What to do when playground problems become bullying
All children fall out — it's natural. But when should you go from telling your child that to taking their playground worries more seriously?
My daughter had a tough time at her junior school, particularly from the age of 7, when distinct groups began to form that you were either part of or you weren't. Being excluded is tough and it's just as tough, as a parent, to see your child so upset because of it.
Initially we didn't take it too seriously. Kids can be mean, can't they? It's no excuse but it's something we kind of accept and our kids have to get used to that. We told her to walk away, go find other friends, ignore them — and all the rest. We thought that would be enough.
However in her case, it wasn't. Because of her need to be accepted, she wasn't strong enough to walk away. That meant she would be invited into the group and spat out again in equal measures. She kept going back for more, no matter how many times it happened, no matter how many times she was made the butt of the joke or pushed away.
As a parent this is hard to keep track of. When your child is happy for a few days, then miserable for the next few, you don't know what to think. On the happy days all is OK. On the unhappy days you console, give the usual advice and just hope it doesn't last. In our situation, what we failed to realise was how unhealthy these up and down mood swings were for her; how stressful it was for her never knowing what to expect at school from day to day.
Spotting the signs
Looking back we should have put a stop to the whole thing a lot sooner. The signs were all there:
- Not sleeping or eating properly
- Very emotional, with lots of unnecessary crying (which we put down to hormones)
- Aggressive towards her brother and sister
- Overly anxious about homework
How could we have handled it differently?
There's absolutely no excuse for children to behave negatively towards each other. They may display that behaviour naturally but it doesn't mean it should be accepted and/or ignored. We should have raised it with the teachers earlier and followed up regularly to make sure they were dealing with the problem.
I never wanted to be "that" parent, the one who is constantly at school following up on the welfare of their child. I always thought it would be better to let my children stand on their own two feet. There are some cases, though, where you have to be like that — and this was one of them. Schools won't often admit they have a bullying issue but that doesn't mean they won't do all they can to help your child. It's down to you to make sure that they use their power to do their part.
It was only after our daughter left that school and became a much happier, healthier, calmer child that we realised just how bad she had been. Look out for warning signs of anxiety and work with the school to help your child deal with those anxieties.
Perhaps my daughter will always struggle with self-esteem. We all have tendencies and traits that start from a young age. There will probably be more times in her life when she has to deal with friendship problems and difficulties at school and these are likely to raise her anxiety levels once more. Maturity will help her deal with these problems. At junior school age there were many times when she didn't even know how to process the feelings she was experiencing. As an adult you don't often appreciate that and this was an important lesson learned for us as parents. One that we hope never to repeat.