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The bully who defined me

I was four years old. I had just started preschool. I was excited, interested, curious, I think. I knew a few kids in my class, the ones  who lived on my street or whose parents were friends with my parents, but there were many new faces too.  During the first few days of school the teacher created a calendar on the wall with all of our birthdays on it. I remember standing, looking at the wall, and smiling seeing my name up there with my birthday next to it. But then, without any notice and completely out of left field, my life changed.

"I don't like my birthday" the beautiful blond girl with the cute clothes standing next to me said to the teacher.

"Why not?" asked the teacher.

"Because it is the same day as Annie's birthday and I don't like Annie." she replied.

I'm not sure what the teacher said next. Probably something along the lines of "that isn't a very nice thing to say" or "why would you say that?" I wasn't really listening to the teacher at that point though. I was in shock. My world had been rocked. I didn't even know this girl, we had only just met, and yet she had already decided she didn't like me. There must be something horribly wrong with me.

As is so often the case, beautiful little blond girls with cute clothes are at the top of the social totem pole when children congregate. Her dislike of me meant not only that I could not be her friend, but it also meant that I couldn't be friends with anyone who she was friends with, that I couldn't talk to anyone who she was friends with, and that I'd better not do anything at all to  stand out otherwise I risked being ridiculed.

This started when I was four years old and it continued all through kindergarten, elementary school, and high school. If I wore the wrong clothes I got ridiculed. If I wore the right clothes I got ridiculed for trying to imitate them. If I showed interest in a boy who was above me on the social ladder, I was ridiculed for thinking I could ever have a chance with him. If I showed interest in a boy who was at my level on the social ladder, I was ridiculed for liking a geek, a nerd, or a loser. If I got good grades, I was ridiculed. If I got bad grades, I was ridiculed. If I god forbid tripped and fell or did something else that made others notice me, I wasn't offered help or empathy, I was ridiculed. The list goes on.

When a new girl arrived at our school, I had to play a waiting game. I had to wait to see whether she would be adopted by the popular girls. If she was, it was hands off for me. I would be shunned if I tried to talk to her. But if they rejected her, I could try to befriend her. I remember one horrible instance where a new girl was befriended by the popular girls. At least, we thought she had been. They invited her to sit with them at lunch, they talked with her at recess, and they even pretended to fix her up with one of the popular boys. They set up a time for them to meet privately, under a tree, during recess. She stood there and waited. She waited for the boy. Hopeful and anxious, but encouraged by the words of her so-called friends. He never showed. It had all been a big joke. They just wanted to see her standing there, to see her devastated, to see her cry. I remember one of them, most certainly not the pretty blond girl I talked about at the start, coming to apologize to her for how horrible they had been. But none of the others did and she certainly was not welcome to be their friend. She was now one of us. A reject.

I wasn't an angel either, at least not after that pivotal moment at age four. Protecting my spot, as undesirable as it was, on the social totem pole was important. There were times when I was nasty to others in order to preserve my space. That included being nasty to those lower on the social totem pole than me, so as to not get dropped down to their level. It also included being nasty to anyone that dared try to creep up the social totem pole. We couldn't risk having one of ours become one of theirs.

I hated the game. I hated the fact that the only way to get through a day unscathed was to fade into the background. To not be noticed. To hope that someone else would screw up more than me and be the target of their wrath. Being a wall flower was my aim. But I hated it. It wasn't me. So when I turned 15, I threw caution to the wind and decided to get the hell out. I went on an overseas exchange program. At my new school, I learned what the world was supposed to be like. There were cliques. There were popular kids and not so popular kids. But there was no nastiness between them. If I did need or want to speak to someone who was more popular than I was, neither of us needed to fear being ridiculed for it. I didn't have any illusions of becoming the most popular girl at school, but it was nice to be able to go about my day, with all of its good points and bad points, without having to worry about being made fun of. That is what it was like at this school overseas, at the pre-university college that I later went to back home (I purposely chose the one that the other people from my high school would not be going to), and at the universities that I later went to. Sure, people may still judge a book by its cover more often than not in life, but once I escaped from my high school I realized that just because someone didn't want to hang out with me, didn't mean that they were going to make fun of me.

My father finds it difficult to understand why I haven't expressed any desire to raise my family in this idyllic little town, a place that he grew up and that he chose to raise his family. It was a small town without the bad influences that sometimes come with a large city. It had plenty of recreational opportunities and green space and other young families. My father was a local business owner, having taken over his father's business when he passed away. He and my mother chose this place to raise a family for all of the right reasons. They couldn't have foreseen this. It wasn't their fault.

