Is This Bullying?

Updated on October 01, 2008
A.T. asks from Nine Mile Falls, WA
14 answers

My daughter, 5th grader, has been having some issues with one of the girls at her school. The first year at this school it wasin't so bad, last year the girl has been the source of backstabbing, gossip, and breaking up friendships. From what I understand she is very controling and dictates what the others girls should do, act, who to like and so forth. Already a few weeks into the new year my daughter does not want to participate in the same activities as last year as a way to avoid her, she does not want me to speak to her mom in fear that it will escalate, I do know her mom is very active with the school and this also poses a challenge for our family to step in(maybe the apple doesn't fall far from the tree). I don't want my daughter to be silent and I am encouraging her to stand up for herself-but how long should I wait to step in and how should the situation be handled?

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So What Happened?

THANK YOU ALL, your ideas, response and information has been very encouraging. We read your links together and she wants to journal events for the next couple of weeks before going to a counselor, we also found some great non-defensive phrases to use when being confronted that will help her stand up for herself. You can see the relief after finding out that she is not alone. Thank you again :)

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answers from Portland on

It's called relational aggression. I'm not there yet but I have heard that little girls use a social form of bullying--controlling relationships, shunning people, etc. It is still bullying in every sense of the effect it has on people. There are books and articles out there dealing with this particularly female form of bullying--as I said I'm not there yet so I haven't paid strict attention, but try:

Relational Aggression: More Than Just Mean Girls

Girls Bullying Girls

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answers from Portland on

Talk privately with the teacher, but leave out "from what you understand." There are always several sides to the story in a classroom, especially a 5th grade room. Going in with an open mind and seeking the teacher's opinion, what his/her observations are of the situation, and offering/ listening to solutions will help remedy this issue. If you were to go to the girl's mother, don't expect the school/teacher to help remedy what made have occurred between you outside of the school. It's never fair to put a teacher in the middle of such an issue. But, seeking their input is always beneficial. If you're very concerned, begin keeping a journal or log of incidents, date, time it occurred, who else witnessed it. Present it to the teacher. He/she may see a pattern of when incidents are occurring. If the bullying worsens, speak to the principal or take it up outside the school.

I'm a 4th/5th grade teacher and I hope this has been helpful. So far, your advice to your daughter is spot on. It's hard to watch and listen to the stories, but this can be resolved.

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answers from Seattle on


You open an incredibly important topic for girls AND grown women alike!

YES, the behaviors you have described fall squarely into the description of bullying. Gossip is a bullying behavior, as are all the things you list. It’s very important to understand how Women / Girls seek to control in different ways than do boys, generally speaking (if interested, I wrote an article on my blog at

From my understanding so far, social bullying has always taken place – so it’s harder to spot and deal with (as much can seem and be treated like ‘acceptable’ behavior for girls). But that is NO reason for any of us to back away from changing things for the better in this department.

Already, you are super, in my book - that you have stopped your world to focus on this important concern you share with your daughter – I think it is the most valuable thing you can do, as a mom – to try and help not only your child but, hopefully, others, too. My personal view is that the mom is the #1 teacher of her daughters (NO disrespect to dads – that’s another subject of immense value!). While your daughter may not want you to go to the other girl’s mom, she’s still watching YOU to see what action you will take / encourage in the world, on her behalf.

Here’s my two cents (take it or leave it). Your daughter does not deserve the behaviors, just as she does not deserve to be left to figure out how to cope without your intervention.

First, I would urge you, do not allow yourself to be intimidated by a mom who happens to be more social / involved at your daughter’s school because, ironically, you’ll only model the behavior of someone feeling intimidated / threatened / bullied, socially. Second, based on what you’ve shared, I would suggest that it may not be the most fruitful course of action for you to approach the mother you describe. Now, I’m not saying avoid her - I’m just saying there are likely others with far greater authority to solve the problem of how your daughter gets treated while at school than the other mom(and with far less potential for friction between parties is my guess).

