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Giving Children The Tools To Prosper Against Life’s Meanies

I have been reading eHell and the message boards for over a year now. They have provided me with hours of entertainment as well as extremely helpful advice. I thought the following would amuse eHell Dame and the rest of the eHellions.

BG: Last year, DD ran afoul of the class Mean Girl (MG) shortly after the winter break. DD is an outgoing, likeable child, athletic in interest and abilities, and has a wide range of interests as well as friends. For whatever reason, MG decided to make DD’s school life as miserable as possible. MG was a stealth bomber, meaning she would hurl her insults always out of the ear shot of adults but always in front of an audience, adding even more so to DD’s discomfort. MG also ignored personal boundaries, and was very touchy feely with DD (nothing that would get the authorities involved, but more along the lines of being annoying). Working with DD’s teacher, the guidance counselor and the vice principal (they were all fabulous) they were able to put a stop to MG’s behavior.

While the school was doing their thing, DH and I sat DD down to give her a little lesson on how to deal with people like MG. This was known as “eHell Elementary Edition, the Foundation of a Polite Spine.” We stressed the following salient points:

1. Being polite does not mean you become a doormat. Yes, we want others to treat us as we would like to be treated but sometimes you need/have to stand up for yourself. DH and I will always stand by you when you do.

2. A blank stare or better yet, a fearsome scowl is a fabulous weapon when dealing with bullies and drama llamas. My grandmother was a full blooded English woman whose facial expressions could convey a multitude of emotions without a single word passing her lips. Lovely woman, but that scowl….DD is about half way there, I really see it when she’s up to bat. J

3. “Why would you say that?” is an excellent way to turn an insulting/intrusive/impolite comment back on the person. MG had made some snarky remark to her and DD countered with “WWYST”. MG was flustered and upset because now, in front of an audience, she was put on the spot.

4. “No” is a complete sentence. DD found this extremely helpful when MG trampled her personal boundaries. If MG was coming in too close, DD would hold up her hands, away from her body and simply give her a firm “No”; lather, rinse, and repeat as needed.

5. Drama llama/extinction burst. MG was a drama llama as well as a bully. We warned DD that once MG figured out that DD was having none of her shenanigans, MG would change her plan of attack and turn it into a pity party (we’ve both seen it before). We were right. MG changed tactics and bombarded DD with requests for playdates, sleepovers, what have you. Every offer was met with a polite “No, thank you” and MG complained that she only wanted to be DD’s friend and DD was the mean one (um, no).

Fortunately by the time Valentine’s Day rolled around, MG was no longer an issue. DD kept her at an arm’s distance, polite but cool for the rest of the school year.

Fast forward to the start of this school year, and seeing that DD and her class will be moving on to middle school next year, they have started switching classes for reading, math, science and social studies. Anyone care to guess who was sitting next to DD in her math class? DD said MG waited about a day before she was up to her old shenanigans. Not as so much with the insults, but the trampling of personal boundaries. MG kept poking DD in the ribs, trying to tickle her, play footsies with her, talk to her while the teacher was speaking. DD approached her math teacher at the end of the first week, told her exactly what had happened last year, the issues that she has with MG and very politely requested that she change seats (we got an email from math teacher). DH and I are very proud of her handling this issue by herself although I offered to call on her behalf, only to be told that “you can be kind of scary” (Grandmother’s scowl, father’s voice of impending doom, deadly combination when used correctly).

PS: MG has changed seat partners three times since school started; apparently no one wants to sit next to her.   1004-16

AWESOME!   Way to go, Mom and Dad!   Etiquette once again becomes a powerful tool to take command of a situation.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • lkb October 4, 2016, 5:07 am

    As one who was bullied in from elementary through my freshman year of high school, I say “Bravo!” to the OP and her husband for giving their daughter the tools she needs.

  • Dominic October 4, 2016, 6:49 am

    Wow, this is great! And file this in the “wish I had known that when I was that age” category.

    Not to defend MG, but I wonder what is going on in her life that she behaves this way. It sounds like it’s an ongoing issue, based on the statement that she keeps having seat partner changes. I’m probably foolish in thinking that the school would look into and try to address the underlying issue(s).

    • Dee October 4, 2016, 1:19 pm

      This is a good example of what happens when everything goes “right” in a “wrong” situation (or situations, plural). I’m glad that OP’s daughter had all that support and possessed the necessary skills so that she could be successful.

      I, too, wonder about how MG will be treated to address her issues. She needs as much intervention as OP’s daughter did. The times my son’s school intervened for BOTH sides were the ones that resulted in the most success. It sounds as if OP’s daughter’s school is supportive so, hopefully, that means MG is getting the help she needs, too.

