My 5 year old daughter has a "friend" at preschool who has says horrible things to her, such as "you're no good." "you're stupid." I encourage her to make other friends but she continues to play with her. At the same time, she has been acting out at home, being incredibly defiant, and now calling us "stupid."
I worry that my daughter is somewhat insecure and is being bullied by this other preschooler. Should I mention it to the teacher? How should I handle her behavior at home--I want to be firm, but I am aware that she is probably reacting to what's going on in school.
From: Gillian, Quincy, MA
Based on this info, I wouldn't say this playmate is a bully. I also wouldn't say she's not. What I would say is that this is a child trying out ways to exert power. That's also what you're seeing at home. From your daughter's perspective, this girl is not so much discharging frustration and anger as she is exerting power over her; "stupid" is the 4-8-year-old's equivalent of a nasty, grown-up swear. (And don't adults usually swear as a way to feel powerful in situations where they are powerless?) Your daughter might not have the nerve to use such a daring word to a peer, but she can try it out on you and no doubt feel a surge of power in the process.
Your job to help her learn how to exert strong feelings -- anger, frustration, power -- in acceptable ways.
When she calls you stupid, stay calm but stop in your tracks. Turn so you are facing her, make eye contact, and say something like this: "I feel hurt inside inside when you call me "stupid." I can't be with/play with you when you talk to me like that." Then disengage from what you were doing with her, either by turning away or walking away. Tell her, "I can be with you again when you can find some other way to tell me your feelings."' In other words, you're telling her that she's entitled to her feelings -- and that you still like her enough to want to play with her -- but your self-respect entitles you to stand up for yourself.
At a later, quieter time, you can also tell her, "You know, it's OK for you to be angry with me. It's even OK for you to think I'm stupid. What's not OK is to use words that are hurtful. There are other ways to let me know you are angry." Later still, you can brainstorm together what some of those ways might be, which you then can turn around and suggest as responses to a playmate that says mean things.
Meanwhile, yes, I'd tell the teacher. Schools in Massachusetts take bullying behavior very seriously and most preschool teachers go out of their way to stop the action when they see unkind behaviors. The problem is that they don't always see the behaviors happening. So, yes, bring it to their attention and expect that they will pay closer attention to their play and intervene if necessary.
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