Dear Rhonda & Dr. Cheri: Bullied at age 5
Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,
I just put my late blooming, tiny (she was premature), 5-year-old into preschool and in her first week a little girl and boy bullied my daughter, Erin, (not her name).
They push her down the slide because Erin is hesitant to go down by herself and call her names like “baby-brat” and “slow-poke.”
The girl-bully is the leader and coerces the boy-bully to pinch Erin. They sneak up to do this to her, so the teacher doesn’t notice. Erin came home crying, saying she was pinched and called names. She showed me her bruises and told me who did it.
I didn’t think she could be the victim of bullying in preschool, so I went to watch it myself. I told the teacher what I saw and I was shocked that the teacher said that kids are just getting used to each other and that they will settle down and all will be well.
I told my husband about the preschool bullies. We have Erin at a Christian school, but my husband said to move her into another school.
I don’t want Erin to think that problems should be solved by running away from them. But I don’t want her to grow up without self-esteem either.
What do I do (since I can’t pulverize the preschool bullies)?
Dear Momma Bear,
We understand how upset you must be to have your precious little girl bullied when she has had some challenges in life already. However, we think we may help you keep your daughter in her current school and learn how to not stay a victim at her young age.
It does sound like the girl and boy who hurt Erin have been actively, with premeditation, and willful aggression hurt Erin.
We caution you about labeling the kids “bullies” for the following reasons:
• They may be imitating behavior that they have experienced before (at home or with other kids) and we want to stop the cycle of generational abuse and bullying
• They may need attention and to exercise control
• They may need professional help if they show signs of happiness at the sorrow and pain of others. The good news is that at their young age, they are more pliable
• Bullies feel empowered when they are labeled bullies, even at this young age, and we want you to not empower them, because they will grow into teen and adult bullies if they continue to feel powerful
• If the kids are victim-bullies and labeled bullies, they will continue their duality roles of staying a victim and continuing to be bullied while lashing out as a bully
You have noticed the difference between young confrontations, which Erin’s teacher was assessing to Erin’s situation (and honestly, from her viewpoint, it could seem appropriate) and decisive and sneaky behavior that caused Erin pain.
You may ask the teacher to explain to the class that when one child has:
A moment of friendship disturbance, either physically, emotionally, or socially (giving examples of each, such as physically wrestling, emotionally calling someone names, or socially leaving someone out of playing a game), they can communicate politely, make an agreement not to do that painful behavior again and forgive.
Bullying behavior of repeated and intentionally hurtful actions— physically, emotionally, or socially— can hurt another’s feelings for a very long time and make them afraid and feel anxious.
Teach Erin to stand tall and to have eye contact. It will help her feel powerful and not stay a victim!
Rhonda and Dr. Cheri
Rhonda Orr is the president and founder of the Prescott-based Rhonda’s STOP BULLYING Foundation. Dr. Cheri L. McDonald, PhD, LMFT, is a crime-victim specialist. Send your anonymous questions to Rhonda@rhondastopbullying.org. Find out more about Rhonda’s STOP BULLYING Foundation at www. rhondastopbullying.org.