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3 Lessons On Bullying From My 4th-Grade Self


Note: The following is a real excerpt from my 4th-grade diary.

Wednesday, 2-21-90
Dear Diary:
Today Sarah, Megan, Mandy and Kathleen were being real jerks.
They were making fun of me all day. Like in P.E. I was doing my thing and they were making fun of me. They were really trying to make me mad or cry. It made me very sad.
Now I can cry wenever (sic) I want to. They were also calling me cussing names. They really hurt my feelings.

Sarah = X Friend.

I really hate her.

 BULLYING is a hot topic today, in part because of the way social media has changed relationships. After all, my mean girls referenced above just wrote notes. On paper. This paper was thrown away and eventually became worm food.

Thanks be to God.

Now bullying is forever archived in ghostly data bytes that will haunt the halls of childhood memories forever.

For parents, this new technological complexity adds a layer of anxiety. We still remember the potency of teasing in its simpler form and worry that today's version is even more damaging for our kids--and that we're unprepared to handle it.

Reading through my diary entries, however, delivers hope. The technology of teasing may have changed, but the core roots and causes have not.

Parents: you aren't as unprepared as you might think. If my 4th-grade self could share some insights into bullying, here's what she'd say:

Lessons on Bullying From My 4th-Grade-Self

Lesson 1: Start addressing teasing and bullying early.

The mean-girl-phenomenon totally bewildered me when it first started around 3rd-grade. Suddenly, straight-forward teasing turned into something far more sophisticated. There was ostracism, passive aggression, and manipulation.

I had no idea what was going on.

Because of this, I also didn't know how to talk to my parents about what was happening at school.

Fundamentally I knew kids were being mean, but my 9-year-old vocabulary didn't have words for what I was experiencing.

Here's what would have helped: a grown-up asking me questions and talking to me about these new social dynamics using language I could make sense of.

Parents spend a lot of time gauging when their child is old enough for grown-up topics like sex, dating, divorce, and puberty. But what about manipulation? What about vindictive gossip? These things are happening in the early years of elementary school way before the preteen years.

Start talking early and often. Start now.

Lesson 2: Let bullying be a teacher.

My mean-girl years (primarily 3rd through 7th grades) were the most challenging of my entire childhood. And though I'm sure my parents would have preferred to completely shelter me from the teasing, but here's why I'm glad they didn't:

  • I learned compassion for outsiders.
  • I learned how to stand up for myself and for others.
  • I learned the qualities I wanted in friends, and how to spot quality people.

As an adult, all of these things contribute to my character, my professional success, and the caliber of my relationships.

I'm a better person because of the mean girls.

This is possibly one of the hardest things about being a parent: seeing your kids exposed to hurt. It goes against every protective instinct.

But my 4th-grade-self would tell you that you're not going to be able to protect your kids from all of it. It's called real life. So build your child's confidence by coming alongside them--help them learn how to navigate situations and explore tools to help them work THROUGH it.

Learning how to deal with bullies and teasing is a life skill that your kids must learn, and the only way to learn it is to live it. 

Lesson 3: Don't assume your kid isn't dishing out meanness, too.

Case-in-point, below are a few sample diary entries from my journal, recorded around the same time period:

  • March 2, '92: Dear God, please forgive me for lying to Mandy and Amanda, talking about Jill, and being mean to Sheryl.
  • March 5, '92: Dear God, please forgive me for calling people names and hurting my friends (sic) feelings by leaving them out.
  • March 11, '92: Dear God, please forgive me for losing my temper, being mean to Neil, talking behind backs, and calling Sheryl names.

It goes on like this for quite some time. In one entry I even asked for forgiveness for "throwing rocks at little kids."


Being bullied made me feel bad about myself. Seeing other kids being bullied filled me with compassion. And yet I still bullied and teased others, too.

Sure, I felt guilty about it, but I was also learning how to navigate peer pressure and the social-pecking-order.

Obviously mistakes were made.

Name-calling, gossip, and manipulation are bad habits to learn at an early age. They're also easy to learn unless you have someone (that's you--parent!) obstructing the path with a few well-placed consequences. My 4th-grade-self, for instance, responded really well to not being allowed to go to slumber parties and having to miss my favorite TV shows.

And even though there were plenty of "I hate my mom!" diary entries during these years, too, my friendly, kind grown-up self thanks her and my dad for not letting me get away with teasing.

In the end I turned out OK...

My 4th-grade-self would say that with or without social media, bullying is a part of growing up. It's messy and unavoidable. But so is life.

She'd also say beware: my next set of diary entries were about boys...

