Exactly 16 weeks ago Kendall came home with a letter that made me cry. It was a letter I was never prepared to read as a parent let alone from my eight year old. I have spent the last four months making sure this little angel knows that she is loved. I have tried to teach her that loving herself is the most important lesson she can learn. I tried to let her know that once she finds love with herself the important friends in her life will surface. Words I live by for myself, but by no means a concept I understood at eight years old. I tried to sit down and write about this so many times, but couldn’t put into words what I was trying to say.
“When I feel bully I wish that I chould die”. Those were the words I read over and over again. They never got easier to read and they still are impossible for me to understand. I thought I had been doing everything right to make sure my children knew that they were loved. The thing is, the bulk of their days are spent away from me. They are spent at school, camp, extended day, and other activities with kids who don’t share the same joy and love for my child. Kendall can come home and be sassy with me and yell at me and she knows at the end of it I will hug her and still love her. Those big reactions don’t always work well with other kids though, and there is no guarantee they will want to continue to be her friend.
Before you get angry and wonder what eight year olds are bullying her or if we have involved the school I want you to know that we don’t think any of the behaviors from her friends were intentional. And to answer the other piece of your internal monologue, yes we involved the school.
Through our processing with her we don’t think anyone was intentionally being mean to Kendall to see her hurting. We have discovered more so through all of this that she lacks confidence and coping skills. Blessing or curse she inherited my big heart and with a big heart comes a lot of emotions. Sometimes those emotions become too much to handle and for Kendall that typically means a big reaction. A reaction that makes other kids not want to play with her because they can’t understand why she is upset. Or she can have a reaction that makes her simply be mean to other kids because she lacks the appropriate skills on how to cope when she is feeling discouraged. This is not to say that at some point she hasn’t been teased or left out of a group, but that is to be expected to some extent in elementary school and it would be unfair to label another child as a bully at this point and time based on the information we have from her.
When I first read this letter I wanted to know immediately who was making her feel bullied and she couldn’t tell me. She didn’t fully understand the word bully, but to her feeling left out of any group or situation to her was being bullied. Some days she would be best friends with a group of girls and other days she would at odds with them. Although I don’t remember this starting in second grade for me, unfortunately these friendship behaviors are normal developmental stages. In speaking with her teachers she would get angry with her friends for getting picked for something she wanted or for choosing a different activity than she suggested. She didn’t like not getting her way and it was causing her to fight with her peers.
There was a larger issue than bullying in the letter though and I had to then ask the difficult question, what did death mean to her? Her answer showed many of us that she didn’t fully understand the impact of that statement. However, the follow-up statements of wanting to runaway when she was feeling sad were equally concerning.
I have spent the last four months watching her every move. Processing her day with her. Asking probing questions of her. I am loving her without coddling her. I am crying in a different room from her so she doesn’t see me hurting and she sees what strength looks like. I sneak in her room and sit by her bedside every night after she falls asleep just to watch her be at peace.
She apologized for writing the letter. I applauded her for writing it. I made sure her teachers were applauding her for writing it too. What strength it took this little girl to put into words her struggles. She demonstrated that she has the ability to learn coping strategies and writing is one of those. She now has a journal at home and school that she is encouraged to use for both happy and sad days.
We have her seeing someone now, her “feelings doctor” as she likes to call her. She comes out of the sessions beaming and excited for what they are going to work on the following week. She is learning the difference between a big problem and a little problem. She is learning to take a deep breath. She is learning how to be a kid even with a mind that doesn’t ever stop worrying.
She is far from cured as emotional development is a lengthy process, but I need to make sure she keeps talking, keeps writing, keeps communicating her struggles so she never feels alone with her family. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to us already. She definitely feels the love and we have been trying to encourage her to embrace those near and far who want her to succeed.