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Ugly and Stupid

September 19, 2011

A boy in my daughter’ Catherine’s* class has been calling her ugly and stupid.

Before I go any further, please know that I have brought the teacher into the loop and I understand that these things happen in the third grade, and I am 100% thrilled with the way the teacher and school administration are handling the situation. That’s not what this post is about.

This post is about the effect on my daughter of being called ugly and stupid for months.

“Months,” you say? But school has only been in session for a few weeks.

Evidently this name calling has been going on since last year, and my daughter only told me about it recently, but she’s been dwelling on it since last spring, and it’s gone on long enough that she has begin to believe that she truly is both ugly and stupid.

It started when he started bringing her presents every day. At first, she was thrilled. Then, he began telling her what games to play on the playground and demanding that she play with him, and let him kiss her. I told her that if it made her uncomfortable she didn’t have to let him, so she told him, “No.”

That’s when the ugly and stupid name calling started, she tells me now, but I didn’t find out about it until recently.

When she wants attention, it’s obvious. This wasn’t. I had to sit on her to squeeze out what was wrong. She whispered it to me.

“Am I ugly and stupid,” she asked? “I feel like I’m ugly and stupid.”

For the record, my daughter is neither. I haven’t lavished praise on her because I don’t want her to get conceited, but other people tell me she is beautiful, and her teachers tell me that she is very smart. She does well in school and in her activities. When she told me she felt ugly and stupid, I was dumbfounded. A few days later, I asked her, “What on earth made you think you are ugly and stupid?” Two tears squeezed out. My daughter, the Drama Queen, usually cries in torrents, but this was different. “Alex** has been calling me ugly and stupid.”

“Since when?”

“Since he stopped giving me presents.” Then she collapsed into a puddle. I hugged her until she felt better; dinner was late, that day.

We talked about it some more — a lot more — and then we did some role playing. I knew it was important to stop the namecalling, and also to empower her to stand up for herself.

“I’m not stupid, I just don’t like you.”

“As if…” with the perfect eyeroll.

“My little brother’s cooler than you.” He is.

“Like I care what you think,” with the perfect withering inflection.

So far so good. She talked to her teacher about the problem, and the teacher told my daughter Catherine to let her know the next time it happened.

It did, and she told on him, and Alex got a stern talking-to.

He picked on her and she rolled her eyes at him and sassed him back and the other girls in the class gave her “thumbs up.” She was jubilant.

So far so better.

Until today.

During P.E., under sketchy pretenses, he beamed her in the chest with a soccer ball hard enough to make her cry for a long time, and he told another boy, a friend of hers, to push her off the bleachers.

I’ve got my own ideas as to what’s going on.

First of all, I want to make it perfectly clear, I have met this boy’s mother and she is lovely. It’s not a case of one bad apple.

I think it’s much, much worse.

For whatever reason, I think this boy is already acting out a textbook pattern of relationship abuse, in the second and third grade.

I’m not sure what to do next. One thing is to have another serious conversation with the teacher. That’s already in the works. Another thing is to alert the parents of the other girls in the class as to what our experience with this boy has been. The third thing is to tell the story, because being silent about this kind of thing is just so last millennium.

I’m so proud of my daughter. I promised her, when she confided in me, that I would do everything I know to do about her situation, and I always keep my promises.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Her middle name. I’ve started doing that for my kids on this blog.

**Not his real name, obviously. I am neither ugly nor stupid.

 

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7 Comments
  1. Abigail Carlton permalink

    I think you are impressive for not causing bodily harm to this child out of sheer maternal instinct. Of course, when one’s blood cools a bit, poor boy.

    • The pen is mightier than the fist. I shall also alert the other girls’ moms, and insist that the school talk to the boy’s mom about her son’s behavior.

  2. You are really on the ball and approaching this horrid situation in the most effective and sensitive way. More power to you and your daughter.

  3. Jean Goodrich permalink

    My own daughter has had some bullying issues, too; mostly with other girls, not boys. It actually took half a year for us to figure out what was going on. And it was 3rd grade. We’d assumed she was having “friend problems” because she was part of a girl triangle, but when the mother of another child said her own daughter had been told by classmates not to be friends with my daughter (and she had refused to give up her new friend, wonderful girl!), it suddenly made sense. It finally crossed the line when the bully child told my daughter that most of the class wouldn’t care if she were dead. My daughter’s tears in the car driving home that afternoon almost broke my heart (and child or not, the bully was lucky she was not anywhere within my reach).

