It was a week before Shania’s* 10th birthday. Preparations were in full swing, and creating the guest list was on the agenda for the day. Single mum Paula*, who works as a Marketing Manager at a local firm, was elated on having her daughter’s friends over for the party she was organising for the first time in their new home in Eunos.
“I should have known something was amiss when Shania was very reluctant on inviting her own classmates to her birthday party.”
Paula shares that Shania, being a happy child and very extroverted, had recently shown signs of fear of going to school. “She would wake up in the morning, find an excuse (usually it was a tummy ache), then finally drag herself out of the house when I told her I knew she wasn’t really ill. There were red flags and I caught them real quick.
While making her birthday party guest list, I was going down the list of all the kids in her class, and mentioned “Brad*”, Shania shrieked “No, not him please!”
Paula realised something was up. She started thinking back on the times her daughter appeared moody and teary upon returning home from school. She expressed having trouble sleeping at night too, and often snuck into her mum’s bed in the middle of the night, complaining about having a bad dream. Paula also noticed that her little girl had lost her appetite.
“Please mum, I don’t want him to come.”
“Why, Shania? Why not Brad?”
“Just, I hate boys. They are no fun.”
Paula knew this was something for her to be concerned about. Shania was happy to invite all the other boys, so why not Brad? It hit her that perhaps her little girl was a victim of a class bully. Paula had recently heard about a few incidences which her mummy friends were chatting about. Bullying was not something she would entertain, so she decided to speak to her.
“I didn’t want to jump right into asking her is she was being bullied in school. I took a more subtle approach and shared with her a story about my childhood. Kids at this age may get worked up or defensive if you ask them something that they’re uncomfortable with, directly. She is only in Primary 4, so I had to steer my way into the conversation very smoothly.”
Paula asked her : “Are there any kids at school who tease you in a mean way? Tell mummy so I can help you be happy at school. When I was 8, there was this one boy in my class who was bigger in size than most of the others, and he would pick on me every single day. I used to hate going to school because of him. But you know how I sorted the problem out? I told my mummy and she helped me. And from that day on, Desmond* never bugged me again.”
Shania listened to her mum intently, hanging on to her every word. Paula could see her little one struggling to open up. She gave her the space to tell her at her own pace. And Shania did.
Brad was pinching, poking, tripping and pushing Shania ‘just for fun’ which not only hurt her, but also intimidated the poor girl. He repeatedly and intentionally was damaging her belongings- he would snatch her pencil box and vandalise it with his marker pens, and would tug at her school bag from behind while she was walking, causing her to fall at times.
Shania tells her mum, “He taunts me and punches me in the arm when other people aren’t looking. I have told him to stop so many times, but that just eggs him on.”
A distraught Paula tells us, “This was starting to sour my girl’s happiness at school, and I had to take some action to help her fix it. Bullying is NOT okay. I set up a meeting with her form teacher, together with the school’s discipline master, and shared with them what I had seen and heard from her.”
The teachers at the primary school Shania went to were extremely shocked to learn what was going on under their noses, and were sincerely apologetic for not picking up on it sooner. They promised to put an end to this.
When asked how and when this began, Shania revealed that it had been going on for about 3 months. She wept while explaining that it all started the day Brad entered the school and was looking for new friends to hang with. He was an exchange student from abroad, joined her class a month late, and immediately started to pick on her.
Paula asked her daughter if she was the only one he was bullying and she named a few other girls who were prey to his actions too. The teachers decided to take action and ensured that this would be fixed, and that Brad’s parents were to be informed about his nasty antics. Brad was sent for counselling and made to apologise to all the girls he was tormenting. The boy showed rebellion at the beginning, but calmed down and got a hold of himself soon after.
“As a parent, you feel really upset knowing your child is being bullied. This lesson not only taught me to be more aware of what was going on in my girl’s life, but to also always stand up for what is right. Nobody deserves to be a victim of bullying of any sort. If my daughter was the bully, I would have reprimanded her too and put her through the same counselling that Brad was enrolled to. Kids need to be taught what is right from young or they may turn out to be a menace to society later in life.”
Just a few months ago, we had heard of the alleged bullying incident in Shuqun Secondary School. Mean kids aren’t just a secondary school problem. The trouble seems to have trickled down to the younger grades. Children of this age group can find it hard to communicate what’s going on if they’re being bullied.
Many kids who are being bullied will not voluntarily talk to their carers or teachers about what’s happening. They will need some coaxing and a feeling that they are being understood to reveal what they’re going through.
Tell-tale signs of your child being bullied
- Physical injuries like unexplained bruises and scratches
- Reluctance to go to school
- Drop in academic performance
- Moodiness, withdrawal, tension and tears after school
- Talk of hating school
- Bed wetting, altered sleep patterns or having nightmares
- Changes in eating habits (such as loss of appetite or overeating)
- Major changes in relationships and friendships with others
How to bully-proof your child
- Model respectful relationships from the time your child is small
- Stay connected to your child through thick and thin
- Teach your child respectful self-assertion
- Coach your child to handle teasing and bullying by role playing
- Don’t hesitate to intervene
We are saddened to hear that little Shania had to go through such a terrifying time in school for those 3 months. On the positive side, she received so much support and love from her mum and her teachers at school who took immediate action. Intervention at the right time and in the right method is highly recommended. We hope that all parents stay alert and protect your children from such bullies- we can definitely do without them!
*All names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of those involved
(Story as told to Pavin Chopra)
What would you do if you found out that your child was being bullied in school? Share with us if you have similar stories and how else we can help our kids.