It’s a situation all parents dread: when your child comes home from school and tells you they’re being bullied. In light of Anti-Bullying Awareness Week, today we’ve got a guest post from one of our lovely readers, Sarah*. She’s sharing the heart-breaking ordeal her daughter Rosie* has been through.

My little girl Rosie started school in September 2016. We’d made the decision to keep her in private nursery when she turned three as it suited our circumstances at the time rather than send her to the local school nursery. Rosie has always been a sociable and happy girl, so I had no concerns about her transition to “big school” the following year just after she’d turned four.

I was so excited in those initial days to hear all about her new friends and what she’d gotten up to (although I was lucky if I received a recollection of what she’d eaten for snack).

After the first half term, I’d noticed that she’d become increasingly withdrawn and very shy. At the time I guess I put it down to adjusting to a big three form entry school, which was feasibly overwhelming for her.

A few weeks later, I was braiding her hair after bath time and I noticed that a large chunk was missing. I questioned her about it and she very matter of factly told me that Scarlett* had cut it off. Although shocked, I tried to stay calm as I’d imagined it may have been a game of hairdressers taken too literally. To my amazement, she told me that Scarlett had cut it off with a butter knife in the lunch queue. I was livid – how long must it have taken to cut through her hair with a blunt knife, and where was the lunchtime supervision? The thing I think that upset me the most was why on earth had Rosie let this other child do this to her?

I had a meeting with Rosie’s teacher the next day and told her how distressed we all were. The child concerned admitted what had happened, was told off, and that was that.

Unfortunately, things didn’t stop there. Over the school year the same child, (who Rosie called her “best friend”) continued to feature in a string of horrible events. As the frequency of these verbal and physical situations increased I continued to have regular dialogue with Rosie’s teacher. The school took it fairly seriously but asked me not to refer to it as “bullying” – they preferred “bossiness” – the child in question was very assertive – and this was they told me, just her asserting herself with Rosie. Their advice was to encourage Rosie to stand up for herself more, to challenge, push back and say ‘no’.

Following this advice we practiced role play at home, where I was the bossy one and she would challenge me (with much persuasion and encouragement).

At school they actively split the children up when possible and paired Scarlett with other very assertive peers to see how she reacted to that dynamic.

Things didn’t drastically improve and instead of classroom scenarios, the bullying had moved to lunchtimes where there was less supervision from class teachers and the dinner ladies weren’t aware of the back story. Rosie would come home bruised from being kicked and hit under the table. For months and months she refused to tell me what she’d eaten at lunchtime (it eventually turned out it was because Scarlett wouldn’t ever let Rosie choose her own lunch, instead forcing her own selections). There were lots of threats around not allowing Rosie to play with others in the class, and blackmail involving turning other girls against her if she didn’t go along with what Scarlett wanted to do.

The most frustrating part of all of this for me was that Rosie wanted to continue to play with Scarlett – she thought that this was the norm in friendship. Her teachers told me that quite often Rosie would ‘follow Scarlett around like a little puppy’ and that they played together beautifully.

My husband and I had numerous conversations with Rosie about expectations of friendship and explained that friends aren’t mean to one another. We bought the book ‘The Bully and the Shrimp’ to read at bedtime. But things never really resolved. I asked school whether we could move Rosie to another one of the classes in her year group, but I was told that the numbers wouldn’t balance. Soon it was the end of Reception and her first year at school and I was really sad that her first year of school had been so challenging, but I was delighted that we now had a six week break over the summer to hopefully break the cycle.

We arranged loads of play dates with others in her class and she had a wonderful time. Rosie went back to school in September excited and looking forward to getting to know her new teacher. Her confidence was back and both my husband and I were so happy to see her embracing the new school year. What a relief.

And it was, until a few weeks in. And the same patterns crept back. This time I was a lot less accepting. After hearing from Rosie’s teacher that she was shoved over in the playground by Scarlett, I wrote a very firmly worded letter and asked for details of the behavioural procedures. The letter was taken seriously and Scarlett was sent to the headteacher and her parents were informed. Unfortunately, there was another physical incident a few days later, and the same happened again with Scarlett going to the head and her parents being called into school. The school seem to be taking me more seriously this time and have advised I keep a log of anything, encouraged an ongoing open dialogue with them, and senior staff have confirmed that they have briefed the play and lunch time supervision staff.

We’ve looked into moving schools, but having spoken to the Local Education Authority I’m told that in Rosie’s birth year, there is no availability whatsoever across the whole borough. They tell me our only options would either be to home school or to look at schools in the neighbouring county. 

Whilst this is no means resolved for us, I still think it’s valuable to share this experience to bring more awareness to this awful topic. Before this, I was quite naively of the opinion that bullying only involved older kids – it had never occurred to me that children as young as four were manipulative enough to instigate this sort of behaviour.

Practically speaking, my advice would be to make a log of any incidents. Approach the supervising adult (teacher/carer etc) and begin a dialogue. Try to remove emotion if you can and look at the facts. If you do put your concerns in writing (which I would encourage), be clear about what your expectations are. Ask to see copies of the school anti bullying or behavioural policies so you have a clear roadmap should you need to escalate. Above all, reassure your child, listen to them, tell them that this isn’t their fault. Don’t encourage retaliation.

I’m a problem solver by nature – once I identify an issue I’m like a dog with a bone until I fix it. I’ve found this issue particularly challenging as I’m not in control of the situation, or of the child bullying my daughter. Rather than let this eat away at me – as it had been doing – my husband made a really simple but helpful observation. “You can’t influence the child that is bullying Rosie. Just concentrate on Rosie. Do everything you can to rebuild her confidence. Praise her when she’s speaks out, do activities with her that make her feel proud of herself.”

This seems to be helping slowly, so I’m hopeful that if anything positive comes from this for her, it’ll be strength of character.

For more information and access to support for parents and children about bullying, including what to do if your child has been accused of bullying, head to Anti-Bullying Alliance.

*Names have been changed for anonymity.

Image by Amy Morris Photography