What did your childhood teach you about bullying? Do you agree that bullying is essentially the same, or do you think it's a lot different for kids today? Share you thoughts below--


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Showing 4 comments
  • Rebecca

    There is this girl named Ann is third grade and I’m in fourth and she has been rude to me like she told my teacher and I didn’t get in trouble because my teacher knew she was trying to get me in a lot of trouble I didn’t but it keeps going on and I don’t know how to fix it please help me by telling me if I should tell my school counselor

    • Stephanie Hillberry

      Hi Rebecca:
      Thanks for sharing what’s been going on at your school. I asked some of my friends here and we think you should tell some adults what’s been happening. Your school counselor would be a good person, and maybe your mom or dad. We’re praying that Ann has a change of heart.

  • Scarlet

    I am a fourth grade girl on my dads acount. There has been bullying at my school and i dont really have anybody to talk to about this. But there is this boy in my class, and he is realy mean to every body that isn’t his friend. Other people are only his friend because if they were’nt, they would get bullied by him. But then all the girls are mean too. They all cuss,and gossip about people. The mean boy, Jackson, hand ball and allways cheats. If he had no friends, he would be bad at handball. The teacher is great and made Jackson sit right behind me! And i could just hear everything he talks about. My school makes me want to cry.

  • Michelle

    Your article is interesting… what concerns me is something often seen in parenting columns. The actual “Start talking early and often” portion does not give practical ideas of the vocabulary and words needed. Maybe your 9-year old vocabulary didn’t have the words to talk about these situations. Maybe our adult ones don’t either. You gave some suggestions such as manipulation and so forth. Are there social stories that can be read with parent/ child to help?

    “So build your child’s confidence by coming alongside them–help them learn how to navigate situations and explore tools to help them work THROUGH it” is great advice but there are no tools included in the article that parents can use to follow through on the advice.

    This article lacks usefulness because it gives no where to go for parents or kids on how to actually gain inner strength, and so forth. Developing inner confidence while being bullied is like trying to learn to swim while you are drowning. It can not work.

    Kids need caring and confident adults who will listen and support without interfering on small stuff. However, adults must intervene when it get systemic and mental health is affected. Asking the child if they would like the adult to do something further than support is very important. Some kids stop talking to parents because “my parents knew and did nothing about it”.

    A book called “Hold on to your Kids: Why parents need to matter more than peers” by Neufeld and Mate explains why mature adults are vital in kid’s lives and it has very practical ways to do it.

    There are 2 good social story books: “Just Teasing” and “My Secret Bully” by Trudy Ludwig. These stories address how subtle things can get. Parents and teacher who say “let them work it out for themselves” are misguided and would benefit from reading these books. There are also important resources cited.

    One thing that is VERY important is to de-power the impact of the meanness. By talking about “Life Long consequences,” the mean behaviour is empowered and the target is victimized. Instead, it is important to discuss characteristics of people: what is helpful and kind. what is not and to role-play with toys or play act ways to “let it roll off like a duck’s back”. A good visual on this deflecting of meanness comes from Kung Fu Panda 3. When the cannonballs are being shot at the Panda, he doesn’t try to stop them. He doesn’t charge them. He doesn’t even dodge them. He calmly redirects them. The same can be done with mean comments.

    “How to Stop a Bully” video by Brooks Gibbs is a good example. However, in this case the bully had some level of compassion. There are children who have been abused who do not have capacity for compassion. The example in the video will not work with those kids. A book called “Before it’s Too Late: Why Some Kids get into trouble and what parents can do about it” by Stanton Samenow can give advising adults insight into the compassion deficit kids.

    The sad thing about school is that children do not have a choice about who is in their classes. They cannot simply “stay away from” so-and-so. For example, the teacher may pair them for an in-class activity. Also, a child may truly be the only one like them in their class or even school. That is why is it vital for schools and teachers to emphasis and teach actual skills in community building in classrooms: acceptance and awareness of different yet equally valid perspectives. For example: 3 people are blindfolded and asked to identify an animal. One holds the animal and claims it is like a rope with a brush on the end. Another feels the animal and says it is rough yet round and firm like a tree trunk. Another holds the animal and finds it is thin and floppy like a tarp. They could argue over who is right or they could take off their blindfolds and realize that each person had a different perspective on the same animal. If they pooled their perspectives as a community, they would all better understand the elephant they were trying to identify. To extend the illustration, just because 4 people agree that the animal is like a tree trunk (holding each a leg), the other people still have valuable insight to share: the rope (the tail) or the tarp (the ear). Majority does Not rule. Hearing each other’s perspectives make life richer. This concept can also be something valuable learned in childhood.

    Kids can be taught about the perspectives of different personalities, multiple intelligences, cultural contexts of family, neighbourhood, city and international, what it means to be part of community, how all people can develop positive character traits and more. They can have real, practical opportunities to practice them but the adults must persist.

    Parents have strong influence by creating positive communities for their children at home with neighbours, cousins, like-minded adults. These mitigating factors can help fortify a child for the battle that is an unhealthy school.

    All the best…

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