      • Bandit1970 October 4, 2016, 2:46 pm

        OP here. Keep in mind that DD’s teacher last year wasn’t able to divulge a lot of personal information regarding MG, but the school can (and did) counsel MG. They can discipline MG. But if the parents/guardians are not correcting the behavior at home, the cycle will just continue. I got the distinct impression (confirmed by another parent whose child had a run in with MG and are neighbors) that the parents just aren’t involved. Which is sad.

        • Dominic October 5, 2016, 6:29 am

          That is very sad, and such a contrast to the way you are bringing up your child to deal with the world, instead of leaving her with no tools to cope, as MG’s parent’s are doing. Thanks for the clarification.

          • RooRoo October 7, 2016, 8:35 pm

            Dominic, my mother’s first reaction to my being bullied by some MGs was yours… not that there is anything wrong with wondering that. (It’s what good people do!)

            Mom told me they must have unhappy home lives and I should feel sorry for them and be nice. The result was I became a doormat and an emotional punching bag.

            I still have to fight the “gotta please everyone” reaction, and I’m 64!

  • Green123 October 4, 2016, 6:49 am

    I am a huge fan of the cold, hard stare. Readers of a certain vintage might remember Michael Bond’s character Paddington Bear employing such a tactic and it was always very successful.

  • Just4Kicks October 4, 2016, 7:49 am

    Kudos to you!!! And good luck to your daughter! 🙂

    My youngest son does not play sports, he tried when he was younger, he hated every minute of it.
    Unfortunately, the area we live in, not being athletically gifted brands you as a loser.
    My son is a very smart and quiet boy who is a very gifted artist and writer, and loves to read and play video games.
    This does not make him very popular, although he does have a nice core group of like minded friends.
    He hates going to school, but gets very good grades, and will not participate in anything the other kids do, even if he is teased for it.
    We tell him all the time we are proud of him for being who he is and not getting bullied into peer pressure.
    I think this will serve him well in high school and throughout his life.
    While we love and are equally proud of all our kids, he is the one who “knows who he is”, and sticks to it no matter what.

    We have told all our kids from little on up, that while you NEVER start a fight, you have EVERY right to defend yourself if someone is bullying you.
    If you started the fight, you will be in trouble.
    If you are defending yourself, we will back you ALL the way.

    • Just4Kicks October 4, 2016, 7:51 am

      …And, I mean by “will not participate in anything” I mean that in the peer pressure sense.
      “Let’s pick on the slow kid today!” Uh, no I won’t do that.

    • Goldie October 4, 2016, 3:46 pm

      “a very gifted artist and writer, and loves to read and play video games” sounds like a lot of my younger son’s friends that he had in high school. There were a few kids in his class that were gifted artists and musicians. Not sure how they fared in middle school, but they were held in very high regard in high school. Maybe not the “super popular kid who wins King of every formal and gets invited to all of the cool parties” kind of high regard, but I got the impression that they were respected by everyone. Hope that your son has the same future.

      • Just4Kicks October 6, 2016, 8:21 am

        Thank you so much for your comment!

        I admit, he is the kid I worry most about.
        His older brothers were very popular, have tons of friends, one was Prom King etc.
        He is very shy, and not very social, but as mentioned has a few very good friends.
        I once wrote a very nasty note to one of his art teachers a few years back, when they were supposed to draw their favorite animated character for a homework assignment.
        He drew a wonderful “Calvin and Hobbes” piece, and I was fascinated after seeing him drawing some of it simply by having the photo of it next to him on his phone, I sat and watched him draw the rest.
        This teacher held up his picture, (thankfully didn’t say his name) and announced “I told you all to DRAW a picture….NOT TRACE ONE”!!!
        He was very upset when he got home, and I finally got it out of him (he is a true Libra, does not make waves) what had happened.
        I fired off a nasty little note saying I had seen him draw almost the entire thing….He didn’t trace it.
        She sent back a note saying “Oh. Well, what a terrific artist he is….I owe him an apology”!!!
        Yes….you do.

  • Michelle October 4, 2016, 8:30 am

    I love it! Too bad “E-hell Elementary Edition” is not a real class!! Kudos to you and your husband for supporting the development of your daughter’s polite spine.

  • Anon October 4, 2016, 8:42 am

    I am so impressed by this post, and am filing it away for future reference (I’m due in 10 days with a girl!). Thank you, OP!

  • Mizz Etiquette October 4, 2016, 9:05 am

    Haha – LOVE #3!