I eventually got over it. After I escaped and found out that the whole world is not like that hell hole. But there are still times when I feel a twinge of trepidation in certain social environments. When I am in my old home town in places where people I went to school with congregate, I try to fade into the background, to hide, to not get noticed. When I am in a new social environment, I do often worry initially that it may end up being like the place I grew up. Thankfully, I am usually quickly put at ease when I find out that it is not.

But my experience leaves me wondering and worried. As a parent, will I know if my child is being bullied? Even if I do know, will I truly be able to do anything about it? Or worse, what if my child is the bully and I don't know about it? There are great resources out there on bullying, I know that. I try to teach my children to be tolerant of people that are different from them, as does our school system. But I still feel somewhat helpless. As does my friend.

So I worry.
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Reader Comments (66)

I was homeschooled until Grade 8 so I never experienced any of that but when I went to high school the groups were already established. It took a year to find out where I fit in. I tried hanging out with the popular kids who were nice but never invited me to any parties.

If I were you, I would try to stand out in your hometown. You're more successful than most of them, which is sweet revenge.

There are so many things us parents have to worry about. Bullying is scary because there is not much you can do. I keep thinking parenting is going to get easier when the kids grow up a bit but there just comes a whole new set of problems

Augh. That makes me so sad for the 4 year old (and 4 to 15 year old) you! I also dislike going to my hometown's social events. We visit my parents about 4 or 5 times a year, but when we go, I rarely leave their house unless it is to go to a larger town 40 miles away or see family.

August 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCasey

This is a really sad story that happens every single day. I feel sorry for the little girl you were even knowing it has made you the person you are today. I grew up in a small community, had very similar experiences and chose to go to a high school where none of my grade school "friends" were going and it was a 1.5 hr bus ride each way. What you have spoken of, the way children treat each other, is the main reason I chose not to send my children to school. I believe they are much too young to be left to raise themselves (because there is not nearly enough adult supervision to keep these things from happening). Your child will be bullied and will be a bully - at some time or another. Only with your love and support will your children survive - just like you did. They are lucky to have you!

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRashel

Awww. *HUGS*
Bullies suck! ;(

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAl_Pal

*sad face* I'm 25 and everyone still makes fun of me.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commentershannon

@shannon: I'm so sorry. That sucks. People can be horrible.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

As a preschool teacher I struggled to break up the social strata that invaded my PreK class. I expected it when I was working with elementary aged kids but it shocked me when I saw it so clearly defined in such young children. Even when children aren't being overtly bullied , and teased simple quiet mean girl tactics are in place . I wish I had some easy answer to how to fix it, I rearranged groups, I encouraged new friendships, we role played , read stories, and talked and talked.... I like to think it made some difference but I know it wasn't enough.

Now that I am a mom I worry about this, I think that building my son's confidence, helping him become as resilient as possible is the best route because I know I can't shelter him from this as much as I desperately want to.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAllie

Thank you so much for sharing this. I was one of the rejects too, and I can definitely still feel it today. I'm defensive and untrusting and I assume a person is a rude jerk first. It's easier to know they will be the bully than to be the girl waiting under the tree.

I so wish we all out-grew it, that the adult world is far removed from the childish cruelty. But it isn't. You are so brave for writing this.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSummer

First off I think of you as one of the cool kids Annie. I assume if we were to meet I would stammer in fear of saying something not so very intelligent sounding, as I can often do when first meeting people. Blogs are great places to hide our flaws.
Secondly, I too worry about the bullying issue. My dd starts Kindergarden this year. She's led an insular life so far. All of her friends have been kids at my daycare and she being my daughter has been at the top of the totem pole, the daycare being her home, her domain, her territory. But among my friend's kids I feel like she is the outcast. She is the shy one, the one who doesn't ever want to play their games for fear of not getting the rules right, for fear of doing it wrong, for fear of getting hurt. When we all meet up she sits on my lap the entire time or wants me to pick her up and carry her around. She has always been this way. I worry for her. None of my friend's kids say anything as far as I can tell. They are all young though and the children of SAHMs so most have not been influenced by the meany kids everyone meets at pre-school or the larger daycare centers.
My daughter has been assessed for autism spectrum disorder and after 2 1/2 years the specialists said that nothing is diagnoseably wrong with her. But she IS different and eventually kids will pick up on the fact that she is more timid, more cautious and fearful than the others. And then maybe she will get bullied. I also worry about her possibly becoming the bullier. And I have to say, in my fear of this I did already try to find resources for parents of bullies, and you know what? It's all abut creating resources for the parents of the victims. I guess society assumes the parents of the bullies are beyond help because they all don't care what their kids does and likely smoke and drink and do drugs and can't hold down a job. But she's heading into Kindergarden and I don't know what the future holds. All I can do is hope it will all be fine.
Funny thing too I might add is that sometimes I hope she'll be able to get by on her looks. Maybe because she is so pretty (and blonde!) the kids will overlook that she's different. Maybe she'll get tolerated. She's smart too. Really smart, but when it comes to bullying fears I do hope her looks will help. Is that wrong?

