I was talking to our eight-year-old, eldest daughter this morning; she spoke about school and how one particular friend treats her there.
This friend seems to constantly dismiss her, tell her what to do, when to play and when to talk!
Once this child told our little girl that she was not to talk for the day and nobody was to talk to her, pulling the other classmates away from our daughter.
When I suggested that she stands up for herself, our daughter informed me that this girl "tells teacher" or just won't play with her.
The situation is difficult, as it's a very small school, with only three girls in our daughter's class.
I have noticed she is treated similarly at other social occasions with her peers. She seems to be an easy target for this behaviour.
We're very upset at the thought of our beautiful and amazing little girl being treated like this and worry it will affect her in different ways.
For example, she sometimes calls herself "stupid". Is this bullying or is this behaviour part of growing up?
Do we just keep talking through it with our daughter?
Do we approach her teacher?
What do we do?
Yes, this is bullying and no, this behaviour is not just a part of growing up. It is not something that your daughter must simply endure.
Dealing with bullying of this nature requires several things to happen. Your daughter does need some help to feel better about herself and to become more self-confident and assertive. But, she also needs adult intervention to make the bullying stop in the first instance.
You have already suggested to your daughter that she stand up to her "friend". She has explained (and shown) that she is unable. You need to remember that when she has been put down so much and excluded so consistently, in the way you have described, that she probably feels really bad about herself and, understandably, doesn't have the strength or confidence to make the bullying stop by herself.
So this is absolutely the time for you and her teacher to get involved in a very practical way. Given that you are living in a small parish, you probably know the mother of the other girl. I would suggest that you talk to her and explain what seems to be happening.
She may be shocked to learn that her daughter is being so mean. If she is unsympathetic or dismissive of your concerns it may explain, in part, how her daughter has learned to be so dismissive and uncaring.
At the same time, you can explain the situation to your daughter's teacher and ask the teacher to intervene, actively, in the playground to ensure greater inclusion.
The teacher could also work with the class about bullying in a more general way to increase empathy and understanding amongst all the pupils. They can talk about how exclusion, or mean words, affect others and can do many exercises to help them learn how to treat others fairly and sensitively.
If you like, you can direct your daughter's teacher to www.antibullyingcampaign.ie which is a great, and free, resource for teachers and schools that want to proactively address the issue of bullying.
Once you get the bullying to stop, you can help to rebuild your daughter's self-esteem, which has probably taken a real hammering due to this other girl's behaviour.
Exclusion usually leaves us feeling unacceptable and unlovable. If your daughter has been told she is not allowed to join a group, or cannot be talked to, then she probably believes that there must be something wrong with her (thus, the reason she calls herself "stupid", for example).
She needs to be reminded of the many great qualities that she has, intrinsically. She may not believe them, or may discount them, initially. But, over time, as she is allowed to be more included and welcomed socially she will, hopefully, realise that people really do like her and want to be with her.
You want your daughter to believe in the good things about herself. So repeating them frequently and pointing out examples of her inherent goodness will always help.
As she begins to feel better about herself you can then teach her how to be assertive, so that it is harder for others to dismiss her in the future.
So teach her practical things, like making good eye contact as she speaks to people, using a loud and strong voice to speak with and standing tall with her shoulders back and her head held high. Encourage her to challenge other children, in the first instance, and then to look for adult help if she is ignored, threatened or feeling overwhelmed.
Most importantly, though, you need to make sure the bullying stops.
Once she can be allowed to take part, naturally, in her peer group she will hopefully learn that she is liked and valued by some real friends.