Dear Dr Justin,
I have a 10 year old daughter who suffers asthma, eczema and allergies. She’s getting bullied because of this, and is extremely disobedient. Also she is obsessed with Disney’s Frozen. I had said to her I’d buy her a costume so yesterday we went to the shops but when we got there I refused to buy her the dress as I said she was too old for it.
Back to the bullying… She is not involved in sports at school, she is teased (and her teachers participate). I can’t complain as she’ll get a bad reference for high school. And finally, she raised over $300 in her school fundraiser, yet her school didn’t send off the money four 4 months!!!
What do I do?
Dr Justin responds:
There are three things I’ll address here: The bullying your daughter is experiencing at the hands of both students and teachers, her disobedience, and her Frozen obsession. Let’s deal with each in reverse order.
This is a movie that has captured the hearts of millions of children and adults around the world. Your daughter is one of them. Before we get caught up in helping her ‘overcome’ her addiction to the movie, let’s see the world through her eyes for a moment. Is it possible that your 10 year-old identifies with a character in the movie? Does she wish she could say to the world, “Let it go!” and run away so she can be free of those who make her feel she is held captive? Does the movie give her a fantasy she can’t experience in reality?
In all likelihood your daughter will grow out of her obsession. Most children do, whether it is Peppa Pig, One Direction, or Frozen. The more important question is whether or not she will grow out of the feelings she presently experiences because of the bullying and unkindness she experiences every day.
Your daughter needs your sensitivity, compassion, and warmth, and not your judgment. Regardless of whether she was too old for the Frozen dress, you promised her something. If her life is as challenging as you have indicated, she is relying on you to make good on your promises. If the dress is too young for her, that’s fine. However she needs to understand what that means, and why she is too old for the dress. Your words suggest to me that she felt judged and misunderstood. Acceptance from you is more important than anything at all in her life. Just as she needs air to survive, your unconditional, non-judgemental acceptance and involvement is the oxygen of her emotional and psychological wellbeing.
I have written the following words in this advice column many times:
Behind our children’s challenging behaviour is an unmet need. Those needs don’t always have to be met – often they can’t be and shouldn’t be – but they do need to be understood. What is the need your daughter is trying to express? Is it that she is alone? Stressed? Angry? Does she want more choice and control in her life? Does she feel like she’s just no good at anything? Or is it all about relationships?
These are just guesses. If you can help your daughter feel understood, you will see a reduction in her challenging behaviours. While your daughter is feeling hurt, judged, bullied, and afraid, she will continue to react in unhelpful ways as she seeks ongoing attention and help.
So how do you help her feel understood? My suggestions are: Time, Talking, and Treats.
So much of our relationship with our children is focused on correction and direction. We’re always telling them what to do and how to do it. And when. And to hurry! The proportion of time spent with our children simply being together and enjoying their company, when compared with time spent on correction and direction, is far too small.
I suggest that time in the relationship, time talking, and a treat now and then while you’re together and talking will improve the quality of your relationship and interactions. You will understand one another better, and see an improvement in behaviour.
The situation you describe is simply not ok. At all. Bullying from children is not acceptable. Bullying from teachers is deplorable. My recommendation is simple. Call the school and politely request a meeting with the principal. In that meeting, politely explain your concerns. Provide evidence (politely). Then listen (again, politely). Schools should have a bullying policy. They should have an action plan they can follow when bullying arises. And they should be willing to work with you to attain a positive and productive outcome. If you have no success, it may be worthwhile exploring alternative schooling arrangements.
Additionally, strengthen your daughter’s friendships by arranging play-dates, and getting to know the parents of her friends. And look for ways to help your daughter develop her strengths and talents. Often children feel more confident in life as they develop confidence in a sport, art, or musical endeavour.
Finally, I trust that you are receiving appropriate medical help for your daughter’s physical conditions. Helping her manage those challenges will also lead to improvements.
I think your daughter is hurting. I believe she feels misunderstood. Loving acceptance, compassion, and understanding, as well as building relationships and friendships will go some way to helping her. Encourage her to take up a hobby or interest. And have some polite but direct conversations with her school. These should be helpful first steps in improving things for your daughter.