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

I had similar problems in elementary school that echoed in ripples to junior high and high school. It made me a better person: someone who is more inclusive, really good at reading social cues, in short, I learned how to be a people person and get people to like me. The reason I'm this way is that I was teased and bullied at a young age.

I never want my children to have to go through that pain and heartache, but if they do, I hope I'm the kind of parent (as mine were) that can put things in perspective and use the experience to make them stronger, kinder people.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAzucar

I totally understand trying to keep your place above the lower people on the social ladder. Once in 6th grade, we were supposed to partner up with someone for a project, no one wanted to be my partner so I was stuck with a kid even lower than me (we were the last two who didn't have partners) and I ended up crying over it. I feel really bad about that now- that it mattered that I had to end up as his partner.

I think part of it is inherent on how the school system is set up. In my mind- the fact that you were older and in a higher grade definitely made you cooler. As a 4th grader, I wouldn't play with 3rd graders because they were "below" me. I never was in one of those multi-aged classes, though my husband was. I wonder if that had an effect on the age social ladder in his school.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTopHat

The sad news about bullying is that it is so defining. Some people's temperaments predispose them to be traumatized more than others. The behavior patterns that result often lead to repeat victimization and repeat trauma, and can lead to anxiety disorders that persist throughout life and impact workplace and family relationships.

I think bullying has existed since the caveman era. Perhaps it is part of the evolutionary process. It's our responsibility to inoculate our children against bullying by teaching them coping strategies.

Because I too was traumatized by bullying as a child I began working with my son at age three to help him understand that bullies behave that way because they feel bad about themselves and putting people down helps them feel more powerful. I also taught him that they thrive on reactions to their bullying and to visibly shrug it off and redirect his attention to people or activities that he could trust. I think the insight was powerful for him. I often heard him repeat my advice as he grew up. I saw him deflect bullying, and at 20, he reports to me that for the most part, bullies left him alone. They focused on the people who felt hurt and showed their reactions the most.

I also taught him to recognize bullying when it was happening to others, especially his friends. I taught him to pass his wisdom and strategies on to his friends. One day when he was in third grade, I got a call from school. My son had stepped in to stop a bully from victimizing his friend. Unfortunately, my usually pacifistic son used his fists (the one and only time throughout school) to help his friend. YIKES! We had to refine the strategies a little! :-)

There are curricula to help children, but it's the parent's role to help children learn the roots of bullying and how to deflect AND not take part in it.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFran Sokol Simon

Wow - that was very powerful and must have been very difficult to write. I was very similar and found my friends in grade 11 and university. I don't enjoy my hometown and would never raise my children there. My only solace in elementary school is that I was in a gifted program so I went to a different school 1 day a week. It really was my escape - that's where all of the other kids like me were. It was great.
I worry for my kids too.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Annie, thank you for being brave enough to post this. I have wanted to blog about my horrible experience with bullying, but haven't done it yet because some weird part of my brain thinks my friends will suddenly realize they're hanging out with an untouchable and drop me. I know, silly, right?

And for the record, I thought you were lovely at BlogHer--very approachable and fun to talk to.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Mother Tongue

I was one of the ones who were generally not worth the time of the popular kids but I do remember some unprovoked (and bewildering) bullying episodes. Reid seems to try to float by with just a couple of close friends but she ran into trouble in the fall when she liked a new girl that the girl who "ran" kindergarten also wanted that girl as a friend. The teacher intervened and things got better. But I told Reid that she was to call people on their unpleasantness - making faces and saying mean things - to her and others and to tell the teacher when she needs to. She tends to accept meanness and hope for someone to intervene. That worries me at least as much as the meanness itself.

