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My daughter is getting picked on at school because she is the “teacher’s pet.” The girls in the class frequently taunt her and call her names. I called the school, and it looks like it’s being taken care of, but my daughter is still vulnerable and sad about the whole ordeal. At the end of the day, she was being teased. How do I properly explain to my young daughter that she’s not at fault, and that those who bully her are the ones in the wrong?
Dear Concerned Father,
Bullying was a very sad and serious issue even when I was a young girl, and nowadays it has taken on an additional, alarming dimension as a result of modern technology. In the past, boys would pull the girls’ pigtails, or girls would whisper to each other about you in front of you or point at you and laugh because of something you wore, making you feel awkward. It was always common to isolate a particular child and gang up on him because he was not good in sports, or because he was a “teacher’s pet.” Common remedies for bullying included parents telling their child to stand up to the bully, or asking the teacher to intervene. These measures, however, well-intentioned as they may have been, often had the effect of making the victim feel even worse.
Kids who are regularly bullied over an extended period of time will eventually experience feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment. They start asking themselves, “Why me?” and assume that this is their fault. They will also feel ashamed over their inability to stand up to the bully or bullies and to deal with the problem independently. Understandably, your daughter feels vulnerable and sad.
Victims need to be assured that bullying, like any form of discrimination, can happen to anyone, and that the only guilty ones are the aggressors and, albeit to a lesser extent, the authority figures who fail to restrain them. The victim is never, ever, to blame. Teachers and administrators at the school must be aware of any bullying that takes place, and ensure to act immediately upon becoming aware of it. It is their responsibility to educate their students toward proper conduct and sensitivity to their peers. Moreover, bullies usually act out of anger or jealousy, and therefore they require counseling and support, and must be told that aggression, verbal or otherwise, is an unacceptable response to difficult feelings.
Your daughter, unfortunately, will have to learn already now, at a very young age, that there are unkind people in this world, and that jealousy and pettiness will cause people to act selfishly and cruelly. Help her regain positive self-esteem by emphasizing that she bears no blame for the mistreatment she has suffered. Additionally, ask her to make a list of all the things she likes about herself and what she thinks her friends like about her, and help her fill in the gaps. Remind her that being a good student who cooperates with her teacher is something positive for which you are proud, and that although her peers think it is not “cool,” her serious attitude in class reflects a level of maturity that will help her in all aspects of her life. Encourage her to seek friendships with girls who like her and treat her well. If you find that she is too isolated and can’t make friends, then, depending on her age, help arrange play dates and other forms of healthy social interaction.
I would also suggest speaking to your daughter’s teacher to see if perhaps something the teacher is doing in class is having the unintentional effect of making the other students jealous. We know from the Torah of the disastrous consequences that could result from envy over the special attention given to a sibling. This can be true in a classroom setting, as well, where the students vie for the teacher’s attention and approval. While nothing the teacher does could possibly excuse the bullying, nevertheless, it is worthwhile to check and see if perhaps there are ways the teacher can avoid stoking the coals of jealousy and resentment, and thus help your daughter feel more comfortable in her environment. Follow up periodically with the teacher and the school – discreetly, so as not to embarrass your daughter – to ensure that the bullying has completely stopped.
Being bullied can make a child feel untrusting in friendships and fearful of being bullied in all her relationships. Your support and love, and her success in forging meaningful friendships, will help her overcome her feelings of sadness and vulnerability, and march forward with confidence to a bright and happy future.
All the best,