Q: Another student in her class told my 10-year-old daughter that the only reason she has friends is because kids feel sorry for her. I'm surprised by how much this continues to bother her. What should I do?
A: Bullies seem to have a sixth sense for zeroing in on issues they know will get under the skin of their intended victims even long after their hurtful words are spoken. At 10 years old, friends and social acceptance are beginning to mean increasingly more to children as they start the transition into adolescence, making this prime time for teasing and bullying. This bully dragged type 1 diabetes into the mix, probably just out of convenience.
So is this a case of simply teaching your daughter to recite, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," and be done with it? No. Words do hurt, and since your daughter is continuing to show signs of being bothered by this comment, it sounds like she needs further reassurance and action on your part in order to feel secure.
You may have told your daughter this when she first told you about the incident, but let her know again that what this peer said is simply not true. Talk to her about what makes a good friend. Give examples of the friends she has outside of school and what you know they love about her. She also needs to hear the bigger message that no one, no matter what they're being picked on for, should accept such cruel, negative treatment. Expect that you might need to repeat this several times to your daughter, giving examples and role playing situations until she really "gets" it.
Also, let the school staff know about the incident, or follow up, even if it was reported at the time. We see so often that a child who displays bullying behaviors suffers from low self-esteem, which he or she subconsciously seeks to remedy by making others feel equally miserable. Schools are often able to help address this underlying problem in a formal, supportive fashion, but only if they are aware the incident took place. Your response is also important for your daughter. Developmentally, she will be better able to understand that this treatment is not acceptable if you and other adults take concrete, demonstrable action. Encourage your daughter to report any other such treatment directly and quickly to school staff, who I'm pretty sure will verbally correct and/or reprimand the peer.
Because your daughter may be feeling insecure about her peer relationships right now, try taking a philosophical approach by simply asking your daughter why her friends are her friends. What does she do with her friends? What do they talk about? What are some of her favorite experiences she has had with her friends? This should help her to realize that none of this has to do with pity, but mutual enjoyment and connection.
--Jason Rosenbury, L.C.S.W., works with patients with diabetes at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco.
How Other Parents Deal
"Teach your child to tell a trusted adult if another kid says or does something that makes her feel uncomfortable, but don't forget to give her a few lessons on how to deal -- in the moment -- with mean or obnoxious comments. Having a few pithy responses ready can't hurt!"
--Elizabeth, mom of Eric
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.