I wonder where the parents of the bullies are in the blogosphere? It would be hard for them, too, if they saw this behaviour in their kids.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMom On The Go

You're living a fulfilling life. My husband likes to say "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Maybe the little blond girl turned out to be miserable. Not that we wish that but life is strange in so many ways.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterthegardenhive

[...] Read more at PhD in Parenting [...]

Although I'm no expert, some zoological stuff I've read suggests to me that bullying and social standing is a normal part of primate, and perhaps mammalian, behaviour. Come to think of it - dogs do exactly the same thing when they're in a pack. Adult humans do it too - it's just that as an adult you often (not always) have the opportunity to move away from the behaviour. Of course sometimes it moves from "pack standing" to really nasty stuff - too often probably, and likely not helped by overworked teachers and helpless, or worse, proud, parents.

As much as I think it's likely normal, it's also undesireable. Just because other primates do it too doesn't mean I didn't feel bullied - this story rings true for me too (I have often wondered whether the internet is heavily biased towards people who are more introverted and thus had similar experiences growing up in some ways). I was more or less in the middle of the social standing in elementary school - I had no problems at all in Scotland, where I lived until I was 8, but as soon as I moved here, I was quieter and didn't "fit in" with the Canadian kids, and some smelled blood. Probably would have happened eventually in Scotland too as we grew up. I remember being happy when I switched schools for a "fresh start" but inevitably I'd end up pretty much where I'd been. Grade 9 I was bullied, physically and emotionally, by the boy whose locker was next to mine, and then of course his friends. (Ironically he wanted to date me in grade 13 when we had grown out of some of that stupidity - I can't believe to this day that he didn't get how much he hard hurt me).

Why didn't I tell my parents? Who knows. A few "oh ignore thems" and a few "he probably just likes you" shut me up, but I can't blame it all on them. I think it's probably also human nature to keep it inside.

Which worries me for my daughter as she enters junior kindergarten this year. She's cute, has inherited lots of cute clothes - but she's also introverted and hesitant. Where will she end up? Will I hear about it if someone's mean to her? Will I hear about it if she's mean to someone else?? I guess it remains to be seen - I hope we can make it through unscathed....

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJuliette

You had an amazing memory for a four year old!

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJen

I get nervous, okay scared when I think about my kids growing up and dealing with bullies. Or even being bullies. I don't know which would upset me more.

I was bullied, although we didn't call it that at the time. Kids were just "mean". I hope I don't say to my kids what my mom said to me, that "they are just jealous of you". That means nothing to a pre-teen who can't understand that what there is to be jealous of!

I think the best that can happen is that you find other people like yourself who don't care what others thing (or as much as that is possible with kids). I was lucky to get in with a great group of nerds who were for the most part happy to be what they were.

Annie, your school sounded awful. So sorry you had to go through that!

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCapital Mom

Hugs to you! And to me. Your story sounds very much like mine, right down to going overseas on exchange and then further schooling at a different school than the one I began at.
My history is a big part of why I was eager to homeschool my children until they were old enough to have the confidence I lacked due to early school experiences. My eldest has a personality very much like my own and I feared for him. Now that we are considering school, I am able to try a location and teaching environment that feels more inclusive to his style and interests.
Thanks for posting this!!

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSam

I was a bullying victim too. When I was seven I moved to a new town and the kids were so cruel I wanted to kill myself. 1 boy held a vote while teachr was out of room 2 see how many people didn't like me. I hated myself so much I voted against. I never could figure out what was wrong with me and what they wanted from me. Then I grew up, left, and realized...

A bully's opinion of you, the way they treat you, is a reflection of who THEY are. It has nothing to do with who YOU are.

I'm still scared of people. But I'm getting better. Thanks for your post. It really spoke to me. I especially liked the part about when you did things "wrong" they ridiculed you, when you did things "right" they ridiculed you. I think that's the key to understanding the behavior. After spending years trying to figure out what was wrong with me, and why couldn't I win, and why couldn't I do things right I realized I was playing a game I was meant to lose. I was betting against the house, and the house was cheating. I wasn't failing because of some personal flaw. I was failing because it was the only option presented to me in their stupid little game. Once I realized that, and realized how pathetic and petty their game was {really, if THAT's how you feel good about yourself, if THAT's how you gain a sense of power and importance then you're pretty pathetic}...once I realized that I was able to start healing.

Now one of my mantras is:

What someone says or thinks about me is NOT the truth simply because it is said/thought.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHolly @ Domestic Dork

I too had a similar experience except that it started in Kindergarten and lasted until graduation. I still have nightmares of the teasing and bullying both physically and emotionally.

