Girls in elementary school can practise subtle bullying

Q: The other day my 10-year-old daughter came home from school in tears. I never did get the complete story from her but from what I can gather, she has been victimized by a group of her friends on the playground.

They quietly call her names and leave her out when they are picking teams or otherwise getting into groups. I think that my daughter is being bullied. But apparently the school does not see it that way.

When I went over to my daughter’s classroom to talk to her teacher and later to the principal of the school, I ran into a brick wall. Neither of them believe that the Grade 5 girls are bullying anyone and they made a point of showing me the girls out on the playground, grouping around each other and seemingly playing together during the morning recess. The teacher told me that my daughter is overreacting.

I don’t think so. I know her better than that and I know that she does not play up on things unless she is upset. If she says that she is getting bullied, I believe that she is getting bullied.

I need to convince the school that my daughter is being abused and that I expect her teachers and principals to do something about it. How can I go about this?

A: I think that the problem we have with Grade 5 bullies is that little boys go about things differently than do little girls.

When little boys are bullying each other they get physical. They scream and shout and taunt their victims and often as not threaten to throw the occasional punch. Everything is usually more out in the open and you know who is getting abused and who is the abuser.

Girls are usually more subtle. They start rumours about each other, they ostracize those whom they want in some way to punish, they say mean and nasty things behind their backs, send them devastating notes either on the internet or their cellphones, and they quietly ridicule whatever it is that so-and-so happens to be wearing that day.

I think that most teachers are aware of the gender differentiation in bullying but let’s not kid ourselves, not all teachers are tuned into what is going on during recess and they miss significant psychological trauma for any number of their students.

From what you have said, it sounds like your daughter’s teachers are not as tuned in to their students as they might be.

Your best bet is to work with some of the other parents whose children are attending your daughter’s school and to get some kind of a campaign going to help the school move forward on a sensitivity track.

The National Film Board has a great video called It’s a Girl’s World. It addresses the problems girls can have bullying each other. Why don’t you and those parents who are interested get a copy of the film and organize a night for the Grade 5 families, the girls and the school personnel to watch it together?

It will likely lead to really interesting discussions and maybe provide a magical step forward that can spark change and help children in the school feel more comfortable with each other.

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