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Erin Smith Headshot

When Is It Acceptable to Confront Your Child's Bully?

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We hear so many tragic stories on the news nowadays about kids being bullied in school. As common as bullying is, many just accept it as a part of life that "everyone has to go through" and discount the fact that it often leaves deep, life-long scars. This unfortunate behavior ranges from "seemingly" innocent teasing to unfathomable acts of ill-will.

My situation is a little different from the average parent's, but I think the same issues can be addressed. My 5-year-old daughter has Leukemia. She was diagnosed when she was 4 and lost all of her hair from the chemotherapy. She was out of school for nine months and finally was able to go to Kindergarten this past September.

Knowing how mean kids can be, I was scared to death to send her. I was certain kids would tease her due to her lack of hair. We talked with her teachers and decided that the best way to approach the situation would be to address it with the class upfront. The very first day of school, the teachers would let the class know that my daughter would be wearing a hat because she's taking medicine that made her hair fall out, but that she's getting better and it would grow back. Then, they asked if there were any questions. There were a few innocent questions, and then for the most part, it was over.

I was highly impressed and relieved with how the kids handled it. Part of it was probably due to the kids being 5. I don't think kids really start to get "mean" until around 3rd grade. My daughter instantly made friends and was happy. We had prepared her for certain, anticipated questions because, of course, kids would be curious. We let her know that it was her job to be the teacher and educate them, and she seemed OK with that.

There has been the occasional hurtful comment here and there. Someone asked her the first week of school if she was a boy, which I would assume would be devastating to a beautiful little girl used to having a headful of cascading curls down her back. But, she handled it OK. At least as far as she's letting us know. Then, a little boy asked her what she'd do "if a frog came along and snapped off her hat." It's hard not to chuckle for a moment at the remarks of a 5-year-old, but at the same time, as a parent, it's hard not to wonder if he's thinking of becoming said frog. But, again, she didn't seem to let it bother her and as long as she's OK, I'm OK.

Overall, the first two months of Kindergarten have been an extremely positive and ego building experience for her. She is inexplicably mature, and has the wisdom of someone far beyond her years.

But then, she started an extracurricular dance class, which contained a range of ages.

Two weeks ago she came home and told me that a girl asked her, "Why do you always wear a hat?" My daughter explained the situation to her and the girl said, "Ewww," and got up and moved away. Then, she got another girl to do the same thing. Could you shove a dagger into a mother's heart any deeper? Let me answer that for you: Hell no. My daughter seemed hurt, but not devastated. I, of course, wanted to ring these girls' necks. Going into this, I expected lots of questions. I prepared her for lots of questions. And she has gracefully dealt with lots of questions. But, the response of these two girls,was just downright mean.

Anyone who is a parent can imagine the outrage one might feel when someone is being mean to their child. This, notwithstanding the fact that my child has the extra burden of fighting off cancer. That's just icing on the proverbial cake. I thought, What do I do? I need to educate these kids so they never say anything so ignorant again. And then, I kept coming back to the "nastiness" of their comment. It was not just ignorant, but downright mean.

So, I went to the dance class last week and had my daughter point out these girls. She did and it took a lot of restraint on my part to keep from going right up to them and making certain they never said anything like that to my daughter again. But, I knew the appropriate thing to do was to have a discussion with the teacher, explain the situation, and have her make sure it didn't happen again. So, that's what I forced myself to do. And guess what? It happened again. Only this time, it was worse.

I left the class last week, feeling assured that the teacher would keep a closer eye on what was going on. But to my great dismay, my daughter came home and told me that a boy had ripped her hat off and the teacher did nothing because she didn't even notice. The teacher is young and clearly doesn't have adequate control of the class. So now, I'm left to figure out what my next step will be. Going to the teacher clearly didn't work.

She has dance class today and I will be going and staying through the entire class to see exactly what's going on. I'm 99% sure that if I see someone being cruel to her, I will march right up them and give them a verbal fright. Of course, the underlying message will be one of education (as opposed to a threat), but it will be conveyed in a tone where they'll think twice about messing with my kid again. I know I should confront their parents (which I will also do, once I find out who they are) and imagine that they would be humiliated if they knew their kid was torturing my 5-year-old with cancer.

I know many parents are of the belief that "kids will be kids" and take a much more hands off approach. I'm definitely not one to get involved with every argument my children have -- that would only result in a detriment to them. But, some situations are different. I believe this is one of them.

Some might say, "Why don't you take her out of the dance class?" To that, my response is that she loves to dance and wants to stay in the class. I don't want to make her feel different or like she can't participate in anything she wants just because of the cruelty of a few kids. My daughter shouldn't be punished because she is sick, and no child should be punished because they are different in some way.

So is it acceptable to confront these kids on my own? I'm not sure. Quite possibly not. But bullying is never acceptable and I won't let them destroy the self-confidence and dignity my daughter has earned and held on to. No way.