Exclusion is Bullying…and it hurts: An anonymous guest post

exclusion-is-bullying

A parent reader submitted this piece anonymously, and I believe it conveys a very important message, and poses crucial questions about what we as parents can do in these situations.

I moved to a new town in sixth grade—my dad had just taken me to get a haircut that made me look like a boy, and the kids in the new town were very into their clothes and their looks.In my old neighborhood, we all ran around getting dirty, riding bikes, and playing hide and seek throughout the hood. To say that I was lonely in sixth grade would be an understatement. My mom is not around to share her thoughts, but as a mom to tween girl, I now know that she must have been heartbroken. I know that she must have felt helpless; that she likely wanted to go to school and ask the other girls why they felt the need to exclude me.

I know that, because that is how I feel.

My daughter is not new to the school, nor does she have a physical difference, or haircut for that matter, that would make her stand out from the other kids. But she has been excluded by the cliques. After being ‘dropped’ by her two close friends at the end of last year, our daughter just doesn’t fit in. She has some ‘friends’—girls who are friendly to her, but they leave her side the minute the more popular kids come a-callin. The cliques are so tight and so exclusive, that our daughter just can’t break in.   

Some of it is just natural tween girl behavior, but as the latest round of books on bullying indicate (and I have read them all), exclusion can hurt just as much if not more than a punch or a push or occasional taunting. For all the books, articles and seminars, there is little help available. Schools can target the bully that hits or teases, but they can’t break up the cliques. Parents can help their kids through the nighttime tears, but they can’t help their child find a playmate at recess and they can’t create birthday party invites. 

We have done what we can—found new activities, helped cultivate friendships outside of school, and created a safe environment at home. But that does not make every day less lonely for our daughter. 

I am writing this because she, and we, feel so all alone in this, but I know that cannot be true (from my own experience no less).I am writing this because maybe there is more we can do. Maybe the school environment can be made less ripe for this sort of exclusionary behavior. Maybe parents can ask more questions when all of a sudden their child doesn’t call a certain friend anymore. Maybe we can all be on the lookout for the kids who sit alone at lunch or recess. 

I know it can get better, but knowing others out there have gone through the exclusion and made it out stronger can only help our daughter…and the other tweens out there who feel alone.

Please leave a comment with your thoughts, advice or experiences with exclusionary bullying and children.

Comments

  1. You are NOT alone. Neither is your daughter! It is hurtful behavior. I’m sorry your daughter and you have to deal with this. My daughter (10) has similar experiences. I have found that what helps is that she has a good friend who is NOT in school with her. That gives her some sanctuary from the school drama. Also, believe it or not, for her, it has been helpful to read the “Friendship” book put out by American Girl Doll that talks about what being a good friend really is. These girls are finding their way, aren’t really taught about all of this. Unfortunately, I don’t think schools do enough to encourage and teach friendship skills. I just heard about a school (district?) that banned “best friends” at school……I think that’s going too far in the opposite direction. It’s sad that it seems to start in 3rd & 4th grade here! Thank you for having the courage to post this!

  2. I can appreciate the writer’s feelings about her experiences in the past and her daughter’s experiences in the present.

    I also moved frequently while growing up and had a hard time breaking in and finding a place for myself in my new schools. For two whole years in middle school, I didn’t feel as if I had friends or was accepted until the end of school party–which I attended just weeks before we moved again to a new state.

    The loneliness and hurt are hard–no question about it. But I think it is also important to recognize as a parent that our kids don’t need our pity when they deal with hard times like these–they need our encouragement. This period of loneliness and isolation does not have to–and probably won’t–last forever. Like other difficult experiences, your daughter can learn some valuable lessons about acceptance, friendliness, and compassion through this experience that could serve her well for the rest of her life.

    We can help our kids see that other kid’s judgments and opinions about them–are just that, judgment and opinion–NOT the truth. You can encourage your daughter to freely decide for herself what she likes about herself and what she expects other people will like about her too, when they are ready to get to know her.

