That’s love.

FOR TWO YEARS, our daughter was bullied in school. The school didn’t notice and our daughter didn’t complain so we didn’t know. Finally a mom saw and told us. After that, things happened quickly. One result is that we changed schools.

During those first two years, our daughter shut down emotionally and psychologically from the moment the bell rang in the morning until school let out at night. Maybe this shutting down was a reaction to the bullying. Maybe there were other causes. What’s certain is that she didn’t learn. She didn’t learn the kindergarten stuff. She didn’t learn the first grade stuff.

The old school noticed the learning problems and provided support programs that helped, but did not close the gap. The school warned us our daughter would probably flunk kindergarten, but in the end they passed her along to first grade. The first grade teacher worried, but in the end passed her on to second grade.

Now she is in a school where they pay attention, in second grade, lacking skills her peers learned in kindergarten.

Catching her up takes hours of extra homework a week. It takes patience and cunning as we work to cool a fear and dislike of learning that’s been baked into her soul for two years. Some days I want to cry. But for her sake I smile.

39 thoughts on “That’s love.

  1. It’s tragic that the full impact of bullying has only recently been recognized. You’re on the right track. It’ll take time, as you know, but with a dad like you she’ll grow up to be a fine young woman with everything she needs to be successful in all arenas.

  2. As parents, sometimes smiling is all you can do, because to show how you are truly feeling at the time could do lasting psychological damage. So, you smile in front of your daughter, and you do what’s necessary to give her the kind of life you want her to have.

    That being said, there is no rule that says on those days you want to cry, or shout, or blow something the f*ck up, that you can’t do it…you just have to wait until after she’s gone to bed.

    Remember to take that time to vent your frustration. Doing so is vital for your sanity and well-being. Take it from one who knows…and thank you for sharing.

  3. Good on you, Jeffrey.

    This is exactly why we a) got out of the cattle-management aspects of daycare (think KinderCare) and why we’re not in the public system. And every bit of extra work we ever put in has always been worth it.

  4. I think you did the right thing. As someone who experienced bullying as a kid, I can say that the thing that hurt me the most was that my parents didn’t respond, even after I told them about it. They just downplayed the situation…

    By addressing it now, you’ve set a different course for a whole chain of future events that will improve your daughter’s chances. More parents should be so attentive.

  5. I was bullied in grade school. The bully lived between my house and the school so I walked blocks out of my way each day, each way, to avoid confrontations. Bullying has no place in society at large and in schools specifically. It is not “boys being boys” or “kids being kids”. It is cruel and should be immediately stamped out when found.

    I am sorry for your daughter’s experience and hope that she will learn to trust again, and that there are no lasting scars. And I am sorry for your heartbreak that something which should be precious and filled with wonder was turned into a form of daily torture.

  6. It’s amazing what kids will go through without saying anything. They don’t do well, but they still move as much forward as they can. I’m glad you found this out, and are working on getting things off to the right way. I wasn’t really bullied until I got into third grade. At least not that I remember before then.

  7. It may not be sound parenting advice, but I would have been happy to know my parents cared about that stuff. Just the act of moving her to another school will resonate with her, if not now, then later.

    I think it’s okay for her to know you are upset for her sake. Parenting is gut wrenching on the good days and bad. Any kid of yours will turn out just fine.

  8. That’s heartbreaking. Being a dad makes you realize how powerless you actually are over so many things.

    My son is only 15 months old, but sometimes I project him into the future, when he has to interact with the big, bad world. It’s gut-wrenching to think about all the stuff he’ll have to deal with. And all the stuff I’ll have to help him get through armed with just smiles and hugs and listening.

    Hang in there. And thanks for the reminder that doing our job as best we can and with a smile is all we can sometimes do.

  9. Simmular thing happend to me, except it was a 3rd grade teacher that convinced me that I was dumb. I believed her all the way up until after collage. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I was able to prove to myself that I wasn’t dumb by teaching myself front end web development. Your daughter is lucky to have people realize this for her at such a young age. With your support, I think she will do just fine. It’s scary how ridiculously fragile we are at such a young age. Good Luck! I’ll need it too, I now have a 3 month old daughter.

  10. This bullying going unnoticed for so long is sad, especially at such a young age.

    However, knowing how my own struggles with public school went, I can say with full confidence that she will learn more from this experience than if it it was easy sailing. I just wish she had been older and it had been noticed sooner.

    Public school trains us (the hard way) to face adverse relationships and simply deal with the differences inherent in people. Grades will never reflect this aspect of learning accurately.

    We are still bullied as adults though hopefully we have had enough experience by then to handle it as an adult should.