    Unfortunately, when I contacted the teacher about this, she assured me she had already talked to the involved children about “the dead thing.” When I expressed my concern that my child was beginning to feel isolated and saying she didn’t like school, the teacher reported back to me my own child’s hurtful behavior. I was surprised, because what she described was not the little girl I knew. In retrospect, however, I realized that my daughter’s hurtful words were the defensive response after finally being hurt enough she couldn’t ignore it. The teacher always seemed to catch the emotional reaction, but rarely the instigator.

    My daughter had met the school counselor the year before when she was invited to a “welcome lunch” for all the new kids at the school that fall. Before I gave in to the urge to jump on the teacher, I contacted the counselor because my daughter had liked her so much. Not only was the counselor able to sort out the problem and speak to all of the children involved, but she was able to act as an impartial observer. Without saying anything negative about the teacher, she basically assured me that my own daughter was as loving and wonderful as I had always thought she was.

    Honestly, it’s not that I suddenly believed my girl became a little monster when she left my sight. I really had to dampen that “Mama Bear” response of defending her. I listened to what the teacher had to say because I wasn’t there myself to see what happened. And as with your own daughter, my girl wasn’t able to understand just what was happening to be able to tell me what I needed to know to figure it out. Today, I believe that the teacher herself was fooled by the bully child, who seemed to be able to manipulate so many people in the classroom that year. I believe it, yet I still can’t forgive the one person who was there and could have intervened sooner, but instead made my own daughter feel like the nastiness was all her own fault.

    It’s one thing for “Alex” to have said something mean after having his feelings hurt, but it’s quite another for the verbal harassment to have continued on for so long. You should without hesitation tell the teacher of this new incident, and I think the principal should be involved in this too, as the teacher is going to need backup. His parents need to be informed and brought into the conversation, because there is only so much the school can accomplish in the 6-7 hours they have him. Because Catherine stood up to Alex (Good for her!), now he has escalated his response not just to physical harassment but also to the stage of recruiting accomplices. One of the reasons bullies can get away with what they do is because there are others who, out of fear or peer pressure, enable the bullying behavior. If it hadn’t been for my daughter’s ONE friend who stood by her, it’s likely she would have been completely isolated in class, with no friends, no allies, no teacher to mediate, and parents who couldn’t figure out what was going wrong. And though I personally would be more inclined not to speak to other parents out of discretion and trying to be fair to the other (bully) child, if it hadn’t been for this friend’s mother saying something to me, it would have taken even longer to stop the harassment.

    Knowing what my own little girl has gone through, I can only feel sorrow that your daughter put up with it for so long. Sorrow and anger. She is neither ugly nor stupid. She is, quite honestly, a strong and brave young woman. For refusing to give in to his pressure and for standing up to his threats, she has demonstrated her intelligence as well as a strength of character, which makes her truly beautiful. Please also tell Catherine that, just by chance, I was reading your blog when my daughter came in to say goodnight. She peeked over my shoulder and began to read. She whispered, “Just like me,” and insisted that I post a reply (though I don’t think she intended that I write the “novel” that I have). I think reading about Catherine standing up to her bully has had an influence on my daughter. She had to go to sleep, but I’m interested to see what she says about it over the next few days.

    By the way, be forewarned. Fourth grade means the “Health and Human Development” unit in the spring. Now all of a sudden the kids know a lot more, but don’t know how to handle it. (My daughter had to come home and say the words “penis” and “tampon,” just to see if Dad would freak out. He did.) The boys are now aware that some girls are developing, some are already wearing sports or “training” bras. The boys may also be discovering that while the girls are starting the changes they’ve learned about, many of the boys are not. According to our pediatrician, puberty in girls seems to be starting a year or more sooner than it did for us. (Oh yeah, I am sooo not ready for that!) And while the girls seem to gather in small groups, whisper and giggle, the boys come right out and say it, loud and clear and with an audience of other boys standing by to impress. We’ve already had one incident (the story my daughter probably wanted me to share), and this involving the “nice” boy that’s actually a friend.

  4. askmoxie permalink

    I wonder if Alex isn’t seeing this at home. And if his mother has any idea that he’s doing this.

  5. Moxie, I would up looping Alex’s mother into what’s been going on. I am outclassed by a mile. She’s freaking awesome. Just sayin’ sometimes you can’t blame the family.

    What kind of wonderful hears something like that about her own kid, thanks me for telling her, believes me, and then takes steps.

    I love my kids’ school.

  6. Abigail permalink

    ER, Just wanted to let you know that I’ve thought about this particular post several times in the past month and it’s really given me fodder for thought and made me tweek my parenting a bit.

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