Bullying – yet another saga… (Installment #3)

(For previous installments see:  To hell & back, bullying at primary school and  Bullying, the next installment )

My daughter’s experiences with bullying are probably the most difficult to tell. Not necessarily because they were worse, but because they really are not my stories to share. I can only give the viewpoint of the mother. As I have shared previously, going to an adult at the time that the bullying occurred was not something I was inclined to do. I can only hope that I have set up an environment in which my daughter is more inclined to speak out than I was. I can say this: I have a much better understanding of how helpless my mother must have felt in attempting to protect her young charges.

Who knew bullying would even start as early as grade 2? Perhaps even earlier? My then 8-year-old daughter knows.

When she started school there was an immediate group of fast friends, and of course one or two that she clicked with most readily. The girls were a group of about eight, in Grade Primary (or kindergarten, for the rest of Canada) who played together, went to one another’s birthday parties and were almost all in the same class. My daughter often spoke of one girl who sometimes hit her on the playground. Being an early childhood educator, I imagined the antagonizer to possibly be a young five year old who simply didn’t express herself well and would act out in frustration in this new environment. As it turned out she was a very bright little girl, who was dealing with her own family issues and had an older sister who pushed her around a lot.

As the girls moved into grade 1, the clique grew stronger, and there continued to be little altercations. Both years incidents arose that brought me to the teacher inquiring after the situation. Each year there seemed to be little done to help my daughter.

In grade 2, things escalated. The bully and her best friend often attempted to divide the others, and my daughter became a target for more aggressive behaviours. Her bully organized their friends in excluding my daughter, then at times tried to force her to join in to activities she was not interested in, to the point of physical force. My daughter began having sleeping problems and tummy aches.

I had ignorantly assumed that teachers would have passed along the info to the succeeding grade’s teacher of such concerning behaviours in a so-called zero-tolerance environment. When things got out of hand I approached my daughter’s teacher only to find out it was new news to her.

Some time later I learned from my daughter that she’d been brought to the vice-principal’s office, along with her bully, because of an incident on the playground. No one from the school contacted me. I had to call the school myself to inquire. Not only had it not been communicated to me, but the vice-principal had no knowledge that this had been an ongoing issue since the previous year.

Anyone who works with children who have been bullied knows that we cannot rely on the children to bring the information forward. Communication and keen observation on the part all adults involved are key to addressing this problem. The Nova Scotia government has recently announced a task-force on cyberbullying. I commend this effort. But have we reached a place where we can say that our approach to all other forms of bullying has been effective? There is still so much work to do in effectively addressing bullying in any environment, at any age.

Bullying, the next installment:

(*Read installment #1 here: To Hell & Back: Bullying at Primary School)

Grade Seven was the worst experience of my childhood.

When we moved to small-town, rural Nova Scotia we were looking forward to being closer to “home” so-to-speak. Being a “Forces’ kid”, there really was no one place we called home. Given that my parents were both also Forces’ kids this was even more true. However, my parents felt called to Nova Scotia, where my mom’s parents both grew up and retired from the Forces life.

This was to be a homecoming of sorts. I was starting school at a junior high school that was a consolidation of multiple elementary schools, grade seven being the entry year. Everyone had their cliques from their old schools and everyone was new in some way. Everyone was trying to find their place in the hierarchy of middle school. I was the NEW kid, the come-from-away kid. I was also up to 14 months younger than many of my classmates.

In fact my school principal almost refused to enroll me solely based on my age, and the fact that the curriculum was probably very “different” (read: inferior) in the north. He wanted me, a straight A, ahead-of-the-class student to repeat a year! My mom made a deal with the school to give me a chance to prove myself for a few months then re-evaluate after report cards. (As it turned out, we never needed to have that re-assessment meeting and I in fact graduated from middle school on the honour roll, thank-you-very-much!).

I had a wardrobe of hand-me-downs that were acquired in the isolated community of Inuvik where no one had the latest of anything. I was the tallest in my class and I was smart. I became the target.

