The Humanist Dilemma: When Your Daughter’s Being Bullied and Doesn’t Know It

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Lost Her Sparkle: My daughter started kindergarten this fall. We know from her preschool experience that she’s a little shy and lacking in self-confidence.

Last week, she went to school in a shirt decorated with glued-on rhinestones. It was very inexpensive, but she really loved the sparkles. When she came home, all of the rhinestones were missing. When I asked her what happened to them, she said a girl in her class (one she’s desperate to be friends with) asked for one of the rhinestones. But not just requested—the girl said, “Give me one or I won’t be your friend.” My daughter complied. And then every girl in the class made the same demand.

I’m far more upset about this than she is. While she was sorry to ruin her beloved shirt, she doesn’t realize the volumes this speaks about her self-regard and her ability to handle herself and deal with bullies (yes, I know she’s only six, but so are the girls who manipulated her). I don’t want to make her feel bad/worse about what happened, nor do I know whether I should tell her how inappropriate it was for the girls to demand ransom for “friendship.” But I don’t want to just let this pass. Suggestions?

—Best Friends for Baubles


Dear Baubles,

This is both appalling and typical of kindergarteners. And it’s something that should be nipped in the bud. My first thought is to get her another similar shirt if you can. Make a plan with her. Tell her you expect her to come home from school with all the gems intact. Talk with her about what she can do if any of her classmates demand one in exchange for their friendship. Coach her to respond with something like, “If you wanted to be my friend, you wouldn’t ask that.” Talk with her about what friendship means, and explain that true friendship doesn’t involve payment or bribery. Ask her which children at her school behave like true friends would. Encourage her to gravitate toward those children, ones who are happy to be with her without reward beyond companionship. Set up play dates with anyone she requests—including the ring leader, if that’s who she wants to play with–and keep an eye out for inappropriate behavior.

You might also have a chat with her teachers to apprise them of the situation and your daughter’s plan. Often, if the ringleader can be turned around, no one else would even think of extorting a classmate. Another option might be to discuss this with the ringleader’s mother, especially if the girls (and moms) have a relationship outside the classroom.

It’s heartbreaking to witness your child being picked on or taken advantage of, but standing up for herself is a life lesson that she’ll have to master—the sooner the better. She needs to learn what friendship means, and that not everyone will, or should, be her friend. She should focus on those who are good to her and for her, even if they’re not the most popular kids in the class.