My daughter asked me this question recently. She was the target of a bully in 3rd grade, almost 5 years ago, and new details of that incident keep surfacing as she processes them in her mind.
It wasn’t an obvious “I steal your sandwich” kind of bullying. It was a carefully orchestrated bullying by a mother who wanted her daughter to be the center of attention.
I was able to detect the problem before it was too serious, but still, the damage was done. This little 3rd grader girl, instigated by her mother, created lies, spreaded rumors and targeted my daughter just because she could.
I still remember vividly how I felt something was wrong with this “friendship” from the beginning. The family of this “friend” invited my daughter for a playdate. Because they were still little, I invited both the daughter and the mother over to my house to get to know each other before I would drop my kid off in someone else’s house.
The mother bullied me during our first private interaction. She mocked my job and my passion, but I shook it off thinking “maybe I am too sensitive”. I left my daughter to go to their place, hoping for a good new friendship to form.
This “friendship” went on for several months, with playdates, sleepovers and gift exchanges. But every time there was a lot of drama and conflict, which I thought “maybe it’s a girl’s thing”.
Newsflash: not, it isn’t.
On a trip overseas I bought my daughter a doll and a different version of the same one for her “friend”. My daughter gave her the doll and, for a few days, she took her doll to school so they could play together until my daughter’s doll was stolen. From her backpack. Or so the “friend” said, according to what she allegedly saw and told my daughter.
When I called the mother to ask her about the doll being stolen (I consider that a very serious issue at a school) she stammered and said she knew nothing about it. I involved the principal, but the doll was mysteriously found by this “friend”.
That’s when I sat down my 8YO daughter for a serious talk. I told her “your friend was the ONLY witness of your doll being stolen and, she casually walked next to the dumpster where she miraculously found it.” My daughter then concluded that yes, her “friend” was lying.
This friend was not only stealing toys from my daughter, she was spreading rumors about my kid, creating conflicts with other children that isolated my daughter, and even telling my kid sexually-explicit information. But behind that child, was a mother, proud of her manipulative kid.
Things didn’t end up there. I certainly made sure my daughter understood that it wasn’t her fault and that some people are just mean because they can, but years have passed and still she can’t wrap her mind around the idea of someone just hurting a friend that trusted them: “Why mom? Why did she lie to me? Her lies were obvious and dumb, why did she feel like she needed to say that to me? I only wanted to be friends with her” she has told me, many times.
There were many repercussions, on the one hand, she struggles trusting new friends, but she’s a warrior and has been able to meet great new people and I make sure I meet their families and create a network of trust. But every now and then she remembers how someone betrayed her trust and she starts to lose confidence.
On the other hand, I also struggle. I can’t trust any new friend 100%. We are both working on our issues.
It was heartbreaking to see the innocence of my kid being shattered at such a young age. I felt horrible when I sat her down in front of me and I told her that the person she thought to be her friend was nothing but a manipulative liar, but I had to do that.
I still remember the many ugly things the mother not only enabled, but orchestrated, and that affected my kid. I think of their new victim (there’s always one) and how can we stop that chain of negative effects.
I wish I could give a simple answer to my daughter when she asks me why people bully. My response is “because they aren’t loved enough.”