Last week, a 9-year-old girl came to me and told me she was being bullied by three children.
I promised her to have a chat with her and the other children this week, so that we could have a proper talk about what exactly is going on.
Today was the day. I invited all four children to sit down with me after our snack-moment. Two of them objected straight away saying they've done nothing wrong! I calmly replied that they are invited by me to have a chat and that there is no room for negotiating.
So, there they were, waiting for me. In the meantime, the other three were playfully calling each other names, shoving each other about and laughing out loud.
I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and asked all of them who could tell me why we were here. Also, I made the rule that we let each other finish when talking. The girl that felt bullied by the other three began to say that she is upset because of how the others treat her. I wrote it down under her name. The 'bullying' girl said that she has honestly no idea why she was part of this conversation. So, I wrote that down under her name. A boy said that the 'victim' also pushes him when they're in line for example and that she is sometimes nasty to them. I wrote it down. The last boy said that he had nothing to do with anything. I also wrote that down.
Now I asked the bullied girl if she recognises that she also displays traits that can be named bullying. Without looking me in the eyes she said yes. The other girl started to weigh in now and admitted that sometimes she indeed is teasing or bullying this girl, but that she usually starts and that she has the right to defend herself. I reminded her that she started this conversation by saying that she had no idea why I invited her for this conversation, but also said that I would add this to the paper I was writing on. Again, I asked the bullied girl if she recognised what was being said. Again, yes. Guilty looks all over their faces.
Now, how are we going to solve this? One solution according to the children would be to ignore this girl and just don't play with her. As I acknowledged that that is one way of solving things, I also added that this solution is not possible in an environment where we see each other every day. I illustrated my point by saying that if one of them would really annoy me for a day, it is no option for me to say: Well, I'll just ignore this child and not talk to him/her anymore. We have to sort things out!
So, what then? I tried to sum up the real issues. I started by summarising what I had written down so far and checking if this was correct. This was so. Then I decided to identify what I saw happening with the four of them at that table. I said: What I also see, is that you three are playfully calling each other names, shoving each other about and you are constantly laughing. It seems that you all enjoy this interaction. Now, it feels like you (the bullied girl) don’t like being called these names at all and that you feel they intend to hurt you. Is this correct? I saw four yes-nodding faces.
Good, I propose the following: you three will try to be more considerate with your way of dealing with this girl and to the girl I said: You will try to work on not taking everything too serious or personal. Can we do this? Four Yesses.
After this chat I made them play at least one game of their choice together under my supervision. But it seemed like the air was cleared to such a degree that they did not need my assistance. The rest of this afternoon, the girl who complained about being bullied has played with the three 'bullies'. I told all the parents about the intervention we had, and they were pleased to hear we take complaints about bullying serious and how the children managed to solve it in a very positive way.
Let's always take children and their feelings seriously, and also make them see the other children's perspective. Especially in the case of bullying, we should not wait and hope the situation will pass without intervention. Children need our help and it’s much easier to help them when things are far from completely escalating. We should be grateful they feel free to tell us there is a problem. Find a solution with the children involved, so that the chance that they feel responsible is much bigger than if we tell them what to do or not to do.
Later that afternoon, both girls came to me and said that it was so much better to be able to play together now. They were very happy they had that 'difficult' chat. I said I'm very happy for them as well and proud of them for letting bygones be bygones.