    It almost sounds like MG was jealous of your DD from the beginning. Hence the picking on, lack of boundaries, etc. Did MG have any “real” friends?

    Good for DD!

  • Amanda H. October 4, 2016, 9:39 am

    Most excellent. I’m glad to hear everything has been working out for DD. I love the “why would you say that?” reversal, and will have to remember that should any of my kids encounter bullies in school.

    I was bullied for a bit when I was in grade school some 20+ years ago. A big teenager on the bus tried to tease me for a while, but I just ignored him and he dropped it. The bus driver was a firm man who was pretty nice to the good kids (like myself), but would come down hard on physical bullying, so the big kid left it at that.

    Another girl in my grade decided when we were about 13 that she didn’t like me and wanted to tease me. She made fun of my clothing (I still remember the day I wore neon green socks and she decided to mock me for it), but again, I ignored her and she eventually lost interest. Three years later in high school, she actually complimented me on a short story I’d written for the student literary magazine, so I guess the bullying was just a phase.

    The worst was a girl who’d been a friend of mine when we were 12, but when we turned 13 something changed. I have no idea what, but she decided to start making fun of me (which I ignored, like the others), then poking me repeatedly when I didn’t rise to the bait. I tried to tell her to stop, but it eventually escalated to her jabbing a pencil into my hand one day, at which point I brought it to the teacher’s attention. We ended up in the school office where the girl tried to blame me, claiming I’d started a fight. Our parents may have been called, but in the end I didn’t get in trouble due to not having any sort of history of misbehavior at all, she was told to leave me alone (thankfully she listened), and I avoided her as much as I could until high school when I ended up in mostly honors/AP classes and thus never had to share a classroom with her.

  • AMC October 4, 2016, 9:45 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this, OP! I have a daughter who will be starting kindergarten next year, and I’m taking notes on your story right now. This is incredibly helpful. Thank you!

  • Devin October 4, 2016, 10:20 am

    It sounds like was not taught appropriate socalization skills and is immature. Hopefully her teachers are not just punishing her behavior but also guiding her towards more socially acceptable ways to interact with her peers.
    OP, I’m glad you have been able to model appropriate behaviors for your daughter. Learning a polite spine early on will help her become a strong young woman and have the skills she needs to avoid peer pressure later in life. Hopefully these lessons are also taught with compassion. One day that bully may mature and learn to be a real friend and reach out to your daughter. Unlike adults there is a little flexibility with ehells mantra “when someone shows you who they are, believe them”.

  • Pat October 4, 2016, 10:24 am

    Great advice! Another version of WWYST specifically for intrusive questions is to answer with “That’s a very personal question.” If question is repeated, answer is repeated as many times as necessary.

    • Aletheia October 5, 2016, 2:51 pm

      With respect, I’m going to have to disagree with the addition of “That’s a very personal question” for schoolkid-level issues. (Most) adults would get the hint and stop asking, but hinting that something is personal only serves as fodder for bullies and other bothersome classmates because kids are neither mature enough nor socialized enough to realise that “personal” means “it’s not appropriate to talk about” or “it’s not something I wish to talk about.”

      • Aletheia October 5, 2016, 2:53 pm

        I forgot to add: Since they don’t realise what “That’s a very personal question” really means, they’ll keep on bothering and/or bullying in order to figure out what the “secret” is, and in many cases will escalate their behaviour in order to learn what it is that’s being kept from them.

  • Vandalia October 4, 2016, 11:40 am

    Aww–that’s such a great way to help your daughter stand up for herself in a mature manner! I second Dominic: I wish I had know this when I was younger. (But I’m learning it now, thanks to this site! Seriously: Thank you.)

  • Calli Arcale October 4, 2016, 11:43 am

    Awesome!!! One caveat about “Why would you say that?” It must be delivered in a tone of genuine puzzlement, without a whine or note of pleading or defensiveness, or the bully has scored a victory. I’m sure your daughter already delivers this exactly so, because that’s the only way it is effective. Act mystified that this thing would be said, but also completely unflustered by it, and it loses all of its power. You’re quite right that this can really put a bully off their game.

    • Bandit1970 October 4, 2016, 2:54 pm

      A painful expression works too. Caught my finger in the car door. Uttering several non-ehell approved phrases while digging out the ice pack, DH asks “Why did you do that?” countered with my “Why would you ask that?”. DD almost became an orphan for a nano-second.

  • daphne October 4, 2016, 3:24 pm

    Your daughter is lucky to have a mom like you.