It is strange because away from school - at different lessons and different places I found it very easy to make friends and people generally came up to me and talked. But in school I was the nerd, the geek, the social outcast, the target for all their hatred.

I did send my daughter to kindergarten and she had a few good friends, but also got bullied and teased. She was very bored and acted out. Should could read at 3 years old, so school just wasn't the right fit for her academically or socially. So now we homeschool and have been doing so for many years. The other kids we meet that also homeschool have a very different attitude than the school kids. It makes me wonder if there is something inherent in the school system that brings out bullying, or is it that the kids who best fit the system as also those that bully? hmm?

Anyway, thanks for another interesting post.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNiqi

Ugh - I had a similar terrible experience in middle school when we moved to a new place. It was awful. I did tell my parents about it, but also asked them not to call the school as was their instinct because I thought that might make it worse for me. Where did you grow up? I have a friend from Canada who grew up in a really small town in Manitoba who had a very similar experience. I think he's still traumatized by it and hates going back to his hometown.

August 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErin

That is something to think about....."What doesn't kill you makes you grow stronger...." (that does not mean that you put up with it or allow it).
So a good attachment to your parents which has open communication lines would be able to help us 'geeks' feel a little better. Thats what I wish I had someone to talk to like my Mum (not very good at talking my Mum). Some one to share in my sadness and say 'it will be alright' or 'how can I help' or just an ear to listen to my tears with hugs.
I don't believe in bullies and I don't want my children to suffer but I don't know how to stop bullies as they will be there through life...I can only work on my attachment and teaching communication and love and that you need to love all the differences in life.

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

I'm really sorry you went through this and for so long. I have a question, though, what could've made a difference? Was there anything the teachers or school should've done? Or your parents? Or the other kid's parents?

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteryournontoxiclife

I can definitely relate. I was bullied from elementary school all through high school. During high school, a group of bullies would follow me through the halls taunting me. If I changed which way I went, they'd follow me making fun of me for trying to avoid them. Of course, if I happened upon just one of them they left me alone. I wasn't a violent person (still am not), but I could have easily "taken them" one at a time if I chose to and they knew it. Together, however, they suddenly got brave.

They would even block the door to my classroom so I couldn't get in and they could taunt me more. None of them were in this class, of course. They just wanted to torment me as much as possible.

One time while they were doing this, I almost lost it. You know the expression "seeing red?" Well, it can happen. I literally saw everything as if there was a red tint to it and my vision narrowed in on the throat of one of my tormentors. Just then my teacher arrived and told the kids to beat it. Were it not for his arrival, I'm not sure what would have happened.

I just hope that my sons never have to go through the hell that I went through. One day perhaps I'll blog about all of my bully stories. Writing it out is quite therapeutic.

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTechyDad

Stories like yours -- about the emotional pain of being bullied, and the disconnect between school children going through that social purgatory and the adults who are supposed to be their advocates -- are why we started the Can I Sit With You? project, in which today's kids can read real-life stories from the trenches, and find empathy and solace. http://www.canisitwithyou.org.

I do like your solution of getting the hell out, and choosing a new reality in which to define yourself. :)

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

I think sometimes adults forget that childhood can be a hard and brutal place. I was bulled from the age of three (when I started preschool) until 10th grade (when for some reason they started leaving me alone). These are not fond memories and have really made me who I am today. Fantastic post.

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSandy

Wow - some of these comments are heartbreaking. Just like a lot of these folks, I was bullied and targeted, too. I had an "under the tree" moment once and it defined my relationship with people for YEARS.

The single most important thing I wish I had known then was that I had the right to object and be righteous about it. I was so intent on agreeing with everyone about their shitty outlook on me and trying to reconcile that feeling with my mother's loving reassurance that they were all just jealous of me that it never occurred to me to tell them all to go fuck themselves. Seriously.

As kids we are rarely taught how to say NO and mean it and also feel good about it. Kids try to be polite, fear confrontation, and don't want to get in "trouble".

I thought I had to make what the bullies were saying to me ok in my head and when it never worked out that way I felt guilty. I felt badly because of what they said and did, I felt badly because I was powerless, and I felt badly because I was terrified of conflict and couldn't right the situation.

Oh, what I would give to turn back the clock and just say, "That was really mean and I think you're a jerk," and walk away with my dignity and a sense of self reliance. Or even just to yell, "NO! Don't touch me!!" I think teaching our kids to stick up for themselves, and even others, is a critical component of raising a well-rounded kid. Just as we teach them to rely on themselves with the physical world, we have to teach them to rely on themselves in the social world, too.

