I was recently faced with a dilemma.
My 7-year-old daughter ran to me crying, exclaiming her friend “spit in her face.” I probably had the same expression on my face that most of you have while reading those words. I was appalled and disgusted. I was angry and hurt. More importantly, I was confused, because both my child and the other little girl are normally friends with each other. Some moms surrounding me at that moment were quick to toss out the term “mean-girl” in reference to the other girl, but had no words on what to do next. Truthfully, who would? You can tell yourself how you would handle it, how you may just walk up to the other little girl and demand an apology or confront the parents and scream for an explanation of how and why their daughter would do such a thing. In truth, I was dumbfounded. Another girl, who was a bystander, contested the same story. So I believed the event took place, but I was more curious as to what led to such an ugly confrontation.
That night after poking and prying info out of my daughter of the events leading up to “the spit” (which by now I concluded was more of a “raspberry” type spit), I realized the little girl didn’t seem to have acted out of just ugliness or spite, but because she misread a situation and her feelings were hurt somewhere along the way. Not that I’m condoning her response or reaction, but it definitely kept me up all night, thinking and analyzing the situation as it played out in my head. I reached out to a neutral party to ask for advice and took a day or two to gather my thoughts before I acted out of pure emotion. That’s when it hit me how different young minds are compared to our own. Here I was lying awake in bed awake, after taking advice from friends, and taking time to process it before I even reacted. Our children, on the other hand, react instantly. Whether they are tired, hungry, worn out, hyped up, stressed out, sad, left out, over-worked, or excited, will cause them to act differently in certain situations. For the most part, adults can tell when their bodies are telling them to slow down, eat something, drink another cup of coffee, or even have that second glass of wine. Kids just, truthfully, don’t understand their own bodies yet.
The truth behind this is…. I WAS MEAN.
I was mean in grade school to my friends. My mom had no idea because to her I was a normal, fun, and friendly little girl. For the most part, I was a happy and outgoing child, but there was something dark and painful inside of me that would unleash randomly and unexpectedly. I confessed my past actions to my mom when I was in my late 20’s. At the time I was going through 6 months of chemotherapy and reflecting on all the wrongs throughout my life. During that time, I sat and recalled my youthful anger. That’s when I realized why I lashed out the way I did. My dad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly when I was only 7. I didn’t process my hurt and pain properly. I’m sure the bottled-up sadness, anger, and confusion mixed with slight jealousy towards my friends who still had their own dads, caused me to often be mean towards those I cared about the most. I struggled with friendships for the rest of my youth into adulthood because I lived with a giant pit in my stomach from my younger meaner years. I was afraid of hurting others because I never quite understood where the anger came from. Truthfully, we never know what may be going on in our own children’s minds, much less someone else’s child. So, just try to always take that into account before assuming a child is acting out of anger or hate instead of pain or hurt.
I’m not here to say bullying is OK
I’m just trying to stress how we should not jump on our young generation so quickly or judge them so harshly. If we’re saying Sally is a “bully”/ “mean-girl” because she didn’t play with our child at recess, how will our kids grow to understand the significance and reality of those actual terms? I do believe that most young children are just processing their feelings and reacting in situations that make them uncomfortable. Give them time to develop a sense of sympathy, empathy, and accountability. All we can do as parents is be there for our own children and always listen with open eyes, ears, minds, and hearts. They’re still growing and learning every day, much like we are. Be kind and be understanding. No parent wants to see their child hurt or sad, but sometimes kids really are just being kids because that’s all they know and understand how to be.
Writer’s notes: My thoughts and expressions are based on recent personal interactions and observations amongst my own children, and do not reflect on actual bullying situations. If you do believe your child is being bullied, or if your child may be bullying others, you should always take it seriously, be proactive, and contact someone who can help.