    In the meantime, would your daughter be willing to expand her skills to be helpful and encouraging to other lonely and isolated people? I feel quite certain that she is not the only person feeling excluded in her class. Could she connect with others who also feel as if they are on the outside. How about volunteering with younger children in her school or camp? Perhaps she could be a volunteer “welcome host” for new students who transfer to her school? Would she be interested in becoming a volunteer in a children’s hospital or a friendly visitor in a nursing home?

    By helping those who are even more lonely and sad than she is, your daughter will find that she can improve her spirits and confidence independent of what others around her think. While you may wish she didn’t have to learn this lesson so soon, it is still a very valuable lesson for her to learn about herself and life.

  3. Our oldest is also starting to go through this kind of drama. It does seem to crop up in 3rd/4th grade and get worse from there. It helps that the principal of our school makes clear to all parents that, as they volunteer at lunch duty or recess or in other ways, the community expects and wants them to intervene if they see a child being excluded even if it’s not hurtful exclusion, just kind of thoughtlessness. The culture of virtue that is promoted in our kids’ school also helps — it’s very explicit to the kids what we expect from them and there are serious consequences when they don’t live up to the virtues that are being taught. That having been said, however, it is still a battle that has to be fought every day.

  4. First let me just say this post breaks my heart. I feel for you and your child, so much.

    I think there is a two part issue here. First many if not most kids feel alone at certain ages especially middle through high school. Even the so called popular kids. Sadly I think some of that exclusionary type behavior is driven by that pain. There are a lot of things I did as a child/tween/teen I wish I could take back and I know it was driven from my own pain. I know that knowing this doesn’t take away your pain or your child’s pain. And I know just how you feel. My oldest is in Kindergarten, and things seem to be different now, but he had some of the same trouble in preschool, mostly from the click of boys. He is a really sensitive kid and there were a couple times at Shul I saw it myself (our preschool is part of our Shul) and it broke my heart.

    On the other hand I got really upset at my 4 year old at Shul this past Saturday. There was a lunch thing and this little girl came up and asked if he could come sit with her. He just looked down and said no. The look on that girls face broke my heart. I know that was partly because he didn’t feel well. But when they were all playing afterwards, I made sure she was included. I think if there is anything we can teach our kids is the joy and beauty of being inclusive. Thankfully my kids for the most part seem to have learned that lesson well. And when I see it going the other way I reinforce it.

    I have no doubt at your daughters school, there are other kids that are being excluded as well. Maybe you can coax her to seek them out and make a difference in their lives, as well as enrich her own.

  5. You are definitely not alone. My daughter who is in 2nd grade has always had friends but not good friends whom she would meet for recess and lunch time everyday at school. She plays well with everyone but always expresses how she doesn’t have “best” friends. It broke my heart when one day I asked with whom she played with during lunch and she said, “nobody. I just walked around on the grass by myself…” That has always been my daughter, but recently she had some trouble with a girl in her class who has been trying to “exclude” her. There has been a couple of time when I heard this “girl” tell another girl, “why did u show it to her? Or “why did u tell her?” (Referring to my daughter. This is bad but I really wanted to go give her a piece of my mind. 😉 Well, it’s good to know that my daughter is not alone and yes, I agree with others it’s good to have friends “outside” of school. Luckily my daughter has friends outside of school and so far seems to be dealing with it ok overall. It scares me though that as he gets older her feelings WILL get hurt and she will be affected by it… I just have to keep reminding her that she has a lifelong time to meet friends and hope that God will continue tools and shape her…

  6. I still feel left out (as an adult) when certain groups go for lunch together at the office, and I’m not invited. I’ve never been part of the clique. I’ve responded by being interested in my own activities, I invite others to join me when I think they might be interested, and I don’t take it too personally when people want to do something as a group that does not include me. It’s taken a long time, but I’ve found that over time people notice those who are interested and interesting. I have plenty of company even if I’m not at the top of the invitation list. Friendships and relationships are fluid. It’s not mandatory that others include me, but it is part of my ethical construct to inlclude positive and interesting people around me. My opinion is that exclusion only becomes bullying when it is systematic and targeted at a particular person.

