05 March 2012

why ya gotta be so mean?

When I was one of the first moms to arrive for the Friday after-school pick up to find her curled up and alone, pretending to read her book in the middle of the chaos, I sensed a problem. How many times before have I seen kids escape into books? It’s actually quite a clever move because it’s missed by most adults: “Oh, look, she’s reading! Always reading, that good little girl.” Most people can’t find fault in reading. Most kids who always have their noses in books do so for a reason other than the joy of reading.
She waited until we reached the car, and then with tears welling in her eyes, gasping for breaths, she confessed: “Maestra Samuela had to talk to me on the playground because I pinched Cecilia because they were all making fun of me and Samuela just yelled at me and didn’t believe they were making fun of me.” By now she couldn’t breathe or speak as the tears flowed along with the emotions. “I don’t have any friends they all just like to make fun of me even my best friend Diletta doesn’t like me. I just couldn’t take it anymore they are all so mean, mamma. I just couldn’t so I pinched Cecilia and then I went by myself and now Samuela yelled at me. I’ve never been in trouble before I didn’t tell my teacher. And I couldn’t talk to Samuela because all I could do was cry.” And she cried and cried and cried as I held her.
I talked with her. Richard talked with her. We discussed doing the right thing; of course, pinching is never the right thing, or hitting or kicking or spitting or scratching.  We offered ways to deal with the teasing, ways to deal with the anger that creeps in as a result of the humiliation from the teasing. We tried to help her to understand the difference between teasing and disagreeing. We talked about ignoring and playing along, and about this behavior being a way of communication among young girls. When Clara sings, “You are Roberta’s best friend! You are with Roberta!” instead of becoming angry and arguing, just sing something back or sing with her or run off to get some water. Coping.  We warned that being on the other side of the teasing is just as dangerous. She admitted to being on that other side at times, too. I also issued the warning of a consequence if there are any more reports of the physical retaliation. (That was difficult for me to do...)
When the story of the events from her point of view finally became apparent, the actual “offense” wasn’t high drama or, when considered alone, reason for alarm. This came as no surprise, as we’ve witnessed similar interactions out back with neighbor kids. If someone tells her that her purple bike is pink, well, that can send her over the edge. Repeated attempts to persuade her to “let it go” or adopt a “Who cares?” attitude are useless.  It incites her. I imagine that these seven-year-old girls quickly assess weakness and take aim. When I surmised that they probably treat each other the same way, she confirmed that they do and quickly called them mean.
We had one of those activity-packed weekends that inevitably ends with everyone wishing for just one more day before the start of the routine that Monday brings.  For most of it, we were able to bury Friday’s events and emotions and enjoy the moments. Richard and I discussed it again in hushed tones before she joined us for breakfast, opting not to bring attention to it again. She reamained silent during the twenty-five minute drive to school with her dad, saving her only words for just before exiting the car: “I want to change schools.”
When he told me, I cried.

I need a good book to help me to help my sensitive child. Any suggestions?


  1. She might well be what is called HSP. I only know Dutch sources, but there are many good English sources as well.

    If so, it'll probably take a while for her to get some "skin". Meanwhile, the safest bet is a solid daily routine and lots of one-on-one playtime. Also, she might find it soothing to write or paint or play music.

    (We found ways of integrating this into the school schedule, with the help of teachers.)

    Lastly, it's OK for these children to be on their own more than other children seem to be. Their sensitivity demands a lot of "me" time.

    Take care.


  2. Heartbreaking. We have a sensitive one, too. He's had a rough social life this year now that his best buddy has moved. When you find a book, I hope you share :o)

  3. I wish I could help you. We hAd this problem with our middle boy. We did change schools, but that was because we moved. It continued at new school, but thankfully this school has a great counseling program and helped him. I will ask my friend who is a counselor and get back to you because I am sure she can suggest a book.

  4. Is she introverted? I just read a book called Quiet by Susan Cain that's mainly about introverts in an extroverted world, but it goes deeply into personality traits and how/why they're formed. I found it really illuminating regarding myself as well as my kids. I've been choosing my words differently since reading it. I'm not sure if it will help you or not, but she makes a connection between introversion and sensitivity that I identify in myself and two of my kids - so I'm tossing it out as something that might help. Regardless, good luck. THis stuff is heartbreaking.

  5. Thank you all for the suggestions. I'm eager to read some things I've found & your recommendations as well. She is complicated child, painfully shy at times & able to perform for a crowded gym at others ... but always, always so sensitive. I often wonder if her only child status is part of the equation.

    Monday was a much better day. I snuck into the area and spied a bit. She was interacting with a couple of the girls and seemed to be okay. Later she complained again that she has no friends. :(


  6. Sorry to read this Dana. Parents want nothing more but for their child's path through life to be smooth and happy, and it's so hard when there are the inevitable little and big bumps. Seems to me you're handling it very well, and hope you'll find resources to help you navigate through this. Did you speak to the teachers? Have they noticed anything? Can't they help? Personally I believe that any sign of "disturbo" should be brought up with the teachers/adults who take care of the child during the day.

  7. Oh, I wish I could help. I don't know about any books or have any ideas, but my heart goes out to her. I know what it's like to feel left out and sensitive and it's just so hard to watch a new generation of kids suffering through it. She WILL get through it though. It's good she's communicating with you and Richard about it, so you'll both be ready to help and watchful. She's lucky to have you there!

  8. Oh how I can relate. My daughter is a highly sensitive person as am I. It has just been in the past few years that I've found the label for how I've always felt and in turn have been able to educate and sympathize with my daughter.

    This book was so eye opening and validating: The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron. You can get it through Amazon UK - that is where I purchased mine.

    I started teaching my oldest about the traits of sensitive people when I saw her exhibiting them. My hope was that she'd learn how to take care of herself and to avoid thinking she was "different" or shy.

    We talk about how being sensitive is a gift but that it means we also get our feelings hurt more often. We need to have some strategies to ward this off/cope.

    It is not fool proof. But I think validating that her response is a normal one AND that she may feel it so intensely due to her sensitively will help her detach and let go of her emotion.

    That being said, as parents I think we often have to go through our whole bag of tricks to find a response that is helpful. For so long I wanted a script or one method of handling situations. Maybe today laughing it off will work, maybe talking up the sensitively angle will work or maybe distraction. You have a bag of tricks don't be afraid to reach in and give a few a try.

    One more thought that I try to keep in mind as I rush to "fix" things for my kids or to snap them out of whatever difficult emotion they are feeling - sometimes things are hard and they don't feel good. It is okay for her to feel sad, angry, whatever. Getting over it by herself will make her stronger to handle things in the future and give her confidence.

    Sorry so long. Lots to say on the topic of sensitivity. Good luck!!

  9. The book is now on my iPad.