LAST year my six-year-old daughter was being bullied at school.
Popular and outgoing, I would have thought she was the least likely child to be bullied. She was at a school she loved, had a lovely little group of friends and great teachers.
It was a real shock when she first came home and reluctantly said a boy had been hurting her. It had been happening for some weeks, but she was too embarrassed and, indeed, frightened to tell anyone.
I read a lot about how to help our girl. My husband and I talked to her teachers and the school principal. We wrote a formal letter documenting our concerns, and the school was keen to assist and help.
Still, a series of incidents left our daughter very nervous. And rightly so – she had been repeatedly threatened and hit.
On at least one occasion, witnessed by other children and teachers, the bully had his hands around her throat to stop her from calling for help. She had night terrors, cried every morning on the way to school and was positive that, despite the efforts of teachers, the boy iwould hurt her again.
She put a baseball in a sock and hid it in her bag so that she could defend herself. I had to confiscate this together with the Barbie perfume she intended to “Mace” the bully with if he came too close.
Her older brother gave her lessons on where to kick a boy so it really hurts. I had a long conversation with her about the value of learning to scream really, really loudly.
Our girl told me what she hated most was that it seemed the bully always got away with it. He wasn’t afraid. He didn’t have to watch out all the time and make sure a teacher was always in sight. He wasn’t scared to go to the bathroom, and he didn’t know what it felt like to have someone kick you, push your fingers back or put their hands around your throat.
She asked me why kids that bully couldn’t go to a special school with other bullies so that kids like her could feel safe and happy.
We did think seriously about pulling our daughter from the school, but that would have involved her leaving friends and a teacher she loved dearly, and maybe give her the impression that somehow she was being punished.
After some discussion, the school put on more staff to supervise the kids in the playground and separated children at times when supervision might be less comprehensive.
Our girl did manage to finish the year off at her old school and eventually there were some attempts at reconciliation made by the boy in question. We then moved her to a new school and new environment and she is back to her old self.
But I still wonder what else we should or could have done, and whether our schools have the ability or the framework to really deal with these situations.
Certainly, they appear to have few disciplinary options and only limited resources to support counselling the perpetrators obviously need. I also wonder what happens when these bullies grow up into adults and what the full social and economic cost is for not dealing with these problems at the very beginning.