  7. My heart goes out to you and your daughter.

    A few years ago, my husband and I decided to “opt out” of the busy social scene in our neighborhood. After time, the invitations stopped coming and now, years later, it sometimes hurts to hear that we weren’t invited to something or another but I try to remember that we opted out ! I’ve also been left out of a trip that some friends went on because (I assume) they think I am difficult to travel with because I want my kids to eat dinner and go to bed at their regular time and I get frustrated when other kids are making noise while my kids are trying to go to bed. My daughter has only recently started being invited for playdates – she used to be a shy, quiet child and just wasn’t the playdate type. But I don’t think of that or my own situations as exclusionary because they are based on a reason.

    I mention these examples because I think it’s important to clarify that being left out of an invitation, or just not being liked by a person (we don’t all like everyone, right ?) is exclusionary bullying. These examples weren’t based on malicious intent.

    I think of exclusionary bullying as being malicious – and I’m so sorry you and your daughter have had to experience it.

  8. Braedon Sandoval says

    There is no reason to bully just because someone isn’t wearing the popular clothe’s or wearing glasses it doesn’t give anyone a reason to say im gonna stab or shoot you or even hit you bullying is a serious thing even to the victim no one is perfect and forget populatary ask a bully a victim what can you do that would make him or her very happy because they could rap break dance or maybe they just need a friend and any of you could be there friend.

  9. Hi.
    I am Stephanie. I understand bullying can come in many shapes and sizes. It has no age discrimination either. My daughter and I just went through a bully situation at school. I’ve written about it in my blogs.
    http://simpleplanner.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/how-to-help-your-girl-during-stressful-times/

    http://simpleplanner.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/how-to-be-a-smart-samaritan/

    I guess, what I want say is that there is not a single way to solve bully problems. As long as we identify and show wrong is wrong and right is right. We can all support each other in the process of healing and moving on.

  10. Bethany says

    This post caught my eye because my 6 year old son went through some painful exclusion last year in Pre-K (much less intentional, I am sure, than that of 10 year olds…but painful, none the less.) I wanted to share one tactic that will not help your daughter right now, but may help others in the future.
    I moved a fair bit in middle and high school, and my transition to one school system always stood out for me…because it was so *easy*. The school (a middle school) had put into place a program in which kids were explicitly taught how to reach out to new students (and other possible “outsiders.”) Part of the program included “peer mentors”, who were chosen by teacher and/or peer nomination, and were given special training on how to reach out to outsiders. These were seen as coveted positions (how the school PR managed this perception, I’m not sure). When a new student arrived at the school, they were assigned a peer mentor–whose job it was not only to show the new kid around the school and/or neighborhood, but to welcome her or him into the mentor’s peer group, help the new student establish relationships. When I moved in, my mentor not only made sure I could find my homeroom, she invited me regularly to lunch with her and her friends, explained inside jokes and complicated social issues, and gave me the inside scoop on which courses to take and from whom. Though the school had its cliques, they did not smack of exclusivity–other kids at the school seemed to buy in to the idea of openness and welcome, a topic that was discussed occasionally in classes. It was a culture, clearly intentional, and largely functional.
    I have yet to see this program at any other school–but would love to. Maybe you could look into starting something similar at your daughter’s school? (and maybe I should look into starting one at my son’s! :D)

  11. Hello, I just wanted to say that I think Emory Luce-Baldwin’s advice here is really on target. I too was bullied as a child through middle school. I also didn’t have a physical difference/disability. I was just skinny, nerdy kid who didn’t get pop culture. Picked last in gym class. I didn’t want to befriend the “popular” girls; I just wanted them to leave me alone. My saving grace was that I had a small group of friends who were also outcasts–an overweight black girl (in a mostly white school), a super-smart girl, a beautiful girl who “developed” early, a girl who was new to the town… even a few kids who seemed “normal” but I guess just didn’t care about being in the “in” crowd. Your daughter cannot be alone.

    Also, I think this situation can improve in high school. Middle school is the worst. I had an English teacher probably in freshman or junior year of high school who told our class, “you know how people say these are the best years of your life? It’s not true. It gets better.” Kind of a visionary, given the whole “it gets better” movement of the last year or so. I think several of us found it inspiring to hear an adult say this.

