options you've mentioned... talk to child, his parents, head of school... I would instead suggest supporting your son to handle this himself in some really effective (and probably politically incorrect) way. Your son is a target for the boys in his class, and will continue to be so until you help him find a way to be a less attractive target, or a stronger adversary. All of us would like to stop bullying in schools -- but most of us have only the ability to stop our kids from being bullied.

In your place I'd be encouraging him to stand up for himself (clearly we differ here on what is an appropriate response) and seeking an outside source for building his body image, self-respect and social skills. How? I very strongly recommend a program of martial arts training such as Kuk Sool Won -- in my experience kids who get hassled seem to send some secret signal to those around them that triggers the unfair negative attention. A good program of martial arts (or alternatively a good program in a team sport) might teach your son skills to deflect negative attention, while developing excellent physical skills and an understanding of where he is and how he interacts with others. Its also a whole lot of fun and gives a great sense of pride and accomplishment. I suggest the KSW on Sacramento because so much of their program is directed at kids. They are good at what they do.

Let me encourage you to stop seeing your child as a victim in this. For whatever reason, he, and you, have entered into a relationship with his tormentors, and you will have to break the pattern and make a new healthier one. I know its frustrating and discouraging -- but the fact is this could be the start of a new, more positive time for your son. Good luck.

I had a similar experience to your son's in school. I was well adjusted and popular, but my best friend, who was more popular, decided she didn't like me anymore, and had the charisma to sway the whole class. I spent a grade in isolation, sitting alone at lunch, talking to no one in class. My parents thought I should deal with it myself. But in my experience (I have since had several friends who had similar experiences) the problem is unresolvable. Once a child becomes ostracized it is almost impossible for him or her to recover the lost social ground. My school was large and the administration moved me to another track the next year (perhaps someone noticed?) and I had little contact with my former classmates and found plenty of friends. However, I have always been sure that my self-image was permanently altered by this experience. (I am 32 and I still occasionally have (bad) dreams about these things that took place when I was 11.) One friend who had a similar experience suffered for years before his parents moved. At his new school he had no problems, but he was permanently scarred by the experience (he is a very bitter and sarcastic person and attributes this to his ostracism in school). I would strongly recommend that you remove your child from this school. No school is good enough to outweigh the damage that is being done to him by constant harassment.

Yes, talk to the other boy's parents. Talk to the principal. Make sure your son has the opportunity for friendships outside of school. It sounds as though the intervention really needs to happen at the classroom level, but I realize how unlikely that is to happen espcially if your son is in a public school. Consider getting outside help for all of you. Marsha Hiller is a therapist experienced in exactly this kind of thing. Warm and empathic, I can't recommend anyone more highly. (I've worked under her supervision as an intern in a public school setting.) If her rates are too high for your budget she can recommend someone else. David

It is the school's job to deal with bullying, and it is your job to advocate for your child and make sure he is in an environment where he feels safe and respected. You have done the right things by talking to the teacher and the head of the school. Press them to be specific on what they are going to do to make their school an appropriate place for your child. If you're not satisfied with their responses or the results they are getting, consider taking your child out of that school.

Contacting the other boy's parents may work if you know them and think they will have a constructive response; otherwise let the school deal with it. Don't talk to the boy yourself unless you are invited to do so by the school and/or his parents.

Counseling your son on how to respond is good, as long as you let him know that you don't expect him to solve this by himself. This sounds like a situation that is more than any kid can handle alone. Tell him what you are doing to help and that he deserves to be safe and respected at school. Listen to what he has to say, and only take him out of the school if he agrees to it.

You don't say how old your son is, or why he is in this class with such a wide range of ages. However I can say, as a victim of nasty bullying (and with zero get-along skills) in elementary school, mostly in the 5th grade, that you should never, ever, approach the bully yourself. Believe me, that will make the bullying much much worse, and signal your son that he absolutely can't handle anything. By all means go to the principal, and also ask her whether you should call the parents (she knows them, so she'll have a better idea. They could be real jerks if their son is as adorable as he sounds. Certainly they're missing a step already.) If she also seems ineffective (as most adults are against bullying, unless perhaps there's a school-wide anti-bullying program that can nip it in the bud before it starts), my suggestion is to get your son out of that class (with that ridiculously ignorant teacher), and probably even out of that school as quickly as possible. It's very unlikely your son will be able to get out from under that kind of daily torture simply by changing his response. He doesn't seem to be able to make that leap so far, and anyway, why should he have to? You're asking too much from a child. (Even most adults couldn't do it.) If you leave him there and hope for the best, and it simply continues, he will only be waiting it out, and having the world's worst life while he's at it. Naturally he will think it's all his fault, and that something is terribly wrong with him, no matter what you tell him. When I finally grew up and got way past all those problems (after a lot of time and trouble) I wondered why my mother hadn't pulled me out of that terrible fifth grade class. She said she had no idea it was that bad (though I had missed weeks of school at a time from refusing to go). You know what's going on, and you have a chance to make the difference. I really don't think there's any benefit from toughing it out. If you pull him out now, and find a better situation for him right away, he will have the opportunity to start over fresh, and blame all the trouble on the bully and the horrible rotten school, precisely where it belongs. Please just take this as an opinion, though I guess a pretty strong one. Do whatever you think is right, love your son, and no matter what else you do, make it clear that he's absolutely perfect just the way he is - it's the bullies that cause the problems of the world.

I really recommend against calling another child's parents to discuss this kind of issue. It often comes out of the blue and their reactions can be disturbing (and probably not indicative of what they would say if they thought for a moment). Best to let the professionals handle it. Most schools and districts now have a very strict policy about taking every incident of bullying very seriously and will act if asked to.

