During dinner last week, my oldest daughter, K, orchestrated a conversation so that she could tell us about something that was on her mind.
“Let’s go around the table and tell something about our day,” she suggested.
“Great idea,” my husband said. “Do you want to go first?”
“Yes,” K replied.
At that moment, the baby asked for more “agua” so I jumped up and walked into the kitchen to refill her cup.
“Mommy, come in. I want Mommy to hear this too,” K called.
I returned to the dining room and gave K my full attention.
“Well, something is happening that happened last year,” she said.
(Last fall, before the great Star Wars teasing episode, K went through a spell where Boy A was calling her “Piggy” and he was getting other kids to call her “Piggy.” When K told me about it, I contacted her first-grade teacher, who was amazingly responsive.
The teacher called me at home that same night, and we had a heartfelt talk about how damaging it is to a young girl to be called “Piggy.” The teacher spoke to Boy A, and the taunting stopped. To my delight, Boy A brought a very sincere apology note to school and gave it to K the next day.)
Although the Piggy problem ceased, K remains very sensitive about it, and she has mentioned it occasionally ever since.
Now, as we sat eating dinner, I suspected that the Piggy taunts had re-emerged.
“Is someone calling you Piggy?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she said definitively. “Boy B and Boy C are calling me Piggy. I told Boy B to stop and said it was hurting my feelings, and I asked him to tell Boy C to stop. He said okay but then kept doing it.”
My first thought was relief that it wasn’t the same boy who had been calling her Piggy in first grade, because I wanted to hold onto my belief that Boy A had developed empathy for K. Thank goodness he wasn’t the ringleader.
I know Boy B and Boy C, and I was not surprised that these two particular children were taunting my girl. They often need some extra guidance when it comes to respectful social interactions.
“K, first, thank you SO MUCH for telling us. The best way for us to help you is for you to tell us, so you did exactly the right thing. Since you already tried talking to the boys and they are still calling you Piggy, do you want me to contact your teacher?”
“Yes,” she said without hesitation.
That night, I sent the following email to the assistant principal and to K’s teacher:
Tonight K told my husband and me that Boy B and Boy C are calling her Piggy. She told Boy B to stop because it was hurting her feelings, and she said he replied, "okay" but then continued to call her Piggy.
K also asked Boy B to tell Boy C to stop, but it happened repeatedly today and Friday.
When K was in first grade, she had this same problem with Boy A calling her Piggy. I spoke to First Grade Teacher about it, and she spoke to Boy A, who stopped.
Can you help me get Boy B and Boy C to stop calling K Piggy? She asked me to contact you.
* * * *
By the time I woke up the next morning, I had the following email waiting for me from the Assistant Principal:
I'm terribly sorry to hear that this has been happening. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. I copied Social Worker on this email so that we can address it with both boys and their families. I hope that the actions we take will cease this behavior. In looking into this, we may want to speak with K, are you comfortable with that? Please let me know.
Please let K know that we will address this situation. I'm sorry for any stress it has caused her or your family.
There is so much to love in that brief email; I can’t even stand it:
The quick response. The way he thanked me for bringing it to their attention. His compassion for any stress to K and our family. The request to speak with K. The reassurance that the school will address the situation.
True to his word, that very day, Assistant Principal spoke with K and then with each boy who was involved. He kept me apprised me of the situation, as did K’s teacher, and K came home feeling much better.
The behavior stopped. A day or two later, K came home with a sweet and genuine handwritten note of apology from Boy B. It read:
I am sorry for calling you Piggy. I know how you feel cause it happened to me once and I won’t do it again and I mean it.
Sincerely your friend Boy B”
This note reminded me of the apology note Boy A had written to K last year after the first grade teacher intervened. It has been a week now, and Katie said that there have been no more Piggy incidents.
As I reflect on the situation, I am convinced yet again that the best way to manage teasing and taunting is to start early and to teach empathy. I was thrilled that the situation was resolved with talks and discussions instead of punitive actions.
The quick and caring response of the school is critical, because it reinforces the idea to kids that they CAN and SHOULD ask for help.
Two of the biggest reasons why kids do not report incidents of taunting is that:
1). Kids who are being taunted are afraid that the school will do nothing to help, or
2). that the school will react by punishing the aggressors and the aggressors will retaliate.
If schools can respond by acknowledging the problem and taking restorative actions, kids will be more likely to report aggressive incidents. This is exactly what happened with the Piggy taunting, and the outcome was positive. Kids are not perfect, and they are inevitable going to say and do mean things to each other. Our job as adults is to help them learn from their mistakes.
And, as a member of the Facebook community that follows my writing pointed out when I described the situation, “Kudos to the awesome parent who encouraged the note of apology too! Good for each of you who helped turn this around.” I couldn’t agree more.
Often, parents want to respond with defensiveness or dismissiveness when told that their child did something unkind. An understandable knee-jerk reaction, but not one that helps to solve the problem. That is why it is all the more impressive that Boy B was encouraged to be accountable and to make amends.
Whenever I hear that one of my kids has treated someone unkindly (at this age, it takes the form of fighting over toys or calling someone a name), I really try to put aside my parental instinct to defend, because many times, my child has done something naughty, and it is better for all of us to acknowledge it. Not fun, not easy, but necessary.
We cannot control everything that happens to our kids at school. But we can control our response, and an empathetic, compassionate school will make a huge difference. Thank you to K’s school for helping us to keep K safe when she is not with us. Every child deserves the right to respect.
In addition to learning math and science, Spanish and reading, I want my daughter to go to school and come home feeling whole, complete and confident. Children can’t learn unless they feel emotionally safe at school. The fact that my little girl bounded off to school the next day, smiling and certain that her school will help her take care of herself, is more important to me than just about anything.