My daughter, Abby was in the first grade when we found out she needed reading glasses. She chose a pair of rounded brown frames that reminded her of Harry Potter. She went off to school excited to show her glasses to her new friends, but the excitement stopped there. At recess, Abby found out that kids can be cruel. She came home dejected and sad. When I asked her what was wrong, she revealed that the older girls told her she wasn’t allowed to use the swings anymore.
“But that wasn’t the worst part,” she said, as she held back tears and looked down at the ground. “The worst part was that Victoria was making fun of me, too. She said my face doesn’t look pretty like it used to.” Then the tears came. And hard. That’s the part of parenting they don’t prepare you for: when your child’s kindergarten best friend becomes her first-grade mean girl. I tried my best to comfort her, but she was not having it.
In support of Abby and her glasses, friends texted photos of themselves wearing their glasses and posted them on my Facebook page. My husband brought home flowers in her favorite color, purple. We did everything we could think of to try to cheer her up, but this was a deep hurt and her first real heart wound. I emailed her teacher and then did what I had been dreading: I reached out to Victoria’s mom.
I was an elementary school teacher for several years and I know there are several different ways parents can react when confronted with news that their child has been bullying. Some parents deny it, refusing to believe their child would behave that way. Some blame other kids or the victim, as someone must have done something to provoke it. Others are on the opposite end and show zero tolerance for bullying behavior, showing their child what it feels like so they never do it again. Victoria’s mom did none of those things, and I will be forever thankful for the grace and wisdom she showed in response to the situation.
I sent her an email and explained what Abby told me. I admitted it was tricky to get the whole story from a 6-year-old. I simply said that Abby’s feelings were hurt and that we wanted to clear things up.
Victoria’s mom was not happy with her daughter, but we both realized that 6-year-olds don’t always make the best choices about the things that come out of their mouths. She said Victoria would obviously apologize to Abby, and then we worked together to help the girls create a recess plan. Victoria could be Abby’s recess buddy. If she saw Abby playing alone, she could invite her to join a game. If Victoria saw bigger kids picking on Abby again, maybe she could help find a grown-up instead of feeling like she had to join in with the bullies.
I had been so nervous to approach Victoria’s mother; it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a parent yet. It’s not easy to tell someone their child has done something hurtful, but I think her response is a great example of how we should all try to act in that situation. Our children are not going to be perfect all of the time; they will make mistakes. When mine do, I hope I can channel a bit of Victoria’s mom and respond in caring and active way.