My son had several incidents of being bullied two years ago. The child who was bullying was punished at the school and the parents when we tried to discuss it with them (we had been friendly previously) ended up telling us that it was our child's fault that their son had been bullying. I don't think they would have said this if they had been thinking, and certainly didn't say it to the principal, the teacher and the school psychologist when they met with them.

My son was also being bullied (emotionally, not physically) and his self-esteem was falling. During the year, he was picked on, called names, and isolated. I worked with the school, which intervened, but frankly by the pre-teen years the kids know how to play the teachers. Also, you can get only so much during school; there's got to be involvement at home. And when I did call one parent whose son has been implicated in bullying for about 4 years, mom's response was are you sure it was my son?

This being said, I took a 3-prong approach. I worked with my son directly, I worked through the school, but I also sought professional help -- an outside therapist who specialized in child psychology and social adjustment issues. It sometimes irked me that, as I saw it, my son went to a therapist because the bullied (who obviously needed counseling) didn't, but I'm glad I did. After a full academic year of crap, I got to see my son engaged in new relationships over the summer. In meeting new kids at camp, he was open, warm, and even stood up to his best friend who was bullying a new friend (as he said, I know what it's like to have someone pick on you and not have anyone stand up for you). I did not directly see the benefits of counseling during the school year, but for my child to remain so open to making new friends after the school experience he had was proof positive that therapy was worth it and his self-esteem was rising.


Private Schools with No Bullying

Oct 2004


I'd like some insider info on some of our private middle schools. My child's issues are not academic, they're social. He was bullied for a few years in elementary and I'm worried that he could either become a target again, or become a bully himself if he goes into the wrong environment. I'm looking for a place where put-downs, snobbery, and social exclusion are not tolerated. Am I dreaming? worried mom


  • Community School of the East Bay (2)
  • Manzanita Middle School (2)
  • Redwood Day School
  • St. Paul's Episcopal School

    10-year-old bullies: Fight or Flight?

    April 1998

    I told my 10 year old daughter that violence begets violence and if she is ever approached to fight or threatened in any way by her peers (or anyone for that matter), she should just walk away. Well, that was all fine and dandy until two Thursdays ago when a group of 4 bullies (all girls) followed my daughter and her two classmates (one is also her busmate)- let's call them A & B- from the school yard after school. As the main bully began pushing and shoving A, the girls just walked faster trying to walk away. Well, this wasn't good enough for the bullies. Because they wanted a fight, they insisted on pulling A's hair and getting her on the ground and beating her. My daughter said she doesn't know what made the bully stop beating up her friend, but she did anyhow. The bullies left, feeling victorious, while my daughter and A & B ran crying to B's house. She lives only TWO blocks away from the school. My daughter and B were also crying because they had never seen or been involved in something like this before. So, here's the question from my daughter: We tried to walk away, but the girls wouldn't let us. So what do I do now Mommy? What should I do if this happens again? Does anyone have any answers, suggestions??? Veronica

    I tell my daughter when someone is bothering her or pushing/hitting her to let them know in a loud angry voice to stop, and if that doesn't work, then to push or hit back harder. Because if a bully knows that your child won't do anything, they will continue to bother him/her. Myra

    I think that bullies of this sort don't like resistance. It sounds like they persisted because it looked like easy prey and/or maybe slight numerical superiority. I have no official answer on this topic, but as for my wife, son, and I, we don't subscribe to violence and likewise attempt to avoid physical confrontations. OTOH, if someone will not accept my attempt to resolve or walk away from a problem and they insist on getting physical, I'm going to defend myself in whatever manner possible. Same goes for my wife and son; walk away if you can, if not then defend yourself at least until you can get away or someone intervenes.

    Assuming that your daughter and her friends know who the bullies are, what their names are, or at least what class(es) they are in, at this point I'd join with A & B's parents and lodge some very strong words with the teacher(s), counselor(s), and/or principal of the school re: what happened. The intent would be to get in contact with the offending children's parents and inform them of what their children have done. If this happens again, or in the event that things escalate greatly (involving police, lawyers, courts, doctors, etc.) at least you've set a positive pattern of trying to resolve the problem by contacting the other parents. Hate to say it but it might also be useful to investigate whether your daughter, A, and/or B did anything to instigate retribution by others. I'm not syaing this is the case, then again all parents have seen or caught their children doing something the parent wouldn't have expected. Jonathan

    I would highly recommend checking out an organization called Kidpower in Santa Cruz that conducts full contact self defense training for children and adults in the Bay Area. Last summer, I myself took an intensive adult course from Bay Area Model Mugging which offers teen classes but not children's. I decided to take the training after numerous friends had done so, and after attending a class graduation. These types of self defense classes are not at all like martial arts in that blows are actually landed on an extremely padded trained instructor. A key part of class I took and the Kidpower my daughter took is that one learns to diffuse potentially dangerous situations and if necessary to land knock-out blows. For younger children the focus is not on landing knock-out blows, but temporarily disabling in order to escape safely ie. eye strikes. Lots of time is spent learning to become more aware of one's surroundings, setting appropriate boundaries, and avoiding the escalation of a fight. Kidpower does an evening of parent training before the children's classes start. I learned so much as did my daughter. Kidpower website: http://gate.cruzio.com/~ktfpower/ Holliday


    In response to fight or flight, I've always told my boys to walk away from altercations BUT if the bully continues to pick on them (kinda like the 3 strikes law), then the only alternative is to fight back. I explained to my sons that bullies prefer to pick on the so-called weak and that fighting back will let the bullies know that you will not be pushed around. I told them that they may get their butt kicked but at least they show that they will defend themselves if have to. Fortunately my 19 yr old didn't have to defend himself in school, but my 13 yr old had to when he was in the 6th grade. No one has picked on him since that time.