Dear Dr. Yael:
My seven-year-old daughter is having a very difficult time socially in school. Another girl is making fun of her, and I do not know how to fix the problem. Because she wants to be friends with this girl (although I am not sure why), she puts herself in situations where she is the target of the girl’s ridicule.
There are times when the girl is nice to her, but I think that is only when she has no one else to be with. As soon as another girl comes along, my daughter is once again the target of her mockery. My shy and quiet daughter likes the attention she’s sometimes receiving, but I do not want her to lose her self-esteem – which is already fragile.
Is there any way I can help my daughter stand up for herself? I want to change this situation before things get worse.
Social situations can be very tricky. You are right to want to resolve this issue while your daughter is young. First, it is important to speak with your daughter’s teacher to make sure she is aware of the situation and is able to keep an eye on things during the school day. When teachers involve the whole class in a group activity, they are usually better able to monitor the situation and ensure that the children are being kind to each other. This also gives them an opportunity to teach the children how to improve their social behavior.
Ask your daughter for specific examples regarding her mistreatment and teach her what to do differently. For example, if the other girl is telling your daughter that she does not know how to do something, your daughter can say “Oh, I am sorry you feel that way” in a strong and confident voice. She can then continue on as if nothing happened. You will need to practice these exercises with her so that she becomes more comfortable with the wording the two of you decide on, and thus gains confidence when actually saying it.
Also, the tone of voice is most important because once this other girl sees that your daughter does not care what she says, she will stop bothering her. You can also try to get your daughter to play with other girls who are nicer to her, which will help her stay away from this girl. It is important that your daughter show her that she does need her as a friend.
It is integral that parents of young children become more proactive in these situations. Once children get older it is harder for parents to intervene, and the child will need to deal with the situation on his or her own. You are lucky to have realized this situation at this early stage, enabling you to still get involved.
Parents of bullies also need to get help for their children; they need to be taught social skills and the best way to socialize. Children who are mean to others often suffer from low self-esteem and make themselves feel better by putting others down. They need to be taught how to build themselves up. By helping these children when they are young, we are avoiding larger issues down the road. In elementary school, some may consider the bully as cool, but more often then not, these children will be dealing with more social issues as they older and realize that no one wants to be friends with the mean kids anymore.
Baruch Hashem, even though bullying is very prevalent in our schools, there are specialists being brought into yeshivas to deal with the issue.
If your school does not have one, please encourage them to hire such a specialist, as much there is much that can be done to help alleviate this problem. In general I have found that girls’ schools are more open to this suggestion.
Please take the initiative by meeting with your daughter’s principal. Your daughter may not be the only student in her class suffering from being bullied, and by helping her you may actually help save other Yiddishe neshamos.
It is important to remember that both the child bully and his or her victim are at risk of going off the derech if they do not get the help they need.
If my suggestions are tried but are not successful, you should meet with the teacher and principal and explore other options. Depending on the situation, you may want to transfer your daughter to another class or you may want to take her for outside counseling in order to help her build greater self-esteem. This will help her handle social situations more productively.
Do all you can to protect your daughter and to strengthen her self-worth and resilience. Your daughter needs to feel safe, while at the same time you need to ensure that she knows how to handle herself in all types of situations. Hatzlachah!
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