A girl who must have once ruled her small elementary school became my antagonist from just about day one. She rallied all of her little clique and the entire group of them singled me out. I was made fun of for the way I dressed, spoke, walked, even the way I applied ketchup to my french fries… The girl was relentless and her friends became equally as intimidating. Only once can I recall things getting physical, when her friend cornered me in a washroom and tried to push me around. Yet, this was truly the most trying time of my childhood.

I don’t recall addressing this with any adult. Not my mom, not a teacher, no one. My past experience with bullying taught me that no one would do anything about it, but the bullying itself would get worse. I do recall sticking closer to my new group of like-minded equally “nerdy” friends. We joined band, we studied together, and we treated one another with respect.

Towards the end of the year, my antagonist had a falling out with her cousin, with whom I had a friendship. She suddenly tried to befriend me and turn me against her cousin. I let it be known that I had no interest, and from that day forward treated her and her friends with apathy for the most part. The bullying stopped, the attempts to befriend me continued, until eventually it was forgotten.

Once we moved on to high school and had yet another new and larger school to navigate it was mostly as if history had been erased. My antagonist eventually became someone I was friendly with, we shared classes and extra-curricular groups and I let go of the pain I’d been caused. However, I never forgot how it felt, nor did I ever let my guard down with this new “friend”.

Bullying takes many forms. As adults we need to be attentive and responsive to children’s needs or they stop reaching out for help when needed.

My daughter has been subject to bullying, and I hope that I have responded in a manner that has helped her to grow and not be victimized again. The effects of bullying are so far-reaching and can have much serious consequences than my own experiences. Communities (in all forms) must take this seriously and talk about it openly, so that our children will know it is unacceptable and will feel comfortable asking for help.

If you have a story you feel comfortable sharing please do. You just never know who might be listening.

To Hell & Back: Bullying at Primary School

I recently posted about my desire to write about some of the tough experiences that have shaped my life. There will be several installments, including 4 different experiences with bullying. This is the first:

When I was 8 years old I was a super-blond, fair, blue-eyed, tall & lanky girl. We moved to a small community north of the Arctic Circle and the treeline, for three years. The community consisted mostly of native and aboriginal Canadians. A small minority of the population being Caucasian, most of whom moved into the community with their families to provide services such as health care, education, fire and police services. My dad provided police services.

My three siblings and I were mostly used to moving and making new friends. We settled in the first year without too much trouble. By year two I had become a part of the community at our little school and knew everyone, it seemed. I had a large circle of friends, and was active in many school and extra-curricular activities. I was always pretty quick with learning, and often finished my work ahead of time. My teachers offered me opportunities to do additional activities, sometimes in the form of worksheets, but also outside of class helping in the library, etc. and even planning one or two sessions in math for my teacher.

I don’t really recall where the trouble started, it was sometime in grade five. There are only a few details that stand out to me today. First, these were the days when students were rarely “pushed through”, but would get held back repeatedly when they didn’t meet the expected outcomes. I had a 15 or 16-year-old in my grade six class. I was eleven. I was actually one of the youngest in my class, and in some parts of Canada would have started a year later in school, so was up to a year younger than many of my classmates, in this case far younger still than some.

My bully was 15-16 year old Inuvialuit girl. She was a much older, tougher, and bigger girl than me. I was mostly pretty quiet, even reserved, but friendly. Initially I was approached with sneers and negative remarks. She didn’t like my hair, the way I looked at her, the clothes I wore, who my friends were, how smart I was… When those didn’t ruffle my feathers and get the reaction she was looking for, it gradually escalated. I was timid (in a way) and I was not about to be baited into anything that I knew I couldn’t handle. By no means was fighting an option in my mind. I would ignore her. I walked away. I bit my tongue. I was shaking in my boots most of the time.

There are two (of several) incidents I remember most clearly. Both occurred during “recess” while waiting in line to go back into class.

In one instance, I was chatting with my friends when she came up beside me in line. She started with the name-calling and baiting. I ignore her. She got in my face more, and I tried not to flinch. She kicked me in the shins, and I stood my ground. She started egging me on “Come on! Kick me back! Come on! Why don’t you fight me?!” A friend/cousin of hers finally stepped in and told her to stop, that I obviously didn’t want to kick her back or fight her, and to just leave me alone.

