My Daughter And The Bully

We were at a party.  We were having so much fun, it was so nice.

My daughter had gone down to the basement where all the kids were playing together.  I thought this was great.  She’s so social, so happy, so full of life.  For her, being around people is like breathing.  It’s her lifeblood, and the more she interacts, the more she smiles and plays and connects with people, the happier she is.

She’s so sweet.

And so my wife and I were upstairs talking and hanging with our friends.  I didn’t think that maybe I should check on my daughter.  I figured she was being her usual happy self.  I figured she was okay.

I’m still in pain over that.

It was time for us to go, and so I went towards the stairs to get her.  As I reached them, though, I heard a child crying.  It sounded like her, but I wasn’t sure.

And then I started going down the stairs, and I knew it was definitely her.  I was standing at the top, and watching as a boy who was maybe 7 or 8 and at least three times her size was chasing her around with his kiddie bag and making fun of her.  She was crying and crying.  And because she’s a warrior (despite being only 2 and a half) she was yelling, “No! No! No!” and trying to hit him as she ran away.

It was weird, because in the moment, I couldn’t connect with what was happening.  I went downstairs and I felt awkward and said something like, “I hope everyone is being nice to her.  She’s only 2,” with this kind of happy tone, like everything was okay, like some bully wasn’t tormenting my daughter.

I don’t think I was fully aware of how upset she was until I asked her to come with me.  She started screaming and said, “No! No!” like she said to the boy, like she was so confused about what was happening that she felt the whole world was against her.  I asked her if she wanted a hug and again she said, “No! No!” and pushed me away, crying harder.

I let her be, let her have her space a bit, and as I moved away, I saw the boy run upstairs.  He probably had been in this situation before.  He knew to get away.

Maybe if I was more aware, if I was a better parent, if I wasn’t so in denial about my daughter’s pain, then I would have grabbed him and demanded he take me to his parents.  Maybe I would have been able to help my daughter feel safer.

It’s so hard to look back at it.  This was the first time I ever saw my own child, my first child, so tormented by a cruel world.  I had this idea in my head that I could protect her from everything.  She’s just so sweet.  The world doesn’t deserve her.  So she should be protected.

And as the night progressed, and I finally grabbed her, while she kicked and screamed saying she didn’t want to go, when I took her upstairs and offered her a cookie and she smiled and accepted as if two seconds ago she wasn’t still in so much pain, as I watched her slowly recover and become herself again… all that had transpired started to sink in.

I realized that I had been upstairs for quite a while.  I realized that I had no idea how long she was being tormented.  Maybe just for a minute.  But there was something about how deep her anger and hurt was when I saw her that made me feel like it was longer.

And that’s when all this pain started to flow into me.  Slow at first.  But then faster.  And by the time we arrived at home, and she seemed recovered, that I finally let it all in.

Almost like it was the first time, I saw her face when I came down there.  The way it was screwed up in this intense pain, red, wet from tears, defiant.  The way she seemed so confused when I tried to give her a hug and she just screamed and screamed.

I’ve never felt this pain for another person before.  It was so intense.  It’s still intense.  Like I was down there getting bullied by someone three times my size.  And on top of that pain, I felt this immense guilt for not checking on her more often.  For assuming she was totally fine.  For being naive.

And as the pain flowed through me, and as it has stayed with me to this day, I realized there as an even deeper pain that I have been avoiding: the pain of realizing that I will never be able to protect my daughter from the world completely.  That the world inherently possesses negativity, possesses pain, possesses evil.  That even if I had protected her this one time, there will be other times (school, birthday parties, whatever) when I would be unable to protect her.

And the pain of that was so strong that even now as I write this I feel like my heart is in my stomach.  I can hardly stand it.  My daughter, my sweet, good, happy, smiley daughter, is going to be exposed more and more to the harsh wintry world called life.

And as that pain has flowed through me, has enveloped me, I’ve been trying to figure out a positive takeaway from something so scary.  What can I do?  How can I help?  What is my role?

It’s been interesting, because since that day I’ve intuitively been nicer to my daughter around the home.  I’ve been giving her extra hugs and kisses (oh gosh, she loves those), I’ve been softer to her when she misbehaves, I’ve been trying to give her more attention.

