Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Face of a Bully

My daughter is a bully.

I have to stop being so scared and embarassed about that sentence.

My daughter is a bully.

Yesterday, I wanted to run and hide from life.  Which is impossible.  To those who reached out to me, those who sent me loving messages, those who left understanding comments... thank you. 

Unfortunately, the school principal doesn't read my blog and didn't get that message.  Unfortunately, my daughter didn't get that message, either.

My pity party came to a head Wednesday afternoon when I got the call that every parent dreads.  Actually, maybe "every parent" never even imagines they will get that call.  Teagan and a friend were in trouble.  They'd lost out on both recesses because they had hit each other- slapped in the face, in fact.  Then lied about it to the principal so lost out on 2nd recess as well.  And I found out later in the day that Teagan had gone back to the principal's office because she had pulled another girl's hair and clothes.

My first reaction was that something must be wrong in the relationship between Teagan and this one little girl.  The relationship is hot and cold.  And I thought this incident indicated that there is something wrong between them.  I even thought that the anxiety Teagan has been expressing might be connected to the stress of this relationship.  I was ready to hang everything on this solution I'd worked out in my head.  I was going to question my daughter and force her to tell me what had happened between them.

We did question her.  And made a discovery.  Teagan is unhappy in the friendship because this little girl stands up to her.  When Teagan is being mean to this girl, this girl will loudly tell Teagan to stop being mean.  This girl does exactly what she should do to a bully. 

When we finally got to the bottom of it- Teagan was embarassed and scared of getting into trouble.  She is totally choosing this behavior of trying to control and manipulate other kids and she knows it isn't right.

Last night, my pity party went full on into the night.  We'd had our parent teacher conference, met with the school guidance counselor, and even met the principal (we stuck our head in and introduced ourselves since he'd spent so much time with our daughter).  Then we had the talk with Teagan and found out that the problem between her and her friend was because of her own choices.  My feelings of wanting to crawl into a hole and disappear were pretty strong.

Here is the self pity part I want you to know...

Bullying is a big and serious issue.  We take it seriously in our family.  There are lots of resources out there for teaching your kids how to deal with a bully, how to stand up to a bully.  There are a lot fewer resources on how to parent a child who is a bully. 

I am the face of a parent of a child who is a bully.

When I hear people talk about their child being bullied, when I watch videos on YouTube about messages to bullies, when I see TV shows that deal with bullies, there is something that almost always comes up, something almost always in common.  The parents get blamed.  The parents are portrayed as lazy, uncaring, abusive, and so on.  The parents deny that their child could be a bully, the parent is proud of the kid for being mean and tough, the parent just doesn't care what the child does or doesn't do. 

I am not that parent.  And I have to admit that the words people use in these situations when they blame the parent... well, it hurts. 

I'm not a lazy parent, I'm not going to answer the door wearing a housecoat with frizzy hair and a cigarette dangling from my mouth and a bottle of tequila in one hand and tell you to F off or I'll just do to you what my kid does to your kid.  When you talk to me, you aren't going to walk away suddenly figuring out where my kid gets it.  I don't have some false idea that my kid is a perfect angel who never messes up.  I'm not an abusive parent- yes, I have a temper and I am prone to yelling but we do our best to use discipline in a way that isn't bullying or all about power.  I am a strict parent and I work hard to be the best parent I can be for the sake of my kids.

My child is a bully.  She uses her smarts and her words to try and put others down so she feels powerful.  Once she has gotten into trouble or gets caught, it's all or nothing for my girl.  If she's going to be mean, she's going to be mean full on.  If she's already gotten into trouble, she's going to go full bore for the rest of the day once she feels like there is no turning back. 

Today is a new day.  Today, the pity party is over.  Today, I have a game plan. 

We are heading to the library later to look for these books:

Growing Up With A Bucket Full of Happiness by Carol McCloud

Have You Filled A Bucket Today? By Carol McCloud

Your Six Year Old: Loving and Defiant by Louis Bates Ames and Frances Ilg

My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig

Confessions of a Former Bully by Trudy Ludwig

What All Children Want Their Parents to Know by Carol Diane Loomans

We let chores slide and it's time to get back to requiring that chores be done.  She hasn't been invested in getting her allowance so we let chores slide while we dealt with the transition to first grade.  It's time to get back to that daily chore work.

