I’ve said it before: parenthood has got to be the toughest job on the planet. For every blessing there seems to be a huge and difficult challenge. We spent a glorious day at our Allotment Site Open Day yesterday welcoming visitors. Even the Lord Mayor spent ten minutes on our plot talking to us about what we were growing and why – lots of family on site as well – with two sets of grandmas and grandads and assorted school friends and fellow plotters.
Today we’re back at school – with a serious issue hanging over our heads.
The word bullying can be emotive. From the limited amount of reading I’ve done so far – there seems to be a danger that what is perfectly normal behaviour in the under five age group can be misinterpreted.
However from my contacts in the internet community and from talking to other parents in person across the country – it seems bullying in the under fives is much more common that many of us are prepared to believe.
Perhaps we need a definition here. Kidscape have a list of Possible Signs of Bullying. I’m going to slot in a few links to parent’s helplines at the end of this post - just in case there are any (other) any parents out there who are directly affected by these issues. And we need a (true) story here by way of illustration.
Shortly after starting school – I bought a yellow long-sleeved PVC jacket for my daughter. You know – one of those hi-vis ones. We walk to school all year round and it really helped other people to see us – especially when the mornings got dark in the winter. It took me a while to find the right size for a four-year old. I also bought one for myself. Not very smart – but I’d rather we were seen and safe and they’ve been very useful. The material is strong and sturdy.
After a while (I think about two months) – I noticed that the hood was missing from my child’s jacket. Here’s a photograph of the jacket.
I asked my daughter what had happened – didn’t get a straight answer – so I assumed she had somehow been messing about and had caught it on a fence or something.
In retrospect I feel that was a big mistake on my part. I failed to see a pattern which I believe has detrimentally affected her confidence at school and really upset her. Bear in mind readers our child is summer-born so at that point she was just four years and a few months old.
Another month or so went by and my daughter told me that one of her classmates at school had tried to hurt her hand with a pair of scissors. At that point she also said the hood of her jacket had been ripped off by the same child. There followed numerous meetings with the school – and together with her teacher we talked about the measures that were being implemented as a gentle means of changing and improving behaviours in the class.
Our child explained to us that this was a system of ‘Respect reminders’. Three respect reminders issued and a child has to do without their playtime. To date our child has none of these.
There were several more incidents and additional meetings with the school. One day after school I picked my child up only to find she was in tears. On leaving school the child she had mentioned before had pushed her. The school apologised and told us they needed to be more careful about supervision at home time. On another occasion our child received a party invitation which was torn and damaged by the other child.
Another incident I witnessed myself when I was standing at the school gate and from afar saw my daughter’s yellow jacket flying up into the air. I asked my daughter what had happened and she told me that the child in question had thrown the distinctive yellow jacket over the fence.
I’ve heard such incidents described as ‘relatively’ minor. I think that reflects a lack of empathy – and the incident with the yellow jacket stands out. If you’ve ever tried to rip the hood off a PVC jacket you’ll soon realise this involves quite a considerable degree of force.
We’ve been in touch with anti-bullying initiatives about this, and now understand that each school is required by law to have a fully functional anti-bullying strategy. I’ve seen this and discussed it with school staff. I’ve pointed out standard strategies appear to have very little in them which is tailored to small children and children under five. For example, it’s fine to give older children the option of phoning Childline, but if you are four years old, you can’t.
Together with our child’s teacher, we have practised anti-bullying moves with our child. Saying ‘no’ in a loud voice. Making sure you tell someone – mum, dad, friend, teacher, headmaster, helper. Making sure that your child knows you don’t need to be polite or friendly to someone who is being horrible. You have the right to say ‘no’. We know what bullies want is to make you feel bad so the way you react is really important.
Difficult though all this has been, we were hoping we had worked something through and the problem was resolved. The last thing we wanted is for a child, any child to be labelled. I’m absolutely certain that happens often enough already.
However we were called in last week for another meeting. We’re three weeks away from the end of term and the school is considering how the classes are going to be made up next year. We were given the ‘option’ of being able to move our child to a different class.
We made it clear that since our child has suffered a knock in her confidence due to these issues, we feel strongly that she should stay with her friends and that it is the child who has shown anti-social behaviour who should be moved away from her.
The background power dynamics we understand too. As far as the school leadership is concerned it is easier to pressurise the parents of a ‘nice’ child – who are already concerned - than it is to tackle the parents of a child who shows more challenging behaviour. But that doesn’t make it right.
Bullying is a systemic problem. It thrives on secrecy and people being too intimidated to speak out.
As this blog shows - children who are bullied in the early years are not alone. Their parents are bullied too. Bullied by the compulsory Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements. I recall the letter from our local authority which signalled that our application for a parental exemption was refused in August last year – the local authority included a helpline number – supposedly to assist in finding another school.
Of course the authority knew full well that since the compulsory learning and development requirements are imposed on all settings – there was literally nowhere else for us to go.
There is so much evidence now from academics and child-care specialists on an international level that changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements need to be made.
The learning and development requirements system puts small children under pressures that they clearly do not need. It’s my belief that this pressure makes existing problems with behaviour and discipline worse than they would otherwise be. We understand that girls and boys are affecting differently.