I don’t remember anything substantial happening to address this in school. I don’t recall teachers stepping in, anyone being called to the office. It was almost as if there was no supervision…

My mom was furious and went to the school to speak with my teacher about it. Something was done, but it doesn’t seem significant – the only memory I have of interactions with teachers about the bullying, was after the incident I am about to describe. Then my mother charged into that school and let my teacher know that under no uncertain terms was I to be punished for fighting back as she has made it very clear to me that I was not to stand back and take it anymore, but to stand up and protect myself! I wish that had been a real option.

The most memorable incident occurred when I was at or near the entrance to the school and Bully (who’s name I have, curiously, no recollection of) approached me again. Again with the name-calling and again with the baiting. When I didn’t respond she hauled off and slapped me, hard, wearing a frozen Beaver-fur mitten. This encounter happened with no one around and I was terrified that it wouldn’t stop at that. The LAST thing I was going to do was hit her back and give her reason to continue. I waited for her to leave. I suspect a bell rang or a teacher came to the door, I don’t recall.

These are pretty blatant and obvious bullying incidents. There were of course many more subtle which I don’t have any real memory of anymore. Fortunately for me, dad was transferred. We moved on to a new community and a new school and the bullying stopped, for a time.

Next stop: junior high – new girl amongst a number of consolidating schools, where the Cool Kids were no longer at the top of the totem pole anymore.

I don’t really have any solutions to offer, except that as parents we must be diligent, and that as educators we must not tolerate such activities.  Perhaps it would even be pertinent to look at what we are doing that might be cause for escalating some of these activities.  Have we underestimated the impact special activities might have outside of the controlled environment?  How can we offer support and still meet the needs of every child?

If you have a story to share, please do so in the comments below, or contact me via email, my contact form or Twitter. I am also happy to share my experiences with others who may be dealing with challenging times.  Feel free to share this post!

To hell and back, again and again, and again…

For a long time I’ve been wanting to tackle some big issues with my writing. These are not easy discussions to be had, with others, or with myself. However, even while in the midst of them I tried to be open and share what I was going through for one simple reason: there is no need to be ashamed, especially when you are not in the wrong. Plain and simple we NEED to talk about these things. My goal in sharing my experiences is not to seek sympathy, nor commiserate, but to present an opportunity for open dialogue, to reach out to those who need to know they are not alone in their experiences.

I am going to write a series of posts. They won’t share dirty details, well at least not any identifying ones… I can’t promise how much will be left out, in the interest of illustrating and sharing the reality of these stories – and generating discussion amongst others who have been there, are there now, continue to deal with them, etc.

Dan Pearce of Single Dad Laughing inspired me to finally share my stories. He wrote a post about his journey(s) through hell, and why he’d never change things. I’ve always felt the same way: every experience I had has made me the person I am today. As much as I wish NEVER for anyone I care about (or despise for that matter) to experience some of the pain that I have, I wouldn’t undo any of it. They’ve all been learning experiences, and some have resulted in a better me than I could have ever become intensionally.

All that said and yet I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. My experiences have been (without doubt) both painful and stressful, but I do not mistake them for much greater hardships that others endure and survive. In the worst of my experiences and heartaches, I’ve often found myself thankful that I am not going through that much worse experience of ___ (whatever I may imagine to be worse than my own present state at the time) ___.

My plan is that I will write a series of posts, in no particular order, and with no particular deadline (I believe I must feel innately compelled to write about the particular experience at the time that I tackle it). Here’s a little idea of what’s to come:

  • Bullying:
      • my experiences as a child of 9-11 in a community where I was technically in the minority, while still a part of the greater society’s majority.
      • my experiences as the new girl in a junior high school
      • work place harassment
      • the parent’s great fear of seeing one of their own become a victim of a bully
  • Infidelity and all of the complexities that come along with two very different yet familiar experiences
  • Separation & Divorce
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression

I welcome those who feel so inclined to share their own stories or suffering and overcoming, whether they be related or no.