And as I’ve done this, and I’ve seen her bright happy smile come bounce back at my face, I’ve realized that this is the main answer: that I can’t protect her from the world, but I can give her a place where she feels like the world can’t get to her.  A place that makes sense.  A place that’s as bright and as happy as her.

They call that place a home.

I can build it for her, I can put my heart and soul into it, and hug her and squeeze her whenever I can, pay attention to her like she needs, make the money I need to make to make her comfortable.

I have control over my home.  I don’t have control over the world.  I need to accept that my daughter will forever be spending her life wrestling with that reality, and that it will be so much healthier for me to focus on what I can control than on fighting boogeymen for my entire life.

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  • shirshelshalom

    That love makes you do crazy things, it is the most powerful. When I was 16, I got a taste. I’m tiny, and always happy and smiling. ..only 5-feet tall. But someone in his private school threw my brother on the ice, on his back. Hard. He’s 7 years younger than me. I became so infuriated, my brother is sweet and kind and gentle and would never hurt a soul, he’s pure. I took the kid by his collar, threw him up against the side of a house and whispered, “If you lay hands on him again, I will find you.” It was the meanest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But I couldn’t imagine someone laying a hand on my sweet brother.

  • Andy Messing

    I had a very similar experience recently. I have a boy who’s 3, the nicest, well-mannered, refined 3 year old you’ll meet. We’ve taught him to resolve his conflicts with words instead of force (biting? hitting?) and he does. Last week I was at a party with a bunch of adults and a bunch of kids. My son was playing in another room with the other kids. I heard a loud scream (his), went into the room, and saw he was being bullied by 2 other 3 year old boys. They were taking turns pushing him, and crumpling up his papers when he went to color. I can relate to the exact same feeling you so appropriately described in your post. However, my takeaway was different. I had this realization that I’ve created a world for my son that’s filled with butterflies and rainbows, he’s showered with affection at home, taught good values, but when he’s with other kids, those other kids’ parents don’t necessarily teach their kid the same. If my son tells another boy to “stop,” and he doesn’t, he gets flustered, maybe yells, and ultimately cries. Words aren’t going to resolve his conflicts on the playground ALL the time, only sometimes. I came to the conclusion that I need to somehow instill in my son the instinct to fight back, but not instigate. To push back, but not push first. To hit back, but not hit first. I don’t know if this is going to work or not, but the only tool I can put in his toolbox, is to play defense, because I’m not always going to be there to back him up. His soft, obedient personality that I’m almost “guilty” of creating, is beginning to work against him as he gets older.

    • You are totally right. I really appreciate this comment because I think it adds another important layer: sure, I can’t personally protect my daughter in every situation, but I can teach her and give her the tools she needs to be an independent and strong person as she matures.

      It’s not just about creating a warm home environment. We need to be the guides on their journeys. Teaching them to be more and more independent as they grow, and not in desperate need of that warm home.

  • Sherree Belsky

    It is wonderful that you are aware. I don’t want to take anything away from your story because it is beautiful and extremely important. I just want to raise the bar so that people can understand what happens when you don’t take that second to stop, think and become aware. You were able to recognize true raw and undeniable terror. A fear and terror that had you not been there, had you not stopped quickly might have had a lasting effect on her and you would never have known why. Had that boy been called up before you went down you could have found your daughter cowering in a corner crying with the same look of utter fear and dejection and you would have no clue what it was about.

    You rescued her but if you hadn’t if she had to see it through by herself till the end with no one helping her what would have been the outcome of this child, only two who was helpless and victimized?

    Now think of all the true victims out there who were never rescued. Who people refuse to understand and believe. You saw sheer terror and helplessness. She refused to communicate with you. What happens to a six year old, an eight year old or even a ten or fourteen year old when they are rendered helpless and terrorized? What if on top of their bullying, abuse or rape they are told that no one will believe them, or if they tell they will be killed or their mother or siblings will be killed. Would the terrorized child believe that?