    Thinking about the comments of others… I am not sure this post breaks my heart. I bet there is something about your daughter that is unique and valuable. Maybe she has a strong sense of self and doesn’t conform to popular standards? That’s pretty cool. As long as she doesn’t lose her sense of empathy and become bitter, she will do fine. Best wishes to her!

  12. My daughter is in 6th grade, and she went through this exact scenario in 4th grade. Fortunately, the school psychologist hosted a club that met every Friday during lunch for new girls and girls that were left outside the “cliques”. This was a life saver for my daughter, who ended up meeting a girl that she found she had much in common with. The girls did activities together, shared their experiences and feelings, and role played different ways to handle cliques and bullying. I feel more schools should do this, and if you don’t have this option, present it to the Principal!

  13. She’s very lucky to have you. Encourage any interest she has in arts through local programs. Participating in drama, choir, music, dance, visual arts, poetry etc can contribute to positive identity formation and improve self-esteem while countering the negative effects of bullying. Your daughter’s story resonates deeply so I’m sharing what worked for me decades ago.

  14. I am so sorry your daughter is going through this. And realize it hurts the Mom too! Our daughter is excluded at church by a girl. She is very subtle and it flies under the radar of her parents, but I see it all the time. She turns her back to our daughter when she walks up to talk to the girls (blocking her from the other girls) , bosses her around, stares at her and says nothing when our daughter tries to talk with her, takes friends away from her and leaves her standing alone (even smiles when she sees it has upset our daughter)…things like that. We are praying about this and will follow the Lord’s leading for when to confront the parents. It is a sticky situation as it is the pastor’s daughter 🙁 Yes, exclusion hurts just as bad as being pushed and punched. We just want to teach our daughter to be confident regardless! I pray all gets worked out very soon for you!

  15. I would love to know more about the programs that Bethany & Mon described – or at least the name & locations of the schools where they have been implemented, so I might contact them to learn more. That’s one way we can all truly make a difference in our schools – learn about programs that can be implemented & share that information with the school administrators & counselors. I have heard SO many administrators say “we see what’s happening, but we don’t know what to do” & “we can’t force friendships” blah blah blah….

    Clearly there ARE things schools can do to help children feel included, & teach (and EXPECT) ALL of their students to BE inclusive of others – at least during the school day.

    My daughter had the almost EXACT same experience as the child of the anonymous parent who submitted this post. We talked to the administration – nothing. School counselor was useless. All I can say is that my child is now in high school, & a new school (with all new kids) made ALL the difference in the world. She is much happier now, & has made new friends. A lot of our situation had to do with the culture of the middle school my child attended. She was definitely not the only child to be treated this way at the school / and I hear about it in other grades there as well. It’s an epidemic at this particular school.

    New school, nicer, more inclusive kids = a much better school year this year. It DOES get better – if you can get away from a school that accepts that sort of thing as “just kids being kids” (which was more of the lip service we got from the administrators & teachers). Sigh….

  16. I am a single parent with a only child. My daughter is 12. While she does have friends, none are very close, in my opinion. I have the home that all are welcome to; I am off all summer long, and for many years have taken my daughter and a friend here, there and everywhere. Most of these “friends” never or rarely reciprocate. As my daughter has gotten older, the invitations from these “friends” come less often if they ever come at all, so being the cool mom, I always allow my daughter to invite a friend over. In grade 6, she felt she was being excluded in her classroom and at lunch time from the other girls. This also happens on the playground. I spoke several times with the counselor, we changed her lunch period so she could be with a friend, and I thought the issue was resolved. Now, the friend she thought was her “best” close friend, is starting to exclude her. My daughter is depressed, spending the entire day in her bed. Any advice? I keep my daughter as active as possible, dance class, baseball, outside lessons, outings where I invite friends….again, the reciprocation is rare. She is a bright, funny girl who has a truly empathic soul. I can’t figure out what the problem is! Can anyone give me suggestions?