There will be consequences for any trouble at school.  This is a hard one for me.  I believe in discussing what happened at school but that the consequences have already been given for the little things like talking or not following directions.  Obviously we hand out consequences for bullying and being sent to the principal's office.  But we've never had an official consequence for everyday infractions.  At the suggestion of the guidance counselor and principal, we will implement a consequence for rule breaking at school.  The guidance counselor suggested 15 minutes earlier to bed or that sort of thing.  I know TV is something important to her so that's something we can take away.

The guidance counselor also suggested having her do something physical when she first gets home.  I'm not totally sold on this one for a couple of reasons but I'm willing to try it out.  My hesitations are that she seems to need decompression / down time when she gets home and not something that wears her out even further, we have very limted time for dinner and homework until bedtime so spending 15-20 minutes on walking or running or dancing feels like time we don't have to spare, and she is worn out when she gets home after a long day of playing hard and working hard.  I'm going to play this one by ear.

The other suggestion is one that I know we already do.  For every time she gets in trouble, we have to compliment her 4 times.  I'm not going to start keeping track of trouble vs compliment.  Our home is a loving, supportive and positive place most of the time.  My kids are complimented and supported and hear positive things from us all day long.  So this is something I know we already do with both kids.  However, Jeff and I both know that we've let our frustration with her mood swings and her meltdowns and her bad choices get to us and that we canboth get into a sarcastic mode or wear our frustration too visibly on our proverbial sleeves.  We're working to help each other reign in our negativity when it comes to the kids and when it comes to the everyday example we live for them.

Yesterday, I wanted to escape.  Today, I'm feeling renewed and ready to tackle the issue head on.  Again.  And this time with a modified plan, an expanded plan. 

But if your child encounters a bully, please remember that it might be a perfectly normal kid with perfectly normal parents who are trying their best to instill values of kindness and compassion.  That it might be a kid who is also smart and funny and, believe it or not, has the ability to be remarkably compassionate and thoughtful. 

Because this is the face of a bully.



C. Beth said...

This gives me tears in my eyes--I know it's such a challenging, hard time for you, Liz!! Teagan is such a beautiful kiddo, and I'm praying for her, and for you.

Angie @ Just Like The Number said...

Liz, I'm hurting for you right now, because I know this is tearing you up. I don't have any experience with this, but it's so brave and good of you to share your experiences. I believe that you aren't alone, that there are a lot of parents out there going through the same thing and feeling lost, misunderstood and utterly confused. You sharing this painful experience is going to help a lot of people - parents whose kids bully, parents whose kids are bullied, and parents like me who aren't in the situation but can always benefit from understanding. Keeping all of you in our prayers.

Call Me Cate said...

I just want to say thank you for being so brave and posting this. You're right that I think most people just assume the parents of bullies don't care. Or maybe they bully the child at home so the kid does it at school. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, from all kinds of homes.

However, I think you and Jeff are providing the kind of home that will help Teagan work through this. I hope you can figure out some things that will work for all of you.

Burgh Baby said...

You are a good parent and you are doing a great job. Remember that.

Momza said...

You're doing all you're involved, you're listening to experts, and working it out. Bullying, to me, is just an immature way to get recognition. And true, left unchecked, can become an endless pattern--but you're not going to let that happen. Glad you've found the support you and Teagan need. It'll all work out. Have a great day!

Michelle S. said...

Liz--You are very brave for posting this. I applaud you and admire you for not running away from your problems, but, rather, face them head on! Kudos to you, for that. :)

Caleb just broke his collarbone due to a bullying incident on the playground. My first reaction was to take care of my injured son...not even thinking about the child who did this to him. After Caleb was cared for and was okay, I had two choices. #1 - to be raging with anger toward this child who physically hurt my child, or to turn this negative situation into a learning experience for our family. So, we had a long talk with Caleb and how proud we were of him for not fighting back and for sharing with us, honestly, what happened. My place is not to judge the other child or his family. Every family is different and I respect that. We are dealing with this situation as positively as we can, but also teaching Caleb how to deal with this child.