My suggestion is that you request a personal meeting with the school principal and your daughter’s teacher, as our schools DO have a genuine concern here. Not only do I personally believe they care about the children in their care, I understand they have a specific responsibility to parents to maintain a ZERO tolerance environment when it comes to bullying in our schools (and these behaviors you describe are no exception). While, personally, I think it’s unfortunate that schools these days must shoulder responsibilities once understood to be the providence of good parenting, I recognize that’s the way it is, sadly. Anyway - my thought is, in your taking this concern to them directly, you allow them to take actions to effectively address / remedy these behaviors, not just for the benefit of your daughter, but all the other girls (and their moms, by default).

As a mom, I feel what we model for our girls is HUGE – and the more of us that are on the same page in understanding the behaviors – the more of us making more positive choices and actively working to create the environment we aim to teach, the better our contribution to our daughters and the entire community, too.

A. - I applaud you and your concern. I wish you and your daughter (and her school community) the most positive results possible! Who knows – your actions may not only help your daughter, but cause the child exhibiting the behaviors to stop, think and possibly even to make valuable personal changes that will permit her to have a better present and future, herself. I shall hold that hope in my heart for this girl, too – because, if you ask me, she simply cannot feel good, deep down inside, if she is exhibiting toxic behaviors, big or small. That is not joy in a person. That is not self esteem in a child. That is not love (of self or others) in the world. So I hope your actions will help her, too (you never know…).

You Go Loving Mom!
T. B.

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answers from Portland on

Yes, this is bullying! The description of how this girl treats your daughter is very similar to the way in which my granddaughter has been treated for the past couple of years by a "friend." In my granddaughter's case she wants to be friends with this girl and their relationship started out a bit rocky but OK. The bullying has increased and has become more serious over the summer. They are both in the same YMCA summer and school year programs.

The bullying has been noticed by both school and YMCA staff who have talked with both mothers as well as the girls. The other mother denies that her daughter would behave in that way. When she observes her daughter behaves much better. Because my granddaughter is outspoken and defends herself, not always appropriately, I thought that the situation could be mutually caused. School and Y staff observers have said that the other girl is the bully and initiates the conflict.

My daughter talked with the teacher and Y staff who had also talked with the other girl's mother.
My daughter was comfortable with working with the teacher and Y staff.

This summer the Y staff, who were different than the school year staff, said that the other girl was bullying other kids too. They said that if there were "one more serious incident" they would remove her from the program. A couple of weeks ago my daughter called the school principal and said that she wanted help with putting an end to the bullying. The principal said she would arrange for both girls to talk with the school counselor and then she (the principal) would talk with the mothers.

Last Friday, the girl taunted my daughter trying to get her to eat peanuts, to which she is allergic. Fortunately my granddaughter has always refused to eat peanuts. She even reads labels on snack foods before she eats them. My daughter plans to take some action by co-operating with the school and Y staff.

I agree that the teacher should not be put in the middle. I expect that she has been diplomatic while doing what she is able to do. Keeping an open mind while talking with the teacher is important. Rarely is there just one viewpoint. In reality my granddaughter could possibly help prevent some of the bullying if she didn't want to be the other girl's friend and if she didn't respond to the taunts. Change is needed by both girls in my granddaughter's situation.

I agree. Ask the teacher for advice on what you can do but also ask what she and other school staff can do and how you can co-operate together to initiate change.

My daughter did try to talk with the other girl's mother who has firmly denied that her daughter would behave in this way. Talking with the mother didn't cause a problem but neither did it help. She is not active in the school. In your case, I think I would be especially careful to not criticize the other mother to school staff. I would also keep in mind that even tho she is active in the school she may not react negatively. I would ask the teacher how she would recommend that you proceed. Ask if she thinks it would be a good idea to talk directly with the other mother.

I don't know what you mean when you say she is active in the school. I volunteer at my granddaughter's school and have become acquainted with more active parents. I would talk diplomatically to any of them about any of my concerns regarding their children. I would also be open to the possibility that the situation is seen differently by the other mother but at the same time assume that she will be willing to discuss options.

Start by talking with the teacher. Try her suggestions. If your daughter continues to feel bullied you should then talk with the principal.

I also recommend that you try to help your daughter find a way to deal with the situation without changing her choice of activities. Often bullies stop when they don't get a reaction from the one they are tryin to bully. Avoiding the other girl is a reaction.

