So my daughter is being bullied. She’s 9 years old and in the third grade. It’s gotten bad enough that her miserable social experience has morphed into a physical ailment — a chronic morning tummy ache every day before school. I met today with her teacher and principal to discuss the situation — and they both expressed surprise. Not that it was happening (they’re not that naive)… but that they were both totally unaware of it. (I should point out that it’s a really small school.)
But honestly, I’m not at all surprised that they were in the dark. Girl meanness can be insidious and sneaky. (Oh, I remember it well.) And I can’t help thinking how difficult it must be for my daughter to express the type of meanness she’s experiencing. The mean girl isn’t pulling her hair — an offense that would be easy to share with her teacher. (“She keeps pulling my hair!”)
No, no… the mean girl is just quietly telling all the other girls in the class not to be her friend. How does a little girl find the words for that?
(And… ouch. Let’s just take a moment here to remember the pain of adolescence.)
As a mom, my initial reaction to all this was pretty predictable. I’ve been in momma bear-mode — and I kinda want to rip the ponytail off this little girl’s head for hurting my child. Not a particularly productive response — and one I’m not proud of — but an honest reaction to be sure. However, as a part of YogaKids, I know I have to let that raging feeling go and look at the bigger picture.
Now I know there’s a great deal of education and resources out in the world to help those that are being bullied. And I’ve certainly shared them all with my daughter. And while that’s great… it does nothing to actually solve the problem. To solve the problem, we have to address the root cause. We have to shift focus from the victim to the aggressor. (This is feeling like familiar territory, women, isn’t it?)
So why is this girl, at 9 years old, being mean to my sweet daughter? I know from my years studying child development — and observing my own children — that kids behave in ways that get the results they seek. Behavior is learned — and when a behavior gets the desired result, the behavior gets reinforced. Again and again. So what is the bully getting by being mean? Well, I’m not 100% certain — but I can make an educated guess that she’s getting a couple of “wins”: 1) attention from the other girls and 2) a feeling of power when my child reacts.
If social behavior is viewed as a means to an end (i.e. fulfilling specific needs) — then we need to focus on those needs. What other ways can this little girl experience these desired “wins”? How else can she feel powerful? How else can she get attention? How else — in essence — can she feel good about herself… without the collateral damage that comes with bullying?
Today I spoke with the principal and the teacher about the specifics of my daughter’s situation. But tomorrow? I’m going to be talking to them about implementing a school-wide mindfulness program that can get to the root. It’s time to stop only looking at the effects — and to start looking at the causes. At YogaKids, this is what we do. We teach cooperation over competition, kindness over cruelty, and give kids the tools to empower themselves… without hurting others.