  • Ashley October 4, 2016, 3:40 pm

    I’ve become a big fan of responses like #3 on OP’s list over the years.

    Gets the job done VERY well, because it draws attention to the person and forces them to confront the fact that they are being foolish/rude.

    So props to OP’s daughter for learning how to handle these situations without escalating them in the wrong way.

    However, I have to wonder what’s up with MG that this is a continued behavior, and why has no one from the school sat down with her and said “Hey, we’ve noticed lots of people say you’re bullying them” and had a real conversation with her about it. Because not everyone she encounters is going to handle this like OP’s daughter did.

  • NB October 4, 2016, 6:56 pm

    I just want to say bravo to the parents for taking their daughter’s bullying seriously. So often kids are told to just deal with it, that being bullied builds character or that it’s just a part of life. The negative effect is that it teaches the bullied kids that they don’t have the right to their boundaries or to defend themselves and it teaches the bullies that they can get increasingly aggressive and no one will stop them. These terrible lessons cripple kids in adulthood.

    So yay for good proactive parenting! Hopefully MG will also gain an insightful lesson or two.

  • Anon October 4, 2016, 9:18 pm

    I wish I could have thought of this stuff when I was a kid. Of course, my problem was not being able to react in a timely manner (it still is).

    I need a good half minute – minute to be able to react to things properly still. One time one of my volleyball teammates (sport that my parents forced me in) grabbed my water bottle out of my hands to “make sure it wasn’t hers’ (it wasn’t) and then handed it back. I was just too surprised to say anything to even be able to react.

    It was one of the few games that my parents went to (I didn’t really care if they came or not to any of them) and they asked me why I didn’t do anything. I couldn’t react in enough time is the problem.

    • Emmy October 5, 2016, 10:03 pm

      It really is the parent’s job to give their children the tools. Your parents should have given you suggestions and encouragement on how to handle a situation like that if it occurred again rather than question you. I have a tendency not to react fast enough or not want to draw attention to myself in a situation like that.

  • Rebecca October 4, 2016, 11:10 pm

    I sure wish my parents, or somebody, had provided me with these life skills. Instead I got, “Ignore the bullies and they will go away” which was utterly useless. This did not make the bullies go away, it just identified me as a doormat and made them worse.

  • Steph October 5, 2016, 12:49 pm

    I’m glad your DD was able to stop it quickly and learned the tools necessary to advocate for herself. I was not as lucky growing up and the school administration was definitely not helpful in my case.

    I was bullied and teased for years growing up and it is very hurtful. Even now, I think back with sadness of how my childhood was hijacked by school yard bullying. It took years for me to get over my shyness.

    I’m Facebook friends with some people from high school (I’ll never go to a reunion) and I have often wondered if someone on facebook would message me and apologize for the bullying. It would have been gratifying to see that someone besides me remembers all those incidents and recognizes their impact.

    So, I’m glad that your DD had a happy and quick ending.

    • Jandec October 15, 2016, 4:51 pm


      When I was in my mid-thirties, I bumped into one of my childhood tormentors. I was amazed when he apologized for the way he had treated me half our lifetimes ago. He cited a specific event, which I remembered very clearly, too, saying he regretted treating me so badly the minute he did it, but was too embarrassed to admit it at the time.

      I hope this happens for you, too. I’d like to think that I forgave him long ago, recognizing that we were kids, and none of us is the best version of ourself at that age, but it was good to hear him say it–it was good for both of us.

  • TakohamoOlsen2 October 5, 2016, 4:11 pm

    WOW!!! Fantastic advice. You did very well educating DD on bully behaviour. Kudos to you!

  • SadieMae October 5, 2016, 8:19 pm

    For parents of girls, I strongly recommend Rosalind Wiseman’s book “Queen Bees and Wannabes.” It’s all about these situations (this particular type of passive-aggressive bullying seems to happen more with girls), what the girls can do to defuse the situation, and what parents can and should do (and when to back off!). That book was so helpful to me as the mother of a preteen girl. The movie “Mean Girls” is based on it, BTW.

  • crebj October 5, 2016, 9:21 pm

    I agree, MG’s behavior can’t be tolerated. But some kindness might turn the tide for her. Thinking good thoughts for all.

  • Vera October 12, 2016, 5:25 pm

    Yes @ Sadie Mae! That book was a life saver for us during a very tumultuous time.

  • Paige October 14, 2016, 12:02 pm

    This is purely amazing! What I wouldn’t have been given to get this kind of advice as a youngin.

  • sillyme December 11, 2016, 4:40 pm

    It’s funny. I recognize my middle-aged SIL in parts of this story.