One day last week I picked Quinnie up from her after school program and she seemed quiet and a little down. We sat on the grass to rest. I asked her if something was wrong. After some gentle prodding she said that she was having some friend problems, but didn’t want to talk about it. I told her that if she talked about it she might feel better. And that I am here to help her with any problem she might have. She just didn’t want to talk about it (Quinnie tends to keep hard things/feelings bottled up), which kind of broke my heart. I want her to feel like she can come to me about anything. But I also don’t want to be an overbearing Mom, and she’s allowed to have privacy. Cuddles seemed to make her feel better so we left it at that.
This morning when Quinnie woke up she immediately said she had a tummy ache and wanted to take a bath to help it feel better. For Quinnie, a tummy ache almost always means anxiety. I sat down next to her while she floated in the tub and started to gently ask questions. “Is someone being mean to you at school?” She froze. Then nodded. Turns out that the girl who’s been bullying her (let’s call her Heidi) is actually a friend of hers, which I think makes it hurt even more. Heidi is in Quinnie’s school AND after school program, which makes it doubly hard.
She said that Heidi calls her mean things like “dummy” and “coward.” She also hits her and pinches her hard. By this time Quinnie was crying. “I just want to go to another school!” Dagger to the heart. Is there anything worse than your child in pain? Quinnie has such a kind heart, so I think it’s hard for her to understand why someone (especially a friend) would act this way towards her. I have never seen her be deliberately mean to anyone (except typical sibling stuff with Kiera).
I told her that I understood. EVERYONE has had someone be mean to them. Even Mama and Papa. I told her that that’s one of the hard things about life. There will ALWAYS be mean people in the world and we all have to learn to deal with that. I told her that even if she went to another school, there would be mean kids there as well. That even when she is a grown up there will be mean people.
I told her that she doesn’t have to be friends with Heidi anymore. She should only be friends with people who treat her well and are nice to her. Simon told her that if someone is physically hurting her she needs to yell loudly at them to stop. And if they keep doing it, hit them back. I am slightly uncomfortable with this- I don’t think settling violence with violence is the answer. At the same time, if someone is physically hurting you, you have the right to protect yourself. I told her she needs to tell her teachers when Heidi is being mean to her. Quinnie said that she was afraid the teachers wouldn’t believe her. I told her to trust her teachers- that they knew her well enough to know she wouldn’t lie about something like that.
Luckily we sort of know Heidi’s parents from setting up play dates. Simon was tasked with calling the Mom because of the language thing (she speaks English well, but I didn’t want to risk miscommunication because of language differences- especially with such a sensitive topic). At first he didn’t think we should call. He thought we weren’t doing Quinnie any favors by sorting out her problems for her. But I reminded him that Quinnie is only seven and having enough anxiety over this that she feels sick and doesn’t want to go to school. She needed help dealing with this. I also told him that if Quinnie was ever the one doing the bullying, I certainly would want to know, so that we could help her.
Quinnie REALLY didn’t want to go to school, but we told her that problems get bigger when you avoid dealing with them. Problems only get better when you do something about them. So after a big cuddle session and lots of “I love you”, off she went to school. My brave girl.
(a few hours later)
I just got off the phone with Simon. He talked to Heidi’s Mom, and she listened and apologized and said she would talk to her daughter. She also said that she hoped Quinnie would still come to Heidi’s birthday party in a few weeks. He said that would be entirely up to Quinnie. Simon also told her that he was going to talk to the teachers at school and at the after school program to let them know what’s going on. He also told her that he gave Quinnie permission to physically defend herself if Heidi hit or pinched her again. The Mom seemed fine with that. In Germany there isn’t a lot of “helicopter parenting.” Parents here tend to let their kids work out their own problems with friends whenever possible- which I think is a good thing in most circumstances. Simon didn’t mention the name calling to the Mom though- only the physical stuff. I’m bummed about that because honestly, I think that hurt Quinnie the most (she didn’t start crying until she told me what Heidi called her).
When Simon talked to Quinnie’s teacher she said that she and the other teacher would definitely be talking to Heidi because there is a no bullying (called “mobbing” here) policy at the school and that that behavior is not OK. Quinnie didn’t want us to tell her teachers, I think because she feared it would make Heidi even meaner towards her. But I told her that the teachers are there to help her and they need to know what’s going on.
I hope things get better from here. I think they will. Especially since I think Heidi’s behavior might be stemming from jealousy over Quinnie wanting to play with other friends besides her. I don’t think she dislikes Quinnie, she just doesn’t know how to deal with her frustration. I’m just bummed that Quinnie had to go through all of this turmoil.
I guess the silver lining of this situation would be that Quinnie has started to learn a hard life lesson- that life is not always easy, or fair, and how to begin to learn to deal with that. As a parent, it’s natural for us to want to shield our kids from pain. But going through difficulties and working out problems is how their character and resolve is built. We can be there for support along the way.
(But I still wish it didn’t have to hurt…)