Friday, September 17, 2010

Teachable Moment

Eiledon dealt with a little bullying last year in school. Truth be told, her own behavioral challenges can make her seem quite nasty to other people, and her tendency toward the melodramatic might make her perception of others’ behavior more upsetting than those others intended. But I’m inclined to believe that there really were some ‘mean kids’ in her fifth grade class.

This year, Eiledon is in a new school, which offers an emphasis on fine arts, and a smaller and far more diverse student body. We were hopeful that she would find more kindred spirits or, if nothing else, a place where acceptance of differences was prominent in the environment. We warned her that there was no “geographical cure” for her problems, that she would take herself with her to the new school, and that she would still have to work hard both academically and socially to get the most benefit out of it.

The first week was encouraging: “Mama, the kids at this school actually think I’m cool!” She already has a good friend who has invited Eiledon to her upcoming birthday party. And she has a group of friends with whom she eats lunch every day. That NEVER happened last year. I didn’t want to jinx anything, but the relief was overwhelming.

Then yesterday evening, after a prolonged melt-down spurred on by hunger and fatigue, she muttered, “I hate school.” My heart dropped.

“Already?” I asked.

“Well, just because of that girl on the bus.”

Ah. That girl on the bus, whose name Eiledon still doesn’t know even though they’re in the same class of 20 kids. That girl who has said some pretty mean things to Eiledon including, according to my melodramatic eleven-year-old, “Go away. I don’t want to see your face.” And “Just shut up. No one wants to hear you babbling all the time.” The girl also allegedly knocked Eiledon down to the floor of the bus in order to beat her to the back seat one afternoon. (I don’t know if it makes me a bad mom that I’m wondering what Eiledon has said to her, even though she insists: “I have never done ANYTHING to her!” But I’ll let that lie for now.)

By the time Eiledon had finally finished her bedtime snack, and was feeling more coherent, we talked about some strategies for dealing with the situation. I kept coming back to encouraging her to ask for some kind of mediation between the girls. To having Eiledon offer to “start over” and figure out how they can “get along” rather than just complaining about the other girl’s nastiness. Eiledon was unsure. “I know what she’ll say if I ask her that. She’ll just tell me to go away and that no one wants to see my face.”

“Maybe,” I conceded. “But if you really make the effort to hold out the olive branch, and stay positive about it, and she still isn’t willing to be friendly, then it’s her problem and not yours.”

As Eiledon went off to bed (finally!), I could tell she wasn’t completely convinced, but she agreed to talk to her teacher about how to proceed. Good for her! I thought, and then collapsed into bed myself.

This morning, as she sat eating breakfast at the kitchen counter, we somehow started talking about the literary device of personification. The conversation soon turned to the anthropomorphism in her favorite book series, Warriors, which is about feral cats living in a tribal society with lots of human-like customs and beliefs. All of a sudden Eiledon said, “I feel so bad for Scourge. I really relate to him. He was such a cute kitten and it’s so sad that he turned out to be so evil. It wasn’t even really his fault!”

BINGO. “Eiledon,” I said, “I think it’s interesting that you relate to Scourge. Do you think that some of that is because you have lots of challenges that sometimes make people think you’re mean when you really don’t intend it?”

“Yeah,” she said, a little sadly.

“So maybe you could look at that girl on the bus like Scourge.”


“You don’t really know her. Maybe she doesn't want to be mean. Maybe there are other things in her life that make her seem that way.”

“I guess,” Eiledon answered philosophically.

“Do this,” I said. “When she gets on the bus this morning, think of her as Scourge. And just talk to her. Tell her you’re sorry you haven’t been getting along and you wonder if you can’t just start over and try to be friendly.”

“What if she just yells at me to go away?”

“Well, then just say, ‘okay’ and go sit down. Then you can talk to your teacher at school about it, like you’d planned.”

She nodded and then grabbed her backpack and headed for the bus. You go, Girl! I cheered silently.

I don’t expect Eiledon to come home all smiles about her new friend, or anything. But I could tell, just by looking at her as she walked out the front door, that she ‘got it.’ That by reframing her adversary as someone misunderstood, someone she related to, she suddenly had a little compassion for the girl. And no matter what happened after that point, Eiledon had learned something very valuable.


  1. Well, keep us posted! I was thinking the chick is just jealous, but that aside, you done good with Ledon! :) I hope it all went well! :)xoxoxo

  2. Reframing is powerful, indeed. Did you know that personnel of a certain airline are trained to see belligerent, disruptive, or otherwise "unpleasant" passengers as small children, and to deal with them as one would deal with a young child throwing a tantrum? It helps the personnel keep their cool and act with empathy, compassion, and understanding instead of retaliating with hostility (or worse). Wonderful that Eiledon is getting the opportunity to practice this, too!

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