Thursday, April 22, 2010

How Bullying Begins

I think I'm finally ready to write about what happened the other day. In fact, I think I need to write about it now. It's long and emotional, but I could really use some support and thoughts.

Before I start on that, I want to mention that the Pookie been pretty sick. He has an ear infection in one ear and coxsackievirus (hand, foot, mouth disease (HFMD)), which is making him pretty miserable all over. Especially in his throat, where he has sores from the HFMD, and ear. He's been pretty miserable, which has affected the rest of us, of course. So that's been going on and keeping me in a pretty constant state of worry.

On to my story...

Londo had to work late on Tuesday and Wednesday, so I left work early to pick up the Pumpkin from school. When I got there on Tuesday, I knew that her group was outside. As I walked up the steps to the front door of her school, I excitedly looked around for my cute little girl in her red and white checked shirt and jeans. There she was, by the infant swings in the corner of the large play yard by the stairs I was walking up!

I noticed that a boy and two girls were standing around her in a semi-circle. Then, I saw the boy kick her in the butt.

I was surprised, and walked to the side of the stairs closer to the fence, trying to figure out what was going on. Were they playing a game or something?

Then one of the girls said, "Yeah. Kick her! She's little!"

(Give me a second, while I take some deep breaths.)

The girl raised her foot, and I immediately said loudly, "Hey! Hey! Hey! No kicking! Don't kick her! Why are you kicking her?"

The kids stopped and looked up at me. One girl said, "Because she's little, like a baby!"

When my daughter is taking in new information or a new experience, she gets a blank look on her face. I learned early on that she was still paying attention to everything. She is just processing what happened or what you are telling her and trying to figure out how to respond. She usually doesn't respond until later, once she's processed the experience and information and has had a chance to sort through her feelings on the matter.

That was look on my daughter's face during this incident. I realized that I could not go on my instincts, which were to jump that fence and show those kids who was really little! I needed to model the type of response I want my girl to have, so she could process that and see how to respond.

So I said, "She is NOT little! She is a big girl. And there is NO kicking!"

The kids then started talking about something else, I don't even know what because I was LIVID and not hearing well. I just gave some "oh really?"s while watching my girl and making sure the others were no longer circling her. The situation was diffusing when one of the Pumpkin's teacher noticed me standing there talking to the kids and came up.

When the teacher said something like, "Oh, it's your mom" to my girl, she took a couple steps towards me. But you can't go through the fence there, so I said to her, "I'll be right there, honey. I have to go through the building."

Now that there was a teacher there, I went inside. I immediately told the woman at the front desk that a boy just kicked my daughter and that another girl called her little like a baby. The front desk woman asked if a teacher was there, and I said she was now. Then, I hurried outside.

When I got outside, the teacher was off herding other kids. That's when I fully realized that she must not have seen what happened. I quickly went up to my girl, and the other kids were still in that area, and they started talking to me about the infant swings being for babies, and one girl liked my shows, etc. My girl was pushing one of the empty swings, still not engaging with the kids, and they weren't really engaging with her. But it was back to normal playtime behavoir.

Once I was sure everything was fine and one of the kids had run off, I told the Pumpkin that I was going to let her teacher know we were going, and then we'd need to leave. I went up to the teacher and told her what had happened. She hadn't seen it. We talked a bit about the name calling that's been going on in the Pumpkin's class and how they are working on it, and that we are working on it at home. Then the teacher (who is really a teacher's assistant) said that she's been working 70 hour weeks, that they don't have enough teachers (they've recently had a bit of turnover in the Pumpkin's class), and that the class had gotten large. She said it is hard especially on the playground to watch all the kids. So, there's that.

But, this isn't the first incident I've seen involving my child getting picked on by (slightly) older kids on the playground (it's in the Update section of this post), and neither incident was seen by a teacher. If I hadn't been there, would any of the teachers have noticed what was going on? It's very rare occassions that I'm at the school while her group is on the playground, yet twice I've seen her get picked on by more than one older kid, which the teachers didn't see. What else is going on that the teachers are missing?

