I lay in bed next to my husband in the early morning darkness. I can hear the shrill squawks and screams of my 3-year-old son, Blake and 5-year-old daughter, Bianca who is a one-woman wrecking ball. I rolled out of bed and pull my pajama pants on backwards, and headed down to referee. They were fighting over honey nut Cheerios downstairs in the kitchen and have managed to (unsuccessfully) pour a gallon of milk into an 8oz bowl. Bianca is her own girl, full of steadfast confidence. On this particular morning it was business as usual, she donned five different colors and patterns from her hair bow placed dead center on her forehead, down to the Christmas socks she’s been wearing non stop since August. In an unsuccessful attempt to curtail the 6am madness, I let most of these outfits fly, while struggling to make it to kindergarten on time. It’s a brisk ten-minute walk to school, with little Punky Brewster. All I can do is cross my fingers that we will make the ¾ mile trek without incident. Half way to school Bianca slows her pace, “Mommy I don’t have any friends, nobody likes me.” My heart breaks in two. What happened to my proud little peacock, racing to school to rule the halls and create the next Crayola masterpiece? For the past couple of weeks I have been getting notes home from school describing Bianca as less than a benevolent ruler, regulating recess activity and calling the shots in circle time. To my surprise this morning things were different, she wasn’t her usual dictatorial self. “Why do you say that honey?” Wondering what could make her unfaltering confidence waver. “Last time I wore this dress Tommy said I look ugly” she started to cry, and I was staggered that she would even begin to care about what someone else thought about her eccentric outfits, this was so out of character. I only had a ¼ mile to talk her off the ledge of kindergarten doom. By the time we arrived in front of the school I had convinced her of her beauty and likability enough for her to reluctantly join her class. Later that day I realized that just as you smooth one bump in the road another mountain to climb appears. In Bianca’s pink and blue backpack I find another note, “Please have Bianca stop bringing money to school” -Ms. M I’m baffled, “Bianca why are you bringing money to school?!” She struggles and searches her mind to find a plausible lie. (I love kid’s transparency) “Tell me the truth!” After a few more minutes of stalling, which included, “I don’t know”, “my brother did it”, “my teacher sometimes lies”, and crying, I got down to the truth. “Tommy said, that he would only be my friend if I bring him ‘cash’… three dollars a day.” She looked scared, not of the boy but of me. She was afraid of my disappointment, which I had firmly believed she filed in the I-don’t-care section of her brain. I hadn’t noticed that any money had been missing around the house. Then I remembered her birthday money, that her great-grandmother sent her and it mad me a little sad. “Babe, you don’t need to pay your classmates to be your friend. People will like you for being a good person.” I told her. Confusion washed over her face. This whole time I thought my sassy little thing was the culprit of all the kindergarten mischief. “ You know how you’ve been disruptive in class, laying down in the learning line, shouting out of turn and yelling at your friends when they don’t want to play a game you’ve chosen. That is not acting kindly.” Suddenly I realized that what I had perceived as confidence in her was really an insecurity. By seeking negative attention she had ostracized herself at school, and fallen prey to bullying. When she decided that any ol’ attention wasn’t as important to her as being accepted by her peers, she began paying them off with not only money but rather candy and toys. I immediately spoke with the little boys Mom, who is a friend and also our neighbor. To my shock Tommy confesses right away, with no remorse. Tommy’s mom laughs nervously not knowing quite what to say. There is no guide on how to parent a bully. She ordered him to gather all of the money that Bianca had paid him and return it. Turns out the little turkey had been stashing the loot in his Mom’s room. I had no idea that bullying started at such a young age. The statistics on bullying and suicide are alarming:
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.
- Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University
- A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying
- 10 to 14-year-old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide, according to the study above
According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying. My husband and I talked in great length about the ways we could build her self-esteem to stop bullying and the desire to be accepted at all cost, and here is what we came up with. 8 ways to build your daughter’s self esteem. I’ve written several articles on bullying, building self-esteem. Please click-through if you are interested.