My daughter usually greets me with a smile every single afternoon when I pick her up from school. But this afternoon she ran over and squeezed my hand as we walked to the car together, and I could tell something was wrong. She got into the car and tears immediately formed in her eyes.
“They were mean to me,” she blurted out.
“Who?” I asked.
She named a few names, girls in her class that I thought she was friends with. Apparently today they decided to exclude her from everything and tell her things that they knew would hurt her. She went into detail on how they didn’t like her clothes or the birthday gift she had given one of the girls a week prior. They excluded her from center time and left her alone to play by herself. It’s petty things that wouldn’t bother an adult, but at five years old, how could it not?
My daughter is pretty open with me about everything. She loves to tell me every single detail of what happens when I’m not with her. There’s no need to ask her a bunch of questions about her day because she’s guaranteed to tell me about it. As she’s gotten older, I’ve come to love our afternoon discussions. We have conversations about what she’s learning in school, about her lunch that day, who she wants to have play dates, and everything in between. I’m trying to soak it all in while I can because I know that ten years from now she might not be so open about what’s going on in her life.
But with the good comes the bad. And it was seeing her crying and spilling her heart out over the struggles that she had that day that nearly broke me. All I could think to myself was, could this mean girl stuff really start as early as kindergarten? I’m not naive enough to think that my daughter is the perfect student and that everything she says is 100% the truth, but I do take what she says seriously.
When my daughter started kindergarten this year, I was prepared to help her learn how to read and write and get on a schedule. Not this. There’s nothing that prepares you for your child coming into the car in tears because someone said or did something to intentionally hurt them. I was preparing for this stuff to come in middle school, not with five-year-olds.
I sat in the car that afternoon with her and tried to talk things out. I told her that this was probably just something that the other girls were going through that day and that soon everything would be back to the way that it was. I told her that no matter how mean or hurtful they are, she always needs to maintain her gentle spirit. She nodded in agreement and told me that she did. I mentioned that I would email her teacher in an effort to gain more clarity on the situation. I wanted to find out exactly what happened and how we could fix it. After our 15-minute conversation, we made it home and she spent the rest of the afternoon playing happily with her sister.
As I laid in bed that night, well after putting her to bed, I just sat and cried. I felt my heart broken into tiny pieces. I’ve dealt with heartbreak so many times in my own life, but nothing compares to the pain you feel when you see your child hurting. My number one priority is to protect her — but in a situation like this, I am at a loss.
But while I can’t go to school with her each day and protect her physically from the bullies, I do know that I can be an example for her. There are things that I can change within myself, the way that I react to things that make me sad or angry, that my daughter can learn from. She can learn through me that these mean girl antics aren’t what I expect out of her.
Unfortunately there are mean girls everywhere and it seems like it’s starting younger and younger with each generation. I can’t be there with my daughter everywhere she goes with my mom shield up to protect her, but I can help shape myself and my daughter to be the change that is so desperately needed in the world. The change that shows compassion and respect for other women and girls, even in those moments that we want to do just the opposite.