This incident is especially pissing me off making me see red bring out the mama bear troublesome to me. It's not like this was simply a matter of one kid getting frustrated, not using words and hitting another. That has happened a few times, including my kid doing it. This was three kids around my kid picking on her.

That is the start of bullying. I will NOT tolerate that, and neither should the school.

On the way home, I had the following conversation with the Pumpkin:
caramama: You know no one should kick you and you shouldn't kick others, right?
Pumpkin: Right. No kicking.
caramama: What do you do if someone kicks you?
Pumpkin: I say, please do not kick me.
caramama: That's a very nice and polite way to ask them to stop. But what if they don't stop?
Pumpkin didn't know how to respond.
caramama: You tell them firmly, do not kick me. It's not nice.
Pumpkin: Do not kick me. It's not nice.
caramama: But what if they still don't stop?
Pumpkin: I tell the teacher.
caramama: That's right! You tell the teacher.

We went through the same with hitting and name calling, although it got tricky with the name calling cause how do you explain the nuances of calling people silly names for fun as opposed to being mean? She currently likes to say "You're a pickle" both to be silly and when she's mad (though it's definitely an improvement over "You're a baby"). She's picked up the name calling and saying, "You're not my friend" from school. We are working on it at home, and I saw on her daily activity sheet that they are working on the "You're not my friend" at school.

But bullying? Especially physically bullying? Unacceptable!

The next morning, I looked for the Director, but she wasn't in. I called after I got to work, and the front desk woman said she was out for the day with her sick mom. I told her who I was and that I wanted to meet with the Director to talk with her. I'm absolutely positive that the front desk woman knew what it was about.

When I went into the school to pick up the Pumpkin yesterday (it was too rainy for the playground), the front desk woman told me that she talked with the teacher who had come up to the kids when I went into the school. She said the teacher said it was the kids from the next class up, who shouldn't have been out there with the younger class. She said that they will make sure that the older kids go in before the younger ones come out. She said this as if that solved the issue. It doesn't.

I told her that while one girl was from the older class, the boy (T) had only recently moved from the Pumpkin's class to the older class and the girl (M) was still in the Pumpkin's class. She said, "Oh really? I didn't realize that." I asked if they were going to file an incident report. She said that an incident report was only for if they were hurt, and the Pumpkin wasn't hurt. I was surprised and said, "Well, T did kick her! Besides that, they were surrounding her, picking on her." The woman said that they do have behavoiral reports, but I'm not sure if she said she would file one.

Then she said, "Well, I'll talk to M's mom about this." I said, "And T's parents?" She said, "Oh, yes. Them too." I said, "And I don't know the other girl's name, but her parents too." If it was my kid behaving like that, I'd sure as hell want to know! I'd make sure we immediately started addressing that and nipping it in the bud!

When I got to the Pumpkin's classroom, her other teacher asked me what happened, and I told her. She said she would like to address appropriate behavoir on the playground, which is fine. I suggested they also talk about bullying. We went on to talk about some other things.

This morning, I reiterated to the front desk woman that I wanted to talk with the Director. I told her I appreciated how she was handling it, but I wanted to be sure to discuss my concerns with the Director.

I know the teachers can't see everything, but I feel like too many things are let go or slide at the school. Is it unreasonable of me to expect that the teachers and staff are more on top of the hitting and name calling? That they nip this type of behavoir in the bud early, since it catches on so easily at this age? That they take the intiative to talk to all parents involved? That they should have immediately gone and talked to T at the very least when I said that he had kicked the Pumpkin?

What are other daycares and preschools like? Do you all have these sorts of issues, and if so, how are they addressed?

I do know that some of this behavoir is normal for this age. But... let me just say this:
If you saw your kid getting circled by other kids who start to physically abuse her and call her names, HOW WOULD YOU FEEL? WHAT WOULD YOU DO? This is an image I cannot erase from my head, and I'm very often on the verge of tears and rage!