I think you are taking the right, positive steps to help Teagan. You are being a responible, loving parent. Not every parent would be as pro-active as you are. The first step to fixing a problem, is admiting there is a problem. You are handling this beautifully, and using your resources, wisely. Very smart. :)

Teagan is a beautiful child. Inside and outside. I can see this, by the couple of times that I have had the pleasure of being around her. Celebrate that! (I know you are!) Embrace her for who she is and give her the tools to overcome this! (I know you are!)

I also want to share with you that I agree with the counselor...doing something active when she gets home will help her blow off some steam from the day and also encourage her to be active and lead a healthy lifestyle as she grows older. Teaching our children to be healthy and active is so important...(this is something we are trying to instill in our children right now, so they remain at a healthy weight throughout life). Maybe go for a walk together, as a family, do a short workout video will bring you together. I see it as a positive...a win-win for everyone and also a teaching experience/modeling session in the making!

Hang in there. You ARE doing the right things, here. I am proud of you! You ARE a wonderful Mom! Believe that.

Unknown said...

Good luck! Being a good parent is the hardest job out there.

Melinda said...

Liz, Have you looked into the possibility that she may have some food allergies? Or that her blood sugar is dropping? My stepson gets aggressive/confrontational/defiant (pick one- lol), if his blood sugar drops.

mimbles said...

Liz, you are one awesome parent, I have so much love for the way you approach these difficult things.

The one thing I have always wanted to do whenever there have been problems between my kids and their classmates is to reach out to the other parents. If I already know the parents I have both apologised for things my child has done and brought to their attention things their kids have done. We are then able to work together to manage problems between our kids. It may not be a suitable or necessary strategy in every situation, but when it is, it really helps!

Karen M. Peterson said...

I think it's really great that you are doing so much to stop this issue before it gets out of hand.

The reason parents get so much of the blame is because, at least in my experience, so often the parents hear what's going on and do nothing about it. They're proud of their kids for the behavior, or completely oblivious to it.

If more parents were proactive like you, bullying would pretty much disappear.

Katherine said...

My heart is breaking for you. You are right: it's the situation that no parent ever imagines that they will be in.

I have to second the physical activity. When my boys are being especially naughty, I make them run laps around the yard. It really helps them cool off (and gets them out of my hair while I cool off.) Also, you could consider getting a referral to a child psychiatrist/psychologist. Just a suggestions.

I know that you and Teagan will get through this. My prayers are with you.

Michelle said...

I enjoy reading your blog and this journey your on with your daughter rings true for so many people, who don't have an outlet to talk about it. Being the parent of a "bully" is a hard place to be.
I wanted to comment today because, I too, agree with your counselor. I know you think your daughter is tired, worn-out from her day at school, but sometimes what we see is the mental wear down our children feel. The fact that they really don't get enough time to move, be free to express themselves, and be physical at school, the way they need to, it is a good thing to do when they get home.
I have found, when my son shows signs of aggression or getting in trouble in school, it coincides with a lot of teacher-directed activities at school. He is mentally worn out. We have found doing something "physical" isn't always running around, creating havoc when he gets home. Sometimes we bake something, make trail mix, take it outside and share it with a friend, talk, make an open-ended art project with big things (cereal boxes, tape, paper towel tubes, etc...) or even coming up with a story about school... what really happened (what they did to get in trouble) and what he wished had happened. We then would either take some photos and make a little slide show or scrap book to go back to and look over ways we can "fill someones bucket."
I know it's hard, we have lots to do and we just want our children to be "good" at school... but I think your daughter is just going through a phase, that all children go through, but that is just taking her a little longer to get through.
I hope this helps, and just know your giving your daughter your time and love and with all the other stuff, she will get through this!!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes we parents can't do or know it all. Maybe it's time for your daughter to see a professional on a regular basis.

Garret said...

Wow. I have no advice or witty comment. How about another big ole cyber hug. Maybe even bigger than the previous one? This time I'll even give your butt a big squeeze.

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

I think more than fearing their child(ren) will be bullied, parents are afraid their child(ren) will become the bully. My heart hurt for you as I read this. We can't always know everything that is going on with our kids, and sometimes in spite of our best efforts, things like this can happen.

You are 100% right that there are few resources for parents to help deal with this side of the situation. It shouldn't be that way. Kids who bully need as much help and support as the victims. Perhaps even more.

You are brave to share this experience, and it sounds like you are doing all the right things now that you are aware of the situation. I applaud you.