Also keep in mind that some of this girl's behavior is normal for this age of girl. When I was growing up the backstabbing, gossiping, etc didn't start in earnest until the teen years. On this site I've learned that some girls are starting their periods at 10 or 11. Hormones do influence behavior. Their relationship with their parents is also a strong influence. And if the parents are not aware of the child's behavior or do not know how to effectively influence their child's behavior, talking with them may not help. If you enter the conversation with the expectation that you are only sharing information and not expecting agreement or offers to make a change then it will be easier for you to remain calm and therefore diplomatic. If you are not angry the other mother will be more able to listen. Also if she is the sort to cause trouble she will have less ammunition with which to fight.

Being a parent or a child is more difficult now than it was 50 years ago when I was a child. It is more difficult now than 20 years ago when my daughter was 8. I am glad that mothers, like you, are still involved wanting to help their children learn ways in which to get along with each other.

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answers from Portland on

A., let me first say that our son has been a target for bullies since he started school. It is absolutely heart-breaking. I strongly urge you to not let this slide. These kids are empowered by the knowledge that they can get away with their horrible behavior. I think it is very important to be in contact with school officials. Please let the principal know what's going on. I don't blame your daughter for not wanting you to go the other girl's mother. By involving the school, the situation can be handled (should be handled) in a way that doesn't put your daughter in a compromising position. Don't give up. If you don't get good results from your school, please consider changing schools. I know it sounds drastic, but bullying is dangerous - period. It cannot be allowed to happen. We adults have to do everything we can to stop this viscious behavior. Good luck to you and to your daughter. Please always be there for her. Keep telling her that she did nothing wrong; the bullies are the ones to blame.

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answers from Portland on


It really is hard to say...the situation can be as simple as personality clashes. Or, as difficult as "if you don't do what I want..."

I would recommend starting in the school. Make an appointment with the counselor and/or principal. Get ideas to help your daughter come to terms with the situation. If these do not work, as for a mutual appointment at the school with the parent(s) of the girl.

Less can be done in retaliation if there are other witnesses and people in authority present for any meetings. Also, the meetings can be made confidential -- if they are not already.

Good luck,

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answers from Portland on

my 7th-grade year just came flashing before my eyes...and that was 25 years ago!

contact the principal of the school. i know what you mean with the mom being involved, but i'm sure there has to be someone at the school who has noticed the daughter's behavior. don't even bother with the mom. i'm sure she's a bully too. (i have a neighbor who is totally involved in her kids' lives and honestly i think it's to prevent anyone from getting her eldest in trouble for bullying. he's a nightmare!)

i know you are busy with school but the easiest way to prevent your daughter from bullying is to be involved at the school. when you are, you get to know who the bullys are, who the sweet kids are, the popular ones, etc. and you have an edge when it comes to dealing with your daughter's feelings. you'v seen the children first hand. i used to do the jog-a-thon for my son's school where i had to be there at lunch to count laps. boy, do you learn a lot about them when they're at lunch and they don't think anyone is watching them! this year i work in his class filing papers and grading for the teacher and i can't tell you how nice it's made this year for him emotionally.

for your daughter, suggest that she watch to see if there are other friends of hers that are being bullied by the same girl. if so, encourage her to form a stronger bond with that child and become a united front against the bullying. i know it sounds corny, but bullys don't do well when they have opposition. (it wasn't until two other girls and i decided we didn't need to be friends with "robyn" that the bullying really stopped and the 3 of us stayed close until we changed schools. we continued to do the activities we liked. we just made sure that we didn't talk to robyn or hang out in her vicinity.)

god, i don't miss childhood! of course, my college years are a different story!! :)

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answers from Portland on

I had a similar situation and I would talk to the school counselor. This is a mean girl thing and the other girl is probably jealous of your child. Good Luck

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answers from Spokane on

Parenting today is different than it was when I was in the grade school. I was teased horribly when I was in the 7 and 8th grades and it was awful. To think that people who were your friends suddenly don't even want to talk to you because of that 'cool' factor.

I decided that my kids didn't need to even be put through that torture while they are so young and I home-school them. We have close church and family friends that my children play with and have no bullying. there are also wonderful co-ops where parents who feel the same way also participate.