What about the parents of these bullies? Children act the way they've been taught to act. Maybe we should looking at the parents of these bullies. You may quickly find that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Oh I do worry about this too. I worry about my shy 8 year old who seems to go every where he is led. And i worry about my outgoing 4 year old and if his wonderful fire will be extinguished. It scares the crap out of me actually.

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChantal

Annie. Val here. That post was fantastic. I think it pretty much sums up how at least half of all people were treated in school. Anytime someone says "I wish I were sixteen again", I can't help but think "you must have been horrible". I used to hide in the bathroom at recess to avoid the other kids. I haven't been to my hometown in years, and everytime I do go and see someone I went to school with, I regress back to being a nervous kid with zero self-confidence. But the people who were outcasts in school often end up being successful, confident and interesting people. I ended up living abroad and having a pretty great life, and they're all still where they were at 16... it does sometimes feel like sweet revenge... I guess all you can do is encourage your children to believe in themselves and do everything you can to get them to like who they are.

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterval

Wow, you brought back memories for me. The popular girls at the elementary school I attended became the popular clique all through school. Although I was "in" I couldn't wait to escape the drama and rules that came with being accepted by them. As soon as we entered middle school, I left all that behind and made new friends that I enjoyed being with.

Now within my circle of moms, an acquaintance's daughter is the bully, but the mom doesn't notice (or maybe doesn't care.) I feel empathy for the child, even though she also bullies my daughter- because my daughter has already said to me "Chloe" is sometimes nice and sometimes mean. I don't like playing with her anymore." So we're slowly growing away from this group because I support my daughter's choice to play with friends she likes, who treat her like a friend.

I help encourage her to name her feelings when this child is mean. I also encourage my daughter to continue to play with the other children "Chloe" is playing with, even when "Chloe" says they can't. I say, loud enough for all (parents and children) to hear - "Chloe is not in charge of who plays with whom. If she doesn't want to play with you, then she can choose not to play with anyone."

I don't mind standing up to the mob mentality even among 4 year olds, especially when it shows my daughter she really does have choices. And it (hopefully) gives her the courage to continue to be proud to be herself.

I also remember what my mom told me once when I was still involved with the "popular" crowd. She said, "You don't have to like everyone or be friends with everyone, but you DO have to be kind to everyone, no matter what everyone else is doing." This continues to serve me well. (Mom was right about a lot!)

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Angstadt

@Karen Angstadt,

I wish I had supportive parents like you had. When it came to advice on how to deal with the bullies, my mother told me to ignore them and my father told me to fight back (literally with my fists). I was so afraid of being sent to the principal's office that I tried my best to ignore them. That is *NOT* what I will advise my son to do should he be bullied. (I won't suggest he fight them either, of course. I'll advise talking to a teacher, other kids, us, etc.)

Of course, my father would also blame me for my being bullied. If we were headed out and I was running a few minutes late, he'd tell me "This is why kids make fun of you at school." Yeah, right. They made fun of me because I needed to go to the bathroom 30 seconds before my father deemed it time to leave. I knew this wasn't the case, but the mere fact that my father was trying to lay the bullying blame on my shoulders hurt. (Again, not something I'll do with my kids.)

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTechyDad

It just makes me so sad to read not only your post, but so many comments from others who've experienced much the same thing.

I can relate to much of what you wrote about and, as you said, it sticks with you. Even as an adult it's hard to shake those assumptions that everyone you meet will treat you or think of you the same way the mean kids did.

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWhozat

"This started when I was four years old and it continued all through kindergarten, elementary school, and high school. [...] The list goes on."

That was the story of my life from elementary school to CÉGEP too - I can absolutely relate! Right on with the ridiculed no matter what. I've tried it! There's just no way out, and it can, really, be hell of Earth for a child/teen. You just can't DO anything. I've almost changed schools a few times, but then didn't. Things did ease up when I started CÉGEP - quite a few of the kids from high school did go to my CÉGEP, but it was in Montréal, so pretty big to start with, and the example of the little girl apologizing sums it up: they weren't bound by the cliques anymore, so they COULD come and talk to me without being henceforth shunned. Hurrah. :)

The idea that this might happen to my children is also a very important issue for me. I like to hope that we will have a good enough relationship that they will be able to tell me about it, like I was able to tell my mom. But you never know, huh...

(Then again, I'm considering homeschooling (and I will admit the whole bullying issue is one of the many reasons why I am), so it might take care of that problem - at least, in a school-setting.)