    • Wow Andrea, you just described the exact experience we are having. My wife is stay at home and often schedules sleep overs and outings for our middle school daughter. She picks up latch key kids and hosts them at our house. Invariably, these girls have outings and don’t invite our daughter. Add in social media where these “friends” post pictures with each other and the pain of not being invited is even harsher. Sometimes they plan parties on chats that my daughter is a part of. The lack of reciprocity is most stunning for my wife and I. Just a simple invitation means so much to my daughter. She is straight “A” and outgoing, but she keeps getting excluded and I fear her heart will harden. I don’t understand parents that fail to promote a sense of social responsibility and encourage their kids to return the favor for being hosted by our daughter.

      I wish I had an answer for you, but I empathize wholeheartedly.

    • Southeast, we have the same issue. My daughter has a group of “friends” at school – but I call them fair weather friends. They never invite her to things outside of school, even though they say they are her “friends”. It really hurts to see this group of girls posting photos on FB of places they go together, yet have not invited my daughter even though they are supposedly friends. I encourage my daughter to invite them to do things and host them at my home, take them places, etc. but there is next to no reciprocity. My heart breaks for my daughter. She is kind and funny and a really sweet girl. She only ever sees the good, never the bad. I just can’t understand why the parents of these kids also seem to condone the exclusion. They are quite happy for me to take their kids places, ferry them around, host them, etc. but don’t seem to return the niceties. Just recently, 3 parents took 4 of the girls to a theme park, one which I had taken my daughter and one of the “friends” to the previous weekend. I paid for the friend, bought dinner, etc. Imagine how hurt I felt when I saw photos posted on FB of the Moms and the “friends” at the theme park and they had not asked my daughter if she wanted to go too. It hurts me so much to see my daughter be excluded, and then offer excuses for her so called friends. I am sure that she is hurting too, and just hiding it. Middle school is a really horrible time.

  17. I feel like I am reading my daughters exact experience! We are going through this right now. I feel as though the school is of no help, my daughter has one friend who leaves her out constantly. The longer this goes on the less she wants to even try. Girls bully her in gym, stare at her in lunch to just try to intimidate and be mean, she will sit all by herself and not one teacher or kid will come up and try to include her. It is the most heartbreaking thing to watch. I am fortunate that she will tell me these things. I want to call the school again, but they don’t respond well or do much to help. We have thought of homeschooling, but the guidance counselor made a reference that kids need to learn we can’t bail them out of everything. But, my problem is my child is going to a place that is crushing her self confidence, her spirit. I am sending my daughter to a very abusive environment. I read article upon article to try to find help, which what she is going through seems to be relational bullying, and verbal bullying at times. The school only offers sports, no clubs. I don’t know what to do.

  18. My daughter in third grade is dealing with this right now. There is one certain girl who seems to lead the exclusion. She’s an ‘on-again-off-again’ friend to my daughter, but when she’s ‘off’, she persuades the other girls to exclude my child as well. It’s actually been going on for quite awhile, but I just saw it first-hand tonight. It was ugly and painful. I wanted to jump in and tell those girls how ugly they were being, but felt it may make the situation worse. My child has been taught to be kind to everyone, to include everyone. I have given her my permission, as of tonight, to choose not to play with this little girl when she decides to be ‘on again’. My child does not need to be anyone’s doormat. My heart is breaking for my kind and gentle girl. I don’t know how to help her.