Since you have your hands full and this isn't an option for you make sure that your home is her safe haven. Girls are so much worse than boys when it comes to bullying. They hit the emotional cords. Since the mother is denying that there is anything wrong with her daughter it will have to be someone that she admires or she thinks is 'cool' for her to listen to the problem.
Be around in your daughters activities and observe other children. Help your daughter and her friends break her power. These years are tough since kids want to be cool. when the girl sees that she can't get through to your daughter it will help. Bully's feed on the pain they can visible see they cause. I wasn't quick on my feet with subtle remarks which made it tough for me but to render the bully speechless helps too.
This Girl wants to be in control and she will pick targets and try and take them down. Help your daughter learn to stand up for herself and avoid trapping situations. If your daughter doesn't want to participate in the activites don't make her. Maybe find some 'off campus' things she can participate in. Have the friends your daughter trusts over to your house frequently. Make your home the 'cool' home for her friends. It will help the loyalty factor too.
The thing with boys' when there is a bully it is usually physical and the target can usually just beat up the the bully and things are done with.
As to when to step in. I would have already stepped in. By talking to counselors and teachers. I would have been gaining advice .. I would have had social gathering with parents of my childs' friends. My Christmas if things haven't gotten better and your child is miserable. Don't make your child suffer anymore than they need to. Children try and handle things on their own and it is good for them to do that but if they don't have the tools to do that then you need to give them that.

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answers from Seattle on

My daughter is now in 7th but since 2nd grade had some problems with one or two girls who were similar to the one you are talking about.
One of the gals now goes to another Jr High, the wierd thing is they have been almost best friends since K.
Just last weekend the same person and another best friend were having a sleepover without my daughter. They called her ,acting like it was only the one calling (my daughter did not know the other had slept over)and she started setting up my daughter to say something mean about the other , with her listening. For instance she said so and so is getting really annoying and won't get the hint when I ask her to leave me alone. Luckily my daughter said she is my friend I'm not going to say something bad about her then she asked why the set up.
One of the things I have always said is humor can help you cope with all sorts of problems and feel a little more control if you can figure out how to laugh it off subtly and stay with your activities and ignore her. Subtly is the secret not in your face which can escalate her meaness.

I would also have a talk with the school counselor and her teacher- the counselor can bring them together in a "girls group" that really helped my daughters iffy group in 4th, 5th and 6th.

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answers from Bellingham on

Yes this is bullying and I have dealt with a similar situation where a 4th grade girl in my daughter's class called my daughter a slut. I talked to other mom's who let their daughter's play with this girl and I emailed my daughter's teachers to let them know that we are having issues. This girl has attempted on several occasions to break up the best friendships that my daughter has made (I assume because she wanted to have the exclusive claim) I even had a teacher tell me once that she has seen her 2 graders, who were sweet and charming, come back to school the next fall and become vicious.

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answers from Seattle on

Dont wait. Step in now. Talk to your daughter's teacher or the school counselor but don't make your daughter suffer anymore for the behavior of someone else. If the school handles bullying like they should be then they will help. They always want to catch these things while they seem small to us but in reality are stepping stones. Of course, continue to give your daughter tools to use to handle these situations on her own but quietly step in and demand some attention be brought to this other girls' behavior.

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answers from Portland on

I'm an elmentary school counselor and what you wrote sounds like bullying to me. Female social aggression is often what this sort of behavior is called. I would strongly encourage you to contact your school counselor and discuss the situation. He or she should be able to keep the conversation confidential until your daughter is comfortable moving forward. I know as a school employee I would very much like to informed of this sort of thing. we can't do anything to stop the aggression if we don't know about specific incidents that are happening. there is a good book called My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig. It might be helpful to read it together and talk about the story. Good luck!

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answers from Seattle on

Yes, of course it is bullying -- and what you need to do is be SURE that your daughter knows you are unwilling to accept it. Having said that- my response would be to talk very tentatively to the teacher ( and to other Moms) -- and ''feel him/her out'' regrding what the school policy on bullying is - . Just in a very general - open ended conversation-. Then- depending on the response- either raise the issue or not - but to drop activities that she liked to avoid the bully? - that's not ok.

Many Blessings,
aka- Old Mom

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