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohanne

I had some very eerie, similar experiences as you. I HATE my hometown and was resentful that my sister chose to move back, which means I am confronted with painful memories every single time I visit her.

Great post! This was a shared item for me in Google reader by someone I follow, but I can see you are writing on similar topics as I am. As such, I will summarily be adding you to MY reader. :-)

August 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercagey

Amazing writing!

Having grown up in a small town, I'm convinced that larger cities are better for raising children. There are more opportunities, there is more space, there are more options.

And we all feel a small amount of social trepidation. It's great that you were able to overcome the taunts of that troubled girl.

August 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAll Adither

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August 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRay P

My own biggest bully wasn't a school mate - it was my own sister who tormented me. She was the pretty/slender/athletic/popular one and I was the stockier/plainer/sensitive/glasses-wearing brainiac. She was vicious and she did weird stuff like went after me with a kitchen knife once, and slapped my arm after I accidentally burned it on an iron, and slapped the back of my head when I was drinking milk. It was awful. My mom never seemed to be around when she tormented me the worst - after school we came home to an empty house and my oldest sister was of course "in charge".

I have a lot of worries for my middle daughter. My middle daughter (almost 6) has selective mutism - it's a severe form of social anxiety that causes her to be mute in social settings like school. We've been working with her over a year now and she's improved, but I am really concerned about the potential for bullying. Especially since one of the 7 year old boys down the street informed all three of my girls that he was going to hypnotize my oldest into killing her two younger sisters. She had a hard time falling asleep that night. It was awful to hear that from my already anxiety prone daughter.

This wasn't some random school kid. This was my oldest daughter's "best" friend who said that (probably because he doesn't like the two younger ones as much as my oldest daughter). I posted about in this post http://raisingsmartgirls.wordpress.com/2009/07/09/a-disturbing-little-incident/" rel="nofollow">A disturbing little incident. You can bet I was upset about it.

When school starts in a few weeks, I'm going to be having a conversation with the school psychologist and find out what they might be able to do for her to help "bully-proof" her, if that's at all possible. They do have a zero tolerance policy and so far my oldest child seems to think they do a good job of bully prevention at least during school hours.

But the thing that irritates the pee out of me is that the parents of children who are aggressive don't think it's a big deal. "Kids will be kids - let them work it out" is the motto with some of them. Or, "come on, he didn't mean it that way". I'm really disgusted with parents who don't think harassing another child is no big deal.

I wanted to thank you all for your comments, your support, your hugs and your stories. I've been thinking a lot about the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" concept and will probably write a post on that in the near future. I think it is more complicated that it appears on the surface.

August 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] pat siūlau paskaityti šios – dabar jau suaugusios moters – pasakojimą apie savo jaunystę. Skaičiau ir taip ir norėjosi siųsti visiems, su kuriais esu kalbėjusi ir kurie man yra bandę [...]

I've been up and down on this one. I remember having a lot of friends in kindergarten and then we moved. At my new neighborhood I made a good number of friends but others started noticing I was "different". I skipped a grade and then suddenly I was not only the "braniac" who "talked funny" but also was suddenly picked last for teams.

Not only was I younger and higher-performing academically--I was one of the few kids who was ethnically different from the rest of the neighborhood.

I had some "popular" friends who protected me but there were others who tormented me. Sometimes I was invited, sometimes I was left out and picked on. I thought of myself as uncool, awkward, and unattractive. This endured until high school. Suddenly in high school, all the older kids paid attention to me. Told me I was smart, talented, pretty. I didn't know how to handle all this...but that's another story and one I'd prefer not to share in a public forum.

But still the kids in my grade tortured me. I was crushed as all my friends graduated and went to college and wrote them long letters and wished I could get out of there even earlier.

Now, my daughter is bright and intense and about to attend a couple of hours of preschool. I will be watching closely to see how she functions in the group dynamic.

August 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCandace

I was just thinking of this post the other day as I went through a bunch of old stories I had written during my grade school days. One stood out as it had obviously been written for a class assignment. It detailed a kid in high school who was picked on by other kids and how he felt. It was a not-subtle-at-all tale of how I felt in High School. Even the names were non-subtle. I used my middle name for the "me" character and kept my best friend's first name intact. I might have to make a "being bullied" post myself and post the story online. It's quite interesting for me to get such a clear peak back into my High School mindset as many times memories get clouded over time.

August 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTechyDad

Whatever our differences on other issues, I have great respect for your courage in writing this post, and I thank you for being brave enough to do so.