    I think you hit the nail on the head with your story and your description and it goes way further than a two year old. You are a hero to your daughter and the type of father that would believe and understand anything she told you. Now let’s all learn from you and be heroes for victims that don’t have people like you in their lives.

    • My gosh what a beautiful comment. And you’re so right, of course. When I spoke to my wife about it, I mentioned how relatively minor this situation is in the big scheme of things, and how things could be so much worse for my daughter. I’m so grateful for this, and grateful that I did come in at a time when I could assess what was going on. There is so much to be grateful for and even more to fix. May we do both. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Joseph Biener

    I have a couple of stories related to this topic. One has to do with a foster child of mine who was in 5th grade at the time. One day I could tell she was bothered by something, so I asked her what was going on. Eventually, she opened up and told me what was going on. Some kids at school were picking on her. She didn’t know how to react having come from a terrible situation with her biological family. I told her she had every right to defend herself, and nothing would happen to her if someone else started the fight. I also told her that if there was trouble with the school, I would take care of it.

    My wife at the time disagreed and thought she should go to the teacher. I said absolutely not. That would only make things worse. She needed to stand up for herself and not let anyone treat her unfairly.

    I never got all the details, but I know she stood up to the bullies, and they never bothered her again. Some time later at a teacher meeting, the teacher in the class told me how proud she was of how my foster daughter confronted her abusers, and handled the situation with strength and dignity.

    The second story involves two foster kids, sisters, who were in daycare together. One was 2 and the other was 3 1/2. The older one was getting picked on by a little boy, and it made the younger one furious. The younger one doubled up her fist and just belted the boy, saying “You leave my sister alone!!” It was fine if she picked on her sister, but no one else better try it or face her wrath. The day care worker said she was supposed to punish her for hitting, but she couldn’t do it because the girl has come so valiantly to the aid of her sister.

    • Love this. And shows that, as I said in another comment, we need to learn not just to make a warm home, but to provide our children with the tools they need to be strong in this harsh world. Love your thoughts and stories, thank you so much for sharing.

  • Sara

    This just made me cry. Probably because I’m the little girl who was
    bullied and didn’t have the warm home to go to. In fact , home was the
    terrifying place it occurred in. When the world is harsh, there isn’t this safe place that you so nicely expressed “makes sense” to me.
    This
    helps me see that even if I’m not exactly where I want to be, I’m
    pretty great for doing all this on my own and for still remembering how
    to be happy.
    I’m so glad other little girls have dads like you! It’s
    not about helping as much as it’s about acknowledging and
    understanding. Don’t think it is nothing, I’m sure its everything to
    her.

  • Chana Schoenberg

    Good for you that you and your wife are aware and are able to provide a city of refuge for your children. The best thing you can do, in my humble opinion, is to give them emotional tools as well as helping them develop their own tools over time; thus they will be able to flee to their own inner city of refuge when the going gets rough!
    BTW, albeit you feel their pain so much, children are so resilient at this young age and even older and often bounce back. They mimic our own reactions which has a lasting impression as well as your loving, secure home. hatzlacha!.

  • isaack

    My wife is currently 7 months pregnant with our first child. Reading this brought tears, fears, and hope. Thank you.

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  • ednastvincent

    I think most kids bully because they are personally in pain or because someone is bullying them. They often have someone in their lives (parent, teacher, older sibling) who treats them badly and they are constantly told that it’s no big deal, that they should laugh it off, to stop being such a baby. Then they find a chance to copy what they see at home with a younger or weaker child and they want to experience the other side of the equation. It seems normal to them — this is the way of the world — the strong oppress the weak.

    This way of thinking is genuinely at odds with my own values. I don’t think kids should “grow up” and learn to better manage and tolerate cruelty. I think you can be a grown up and go through life, with all of its complexity and frustration and annoyance and still be a fundamentally kind, generous, compassionate person. It’s hard to embody those values at all times but it’s not hard to embody them most of the time.

    My daughter finds teasing and bullying fundamentally mystifying. Why would you act like that when you could just play with other kids instead? Compared to some of the kids in her class, who are being raised with the “it’s a cold world out there” philosophy, she seems “young” or “naive”. I think she’s perfect.