The other day when I picked Jena up from school, her teacher met me in the parking lot before I entered the building to let me know what happened earlier in the day.
From what the teacher saw herself, was able to piece together from speaking individually to everyone involved, and what was later corroborated by Jena herself, here's what happened:
Jena was playing with Elena, Katie, and Kelly* - three of her best friends - on the playground. Jena decided she didn't want to play the game anymore and attempted to leave.
At this point, Elena and Katie blocked her path and cornered her. Jena managed to get away and the girls chased her. Elena pulled on the back of her shirt slowing her down until they caught up to her. Then Elena grabbed one arm ("with both hands and squeezed so hard my arm hurts!") while Katie grabbed the other.
They knocked her to the ground and Elena ordered the other two girls to hurt Jena. She gave them specific instructions as to what to do, and when Katie refused, Elena told her they couldn't be friends anymore unless she hurt my daughter.
So all three girls took pieces of mulch and poked Jena repeatedly with it ("it hurted bad!"), hit her, took her shoes off, and threw "beads" in her face, which went into her mouth & nose.
When the teacher arrived she found my daughter, lying on the ground crying and yelling for them to stop while the three girls had her surrounded.
I cannot express to you the emotions I had following this incident. I honestly can't. I have no words for what I was feeling. What I am feeling.
Jena is three. Three. Did you hear that? She's only three years old.
The girls involved? One three year old, one four year old, and one five year old. Yes, Elena was the oldest.
Yes, I've met with the director to discuss how in the world this could happen without a teacher knowing. I'm actually baffled. Because I've been there, I have seen how the teachers operate. They are so good about counting kids repeatedly, making sure they have the proper child/teacher ratio, calling to other staff for assistance. I've seen it with my own eyes. So I am so confused as to how this even happened. I mean, clearly, this didn't take a second. This occurred over several minutes. Jena was crying & yelling for them to stop. How did that not draw attention?
Katie's mom stopped me at the door going in the next morning and apologized profusely for what happened. She said Katie got in big trouble at home, and they talked to her about why it's not okay to hurt someone else, even if someone tells you to do it.
And... it ends up last summer Katie was the victim of Elena's bullying. Apparently last year Elena spit on Katie & poured an entire bottle of water on her. So they reminded her of that, and how bad she felt when it was done to her, and blah, blah, blah.
Honestly, I didn't want to talk to her. What am I supposed to say? It's okay? Because it's not. It is not okay that your daughter participated in hurting my child.
Yes, I know at this age they are figuring out their social boundaries, but after talking to several child care professionals I've confirmed what my initial instinct was: this is extreme behavior for children of this age. It's not okay.
And... for a bit more history... about two months ago Jena told me Elena had tried to get her to pinch another child. Even led Jena by the hand to this other kid, and when she wouldn't pinch her, Elena did it herself.
At the time, I didn't like it, but shrugged it off as normal social development stuff, and talked to Jena about how I was proud she didn't do it, and it's not okay to hurt other people, blah, blah, blah.
But this? To turn on your friend because she doesn't want to play with you anymore? To gang up on her? Restrain her? Put her on the ground and beat her up?
This is not normal. Not for preschoolers.
I didn't expect to have to deal with this level of bullying until she was at least middle school age, if ever.
It never dawned on me that preschoolers would be this cruel.
I'm worried about Jena. My extremely shy and introverted little girl, who has such a hard time even playing with other kids, let alone making friends... what's going to happen to her social development now? She finally opens up, finally has "best friends" that she talks about playing with every single day, and they turn on her in such a cruel fashion for such a silly reason?
Will this stick with her? Even after she forgets the actual incident?
What is the point of sending her to preschool? The entire reason we initially enrolled her in preschool part-time was to help increase her social abilities, because she was struggling. And so far, things have been great. But now I'm wondering if it were the right decision. I can't imagine this will help her ability to socialize with other children.
And what about this Elena? I'm sorry, but this is not normal behavior for a five year old. Where did she learn this? Is she being bullied / mistreated by someone else? Older siblings? Parents even? It's clearly escalating. Spitting / dumping water = no pain. Pinching & telling someone else to do it = pain & control. Convincing two others to gang up on, chase down, and hurt my daughter the way they did = major escalation. And those are only the three incidents I know about.
The director said she was sending a memo to all teachers reminding them that they are to spread out and walk the playground anytime they have children out there, and that if they are caught not doing so & an incident of any kind occurs, they will face disciplinary action. She is also going to instruct Jena's teacher that if Jena & Elena are seen playing together, they are to remain in her direct line of sight and within earshot. Period.
As for Jena... I asked her how this makes her feel. She initially said "very ANGRY". Now she alternates between "very ANGRY" and "it makes my heart sad".
We talked a lot about how it wasn't right, how you don't hurt people, how you don't have to play with kids if you don't want to, and no one has the right to try to force you to play with them. How that's not a real friend.
She said she didn't want to play with any other kids ever. How can I blame her? I told her I understood, but also tried to remind her of all the other kids in her class that she could play with. I guess only time will tell...
And... and I seriously can't believe I had this talk with my three-year-old, but I told her that I was really proud of her for not hitting them back, but... if she ever needed to push or shove someone to get them out of her way, so that she could get to a safe place, then that was okay and Mommy & Daddy would not be upset with her for it.
I reiterated several times that that was the only reason she could push or shove someone, but that if she was ever being hurt by anyone, and needed to push or shove them to get by so she could run to a safe place or trusted grown-up, then that was okay.
Ugh. My baby girl. My poor baby.
What do you do? Have you ever dealt with bullying? with your kids or yourself? At what age? How did you handle it?
*names changed to protect the