  19. Heartbreaking reading this thread! My daughter has been going through this since the 1st grade, she is 16 now. I have not found anything that has helped. She is friendly, funny, top of her class and would go out of her way to stick up for anyone being bullied. She has only had one birthday party, kindergarten, and I made sure the entire class was invited, every single one. Only one child (I should say “parent”) reciprocated and included her at their party since then. I didn’t even have a ‘sweet 16’ party, we did a family one of course, but since she has been excluded for years I have been afraid that no one would come. She doesn’t like social media and doesn’t gossip or have those type of accounts…..she wisely doesn’t see why anyone would want to document their every move, which has turned out to be a blessing since she doesn’t have to see all the pictures and posts of the things she is excluded from. Over the years we have invited girls to come to our house, have sleep overs and I have had them to dinner, movies,swimming etc. and never have these kids ever reciprocated. She always has to be the one inviting or calling, never do they initiate or ask otherwise. She has, and I have as well, gotten tired of being the one that always has to ask. If they don’t like her then why even come to our house or accept her offers? She participates in a sport that is not a school sport and is part of several school activities/clubs but is never included in the group activities outside of the actual club/team activities like everyone else. It is now a few weeks before prom and she is not even being asked to join the girls who don’t have dates to attend. She would never invite herself or go alone and there are groups of girls who are going together and know she isn’t going so I wonder if it would kill one of these kids to ask her to join them? I guess it is. The tears I’ve shed over the years would fill a pool. Did I mention that she is very very smart and many of them don’t hesitate to text her when they need an answer to homework but never to actually do something fun with? I thought it would get better as time went on, assuming that eventually she would have one real friend, and bless her heart she has tried time and time again to make friends. She is a gentle soul and I am broken hearted that nothing has made a difference. I have told her that her time will come and college will be different. I just hope it is.

  20. Michelle JONES says

    My daughter has been going through this for the last 2 years of Middle School. No matter what group of friends she has been involved with, she is always the one to be excluded or worse. She feels like everyone is fake and does not have any real friends. She is sweet, kind, generous, beautiful. She has even been involved with many activities. She has stood up for herself and others but unfortunately it seems like these days that just makes everything worse. I am heartbroken because she just longs to have some friends to do things with. She had some “friends” but they were just using her to get rides places, etc. Nothing is ever reciprocated. Could it be that kids no longer have any relational skills? No empathy, etc. Social media has also definitely made the exclusion and relational aggression worse. With all of the disappearing videos AMD messages kids no longer feel at all accountable for their behavior.I don’t know what the solutions are but I really hope that things turn around for her and all of these children. ?

  21. Wow these stories all sound like me. My daughter was ok in grade school but never really had that one special friend. She also has type 1 diabetes which all the kids knew about and surprisingly looked out for her. In middle school my daughter finally found a good friend we will call (A) and for about two years she would come over do sleepovers at our house, I would include her over to dinner, I would take places, pay for little outings, took her to ice skating lessons with my daughter. Now there is friend (B) who is in a few of my daughters classes during 6th grade and friend A doesn’t like her, they are neighbors. I kept telling my daughter to not exclude friend (B) because A doesn’t like her and that she needed to keep the peace and she knew this already. My daughter and A were in the car talking about this as my daughter bought B a present. A was like wh why did you buy her a present? I explained they have classes together and need to keep peace. Well a few weeks into ice skating lessons beginning of f winter A gets all weird, says was mad at my daughter and she didn’t know why. I’m guessing again it’s because my daughter didn’t want to exclude B and would get jealous when all three were together. Things changed after that A became kind of mean to my daughter. During summer my daughter felt that since A didn’t really like to hang out with her and B was always asking my daughter to do things she couldn’t worry anymore about A getting mad. I agreed that she shouldn’t let her tell her who to be friends with. The whole summer B was very close to my daughter. September comes and she doesn’t have any classes with A or B but hang out at lunch. Two weeks into school,they decided to turn on my daughter and also a boy friend she has also turned. My daughter walks alone now, eats lunch alone at other side of table. Also the girls used to walk out of school with my daughter to my car and this is no more. She is totally excluded. My daughter is a sweet kid, never does anything to cause trouble. My heart breaks. She has me drop her off at school,at last possible minute and was so called sick twice ina few weeks time. The sad thing is she says no one likes her and still thinks these two girls are her friends even though they now are close and excluding my daughter. She just still seems immature and doesn’t get it. Now telling me what she plans to dress up for Halloween with these two girls and I’m afraid they are playing her. I too wish I could homeschool but husband would not alllow that.

  22. I forgot to add that with the first friend A nothing was ever reciprocated with the parent, it was crazy and I got fed up but still did what I had to do to keep my daughter happy. The friend B was better at reciprocating given she lived only with her dad and step mother but they did reciprocate I will give them that. It just makes me wonder this whole time if the other girls were friendly than friend A made it out to be.

  23. Bullying someone is something that needs action from people like me, you and others who are against of it. Glad you shared it here.

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