August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah V.

[...] I wrote recently about my experience being bullied, a number of well meaning people noted, in Nietzsche style: That which does not kill us makes us [...]

(Previously a Teachers assistant)
Parents and schools have no disciplinary actions available.If you spank a child its child abuse,(I disagree)If you shell out consequences for bad children its demeaning and lowers self esteem(whatever)They tried to tell me how to re word things as to not sound demanding towards the child???Shouldn't a teacher have control over their class not the student?Example I couldn't say, Do not slide down the slide that way,you will get hurt, but instead had to rephrase it as (Now you should be careful and try sitting down before you slide or else you may get hurt.)They told me and the other assistants not to have the child say I am sorry,saying they do not understand until they are 10 wtf?I was like yes they do and I go into detail with the children,Why are you sorry?What did you do that was not nice?How should we treat others,Why don't you try telling him/her how their bullying makes you feel Etc...I blame the school system along with some of the parents for these bullies.I mean the schools are not hard enough on bullies in my opinion.There is a child that always bullies the other kids including my daughter and I went to this childs mother,saying I thought I would come to you 1st before I went through the school,I explained everything that was happening and she said I don't know what to do?I gave her a list to choose from haha.Anyways didn't work and had to take it to the school. Then I tried another approach,thinking maybe this girl needs a real friend and let her stay over night with my daughter.Well I was agitated quickly by the child, she kicked my sons friend that was staying with him and punched my son all this within 10 minutes.I have had other problems with this same girls brother but he is perfect in the mothers eyes.This ladies 12 year old son called my daughter an ugly B*tch,when she just asked to play ball with them.My daughter was 8 and she is a little sweety,I mean teachers love her in their class but they are concerned that she is to sweet for her own good.Why should my child have to be an ass because some parents can not raise their kids with good values?Anyways, when I complained the father says I will talk to him and I do not believe anything happened because the boy was out playing like nothing phased him all that day.The one child (the girl) has been suspended from the bus and the school has to let her back on they can't suspend indefinitely for the year.So why are parents of good children having to suffer the consequences at another parents lack of care.Shouldnt it be the other way around and make the parent with the problem child the one to suffer through it,(Take your brat to school yourself,Child has to show improvement or get to special school for behavioral problems?I mean there are things schools can do but most seem to choose not to in the mean time a lot of good children have to just sit in the back and suffer through their school years.I really make myself heard in this department because being bullied is terrible for anyone and an innocent child that has to ask themselves and others what is wrong with me,or why am I so ugly,to why does no one like me is bullhockey.I mean every child can be a bit insulting at times and bully a little.Difference is the good child will own up to their mistakes, even go apologize to the person they may have cost hurt feelings towards.Even with the way I go on about my rampage on bullies, forgive spelling just typing in anger of such sad stories I read hear.None of you should of been punished like that if anyone should have been punished it should of been the bully.Just really irks me to see and know these things happen and how it makes you as a parent feel so powerless,or how it makes a child feel so lonely and unwanted.Then to know schools really are not doing much for these bullied children.

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

Heather: I agree that more needs to be done to deal with bullying in schools. I do not think that spanking kids is the answer though. I do think that http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/11/04/best-anti-spanking-resources/" rel="nofollow">spanking is abuse. That doesn't mean that bullying is not abuse. But being aggressive towards a bully isn't going to make that person less of a bully, it is going to teach them that hitting other people is an appropriate way to get them to do what you want them to do.

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I understand spanking is not the only answer, different things work for different kids.I just remember when I was in school how the parent, the principal, and the teacher would be in the hall ready to give out spankings when you were misbehaving.The parents would either do it themselves or let the teacher or principal.I feel as a society we are starting to let many things go and our children notice this.When I worked for a childrens home in AZ, you betcha every one of them kids knew you could not do anything to them.We had everything from abuse,runaways,kids waiting for adoption,gangbangers,and parents that handed them over pleading for us to help them with their child.If they ran away the police brought them right back because there was nothing more they could do,that is what the police would say.DFC,Impact and other programs that involved themselves in cases with the children were jokes.The saddest thing I heard working there well 1 of them, was think of these kids like cattle do not get attached because all we do is herd them in then herd them out.I just cannot believe our system anymore,even the kids new they meant nothing to the system.I had to fight with them to talk to their therapist,or their dfc worker,they would always refuse saying they do not care about me,or listen to what I have to say.They were for the most part right,society is numbing themselves to much.

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

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