I knew that girls could be mean. I'm sure everyone has experiences in their childhood (and adulthood) of being excluded or made fun of, regardless of gender. However, I had no clue that the cruelty could start so young. My sweet daughter has been experiencing some severe bullying at school. I kind of just thought 'bullying' was the new catch phrase, but I have learned that it is a very real thing and can have devastating effects.
First, my little girl, the one who was always happy and joyful, started acting just the opposite. 'I hate school', became a constant phrase coming out of her mouth and there seemed to be a cloud of sadness over her.
Then, it was a concerned email from her Chinese teacher saying that Sydney had totally withdrawn and would go to her desk and put her head down or just lay down on the floor when they had carpet time. She said her behavior was completely different than it had been at first. First it was just part of the activities that Sydney didn't participate in and then it became even the games and fun things that she had always enjoyed. When we asked her about it she would just say that she was tired or that she hated Chinese. Her English teacher reported that Sydney's testing scores had gone down and that she did not believe that it was an ability issue but that something seemed to be bothering her and she seemed nervous. And Sydney adores her teachers, so what could be wrong?
Sydney's behavior at home changed too. She hasn't been herself, she seemed to have something weighing on her mind, and she had crying bouts where she would say she didn't like herself, and that everyone was mean to her. She was inconsolable.
As it turns out, the little girl that had been her closest friend had turned into her worst enemy. Taunting and teasing Sydney in front of an audience of peers and then totally switching gears and being extra nice to her later on. (This is sometimes referred to as a yo-yo friendship.) Sydney was confused and hurt but she still loved this friend...this couldn't be happening, this girl was her best friend. The apology Sydney got from her because her parents spoke with her about it resulted in an escalation of meanness. We finally convinced Sydney that she should make new friends although she didn't want to because she was so loyal to this friend despite the way she was treated by her. We thought things were going well since Sydney seems to have been able to let go of the friendship and make some new friends. But just today something happened again. This girl won't leave Sydney alone and is determined to make it hard for Sydney to branch out and make new friends. Today after school I was with Sydney waiting outside her English teachers classroom to follow up on some things 2 boys had said and done to her. One told her she should kill herself and the other one repeatedly tries to kiss her. The suicide comment is especially terrible because someone Sydney knows well just took her own life last week. As I was standing there outside the door, Sydney all of the sudden hid behind me. She told me she didn't want that girl to see her as she was walking out of the classroom. After we left the school I asked Sydney what was going on with that and she said that today on the playground she was playing with two other girls and the mean girl approached them and asked them why they were playing with Sydney because Sydney is a bully. Luckily one of the girls stood up for Sydney.
Sydney is trying to figure out how to defend herself without being a bully herself. It is so heartbreaking to see her go through this. What I have learned so far is that it is so important to ask questions and lots of them to help figure out what it is that could be causing the uncharacteristic behavior. Even before Sydney had reported the seriousness of her treatment by her former friend, her therapist, whom she recently started seeing because we (me, Tyler and Beckie, Sydney's step mom) were very concerned about her sudden and drastic personality changes, was able to help identify a problem during play therapy. The example was pretty shocking. The therapist reported that she asked Sydney to pick out a stuffed animal that was her and someone she would play with normally. She chose a small pink dinosaur for herself and a large dinosaur for her friend. As she played with the dinosaurs and had them interact she would use a big voice when the dino representing the other girl spoke, and a small quiet voice when she spoke. Then when the therapist asked if someone else were to join in with playing with them who would it be, Sydney selected a stuffed shark and had it eat the big dinosaur! Wow.
I thought this couldn't happen to my kids. I am a doting mother, my life revolves around my kids, I would do anything for them. They go to one of the highest ranked schools in the state. I had moved to that neighborhood for that specific reason. The students from her school come from 'nice' families. The teachers are amazing. The administration is wonderful. I knew this girl. She played at my house all the time. She and Sydney had been practically inseparable for the past year. I know her mom and she is a friend of mine. How could this happen?
I am so sad that Sydney has had to go through this at such a tender age. I feel like some of her innocence has been lost and that her carefree childhood days have been abruptly cut short. At least she will be able to learn from this experience and develop the tools and skills to avoid these types of toxic friendships in the future. Thankfully, Sydney's teachers and the administration have responded swiftly and with great care and concern for her wellbeing and safety.
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In some good news, this week Sydney turned in her book chain and completed her 100-book challenge! Yay Sydy!!!