One afternoon, I was attending to the twins' needs when my daughter casually mentioned a lunchtime incident. Several of the kids were hanging out in the classroom. When their teacher stepped out of the classroom for a few minutes, several girls took the prized guinea pig out of her cage, put her on the class rug, and started dropping water on her back. The guinea pig - stressed - pooped on the rug. When the teacher returned and asked what happened, my daughter blurted out the series of events. The teacher concluded that the guinea pig should stay in her cage going forward.
"Mommy, do you think I did the right thing?"
"I don't know," I told her. "I wasn't there. It sounds like you did tattle tale, and were slightly emotional. But on the other hand, I think you were sticking up for a defenseless animal, weren't you?" My daughter told me she had homework, so I left her alone for a little while.
I returned to her room a half hour later to find her writing a letter. "What are you up to?" I asked. She explained that at the end of the day, the three girls responsible for the guinea pig incident handed her a note. Here's what it said:
"We did not like how you said what you said…" signed Guinea Pig Bully #1
"Hey, I didn't like the way you told on us even though it was the right thing to do. Personally, I wouldn't have told...but I guess it was your decision." signed Guinea Pig Bully #2
"It was not your business it was mean." signed Guinea Pig Bully #3
My daughter's note apologized for her behavior. "Why are you apologizing to these girls for defending an animal that couldn't defend itself?" I asked her. My daughter looked confused.
"Shouldn't I kill them with kindness, Mommy, and avoid conflict?" We had a long talk. Yes, in general, magnanimity was the right approach. But what was really going on here? To me, a note signed by three girls and delivered to my daughter felt a lot like bullying - a subject my daughter's school has dedicated countless assemblies to. These girls were asserting that even if my daughter felt compelled to "do the right thing," she ought not cross them. And - I wanted my daughter to spend her lunch recess outdoors getting exercise, not participating in extracurricular classroom drama.
We decided to recycle her apology letter. Then we practiced some ways she could speak directly to the authors of the bullying note about what happened without apologizing or backing down, but in a way that would tactfully allow them to move on in favor of putting the class guinea pig's interests first. Sadly, my daughter didn't have a chance to discuss the incident with the girls. The next day, there was more guinea pig drama when the guinea pig had a stillbirth.
My daughter learned an important lesson that week. Bullying comes in all shapes and sizes. It doesn't just look like someone getting beaten up on the blacktop. It often comes from those in a position of power trying to silence those they perceive as weaker.
My daughter has been spending recess outside playing basketball ever since.
How have you explained the nuances bullying to your children? How have you helped them negotiate the subtleties of doing what's right in the face of social pressures?