As we neared our house after the incident, after we had been through what she should do if kids kicked, hit or called her names, we were quiet a moment or two, then she spoke up:

Pumpkin: That boy kicked me.
caramama: Yes, he did. And he shouldn't have.
Pumpkin: T kicked me.
caramama: Yes, he did. And that was not nice.
Pumpkin: He shouldn't have kicked me. That was not nice.
caramama: That's right.

She is taking it in, processing it, storing it for later. Though I can't erase the image from her head either, I hope that she is able to learn how to stand up for herself. I hope she is able to learn empathy for kids who are younger, smaller or being picked on. I hope that she remembers how I stood up for her, the way I remember my mom running up the street to yell at two boys who were throwing acorns at me.

I also hope that the school will learn something from this and make improvements in some ways that will benefit all the kids who go there. Meanwhile, I'm looking into other pre-schools.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Question of the Week -- Turning the TV Off

This week is TV Turnoff Week. My daughter's pre-school is encouraging participation, and I signed a pledge sheet for 6 days of no TV. Although the dates I've seen online say the week is April 19-25, the dates that the Pumpkin's school said was April 18-24. I've pledged 6 days, and we started on Sunday.

Although the kids don't watch a lot of TV (and the Pookie really doesn't watch any--just sometimes notices it if it's on a kids show), I worry that it's too easy to use as a distraction technique in our house.

I'm having a difficult morning juggling the Pumpkin and the Pookie and I just want to finish doing my make up? I put the TV on for the Pumpkin and set the Pookie in front of toys. The Pumpkin's having a break down because the Pookie is getting all my attention and she needs my help (like this morning)? I put on the TV to calm her down and buy me a few more minutes to concentrate on the baby. Or I need to run around and gather the last few things before we head out the door, and she wants to come with me but that will make everything take longer? I put the TV on to entertain her in the family room so I can run upstairs and down without her.

And those are just some examples from the morning. I won't even get into the afternoons when Londo watches both kids, takes work calls and sends work emails, fixes dinner and gets the kids to the table to eat.

TV does make our lives easier, and there are times I would not give it up (like last year during the winter with my difficult pregnancy). But I want to see what will happen if we keep the TV off for the week. Not only to force us parents to find other ways of dealing with situations, but also to see if there are any behavioral changes in the kid(s). So I pushed us to turn off the TV this week. It won't be easy, but I'm hoping it will be an interesting experiment.

But not only did I pledge to turn the TV off for the kids, but I've decided to try and do it myself. I honestly don't think it will be that hard for me. There are plenty of days I go without TV, instead opting to read in the evenings or go to bed early. I did not pledge to reduce my computer screen time, so I still have my blogs, websites and computer games. I will be missing some shows I really enjoy, but I'll catch them on DVR or in re-runs.

Which brings me to the Question of the Week:

What is/would be the hardest thing for you about going without TV for a week?

Sure it's going to be difficult to not fall back into the easy TV routine of distraction and entertainment. But for me, the hardest part is not spending time I hanging out and watching shows with Londo... because Londo has not pledged to turn off the TV for himself. He is absolutely accommodating my pledge and our pledge for the kids, so if we are around, he turns the TV off. But the TV is the main thing he uses to unwind in the evenings. It's usually how he gets his brain distracted enough to fall asleep at night. His TV usage does not interfere with his reading, computer time, family time, work or socialization, so he is not concerned about his TV usage.

Londo pointed out to me this is probably not going to be that hard for me because TV is not how I unwind--the computer usually is. He challenged me to see if I could cut out recreational computer usage next week. I agreed with caveats. I will not use the computer outside of work except for emergency work that may come up. And at work, I will check some blogs and post on my own blog, because I feel those are more than recreational computer usage. I feel that the blogging with other parents is a social network in which we provide support for each other. In addition, posting regularly keeps me in the practice of writing, which is necessary for my sanity. Finally, I blog about our kids, and I don't want to lose the opportunity to record things that are going on with them.

You'll notice I'm not planning on going without both TV and computer at the same time. We're not crazy, you know!

What about you? If your TV broke or your cable went down for a week, what would be the hardest part? Do you use TV to unwind? Keep up with current events? Give you a break from the kids? Come on, share your pain!