    Hang in there. This was just a speed bump.

  11. Jeffrey-

    Thanks for the reminder that we need to work at staying involved more. I know I’ve missed too many teacher conferences, days in class and other ways to stay more a part of our children’s lives, and see how hard it is to make up lost ground both mentally and emotionally. It’s a good kick in the pants, good inspiration and a fine example set by you for your daughter and the rest of us.



  12. I’m actually a little hesitant to put this in a comment but I figure if I tried emailing it wouldn’t get read for months.

    I went through something very similar to what your daughter has. Only, I didn’t have the option of going to a new school and the administration wasn’t going to help. It’s effected me in ways I won’t go into but suffice to say what you’ve done for your daughter has made her future so much better. The closing down emotionally in school is exactly what you think it is. You do it because it’s the only real option you have. Turn off or feel everything they throw at you.

    Know that you caught it quick enough that there won’t be any lasting damage. You should also know that if she does remember this when she reaches my age then she’ll also remember how you stood with her. And she will love you for it.

    I can say with complete certainty that you have done something wonderful for your daughter, despite how hard things will be. She will be better for it. Drastically so. Well done, Jeffrey, well done.

  13. similar incident happened to me when i was a higher grade school student. teacher insulted me every time he fired (indeed) a question to answer. in fear and hesitation whether i am wrong or right , he killed my love towards studies and my confidence level. beyond that he made me stand while all are sitting just to give me a warning that i have to cut my long hair if i wanted to sit in the class. some how i passed that school with a sigh of relief! now , am so concerned and attentive towards my children and tell them enjoy your studies.
    jeffrey, children will overcome all such issues soon. just laugh and make them laugh. and tell her enjoy her studies.

  14. The best learning your daughter gets to experience now is the emotional learning that your empathy, love and support for her as parents are creating for her.

  15. I really feel for you and your daughter. It’s sad that she had to endure bullying for two years and that you didn’t know. Great to hear from a parent who really cares about their kids. So many don’t in my country. Only once you have kids do you find someone you will do anything for in a heart beat, someone that can make you cry just thinking about their pain.

  16. I am terrified of this happening to my daughter. I just returned from the Philadelphia Film Festival screening of ‘The Bully Project’ and am even more worried.

    Two weeks ago she came home to tell me that a fellow classmate insisted that she had to give her two snacks or they would not be friends anymore. Thankfully, my daughter said no and immediately told us about it.

    I am allowing for a bad day, or a misunderstanding on my daughter’s part, since this was seemingly an isolated incident. But I have the other parent’s number on speed dial just in case.

  17. Jigme Datse Rasku said on 28 October 2011 at 5:14 pm:
    “It’s amazing what kids will go through without saying anything.” This is the absolute, heart-breaking truth. In all honesty, knowing that plus hearing stories like this make me fearful about having kids of my own.

    But at the same time, I can’t help but admire parents like these who can stay strong for their kids instead of going completely apesh*t on the bully and their parents – who could possibly have a justifiable reason for not knowing just how terrible their child is.

  18. ” Some days I want to cry. But for her sake I smile.” I know that feeling well. All the best to you and especially to your little girl.

  19. Jeffrey, what a touching post. The protectiveness and sacrifice of a parent is that which only a parent can fully comprehend. I recently had to fight to move my kids (K and 3rd grade) to a better school, and it took time, perseverance, and legal fees, and I relied on my partner’s strength to help me on the days when I cried form not only feeling that my fight was hopeless, but more due to the thought of my kids not having the amazing educational opportunity I was fighting to give them.

    This fall they started at their new school, and have loved it, embraced it, and have flourished, and I hope the same for your daughter.

    Thank goodness she has you to not only her with her homework but also to cope with the frustration and emotional issues arising from school.

  20. Kudos also to the mom who noticed the bullying and alerted you. Many parents might have shrugged and said, “Not my child, not my problem”.

  21. I was bullied mercilessly in school, with a lot of vicious rumors circulating for 5th grade on about me, so I can empathize with you and your daughter. Some kids can be true monsters in school.

    However, it gets better. Once I was away from my high school things picked up, though I was socially stunted and had to take a crash course in social interaction. Takes a lot of work to repair the damage small minds can do, so good luck to her!

  22. Thanks for sharing this, Jeffrey. My nine-year-old recently told me about some older kid at school taking his lunch snack, and I tried to downplay it to him. Now I’m going to follow up and make sure it doesn’t happen again. One thing I did wonder: Is anyone trying to get through to the bully? Is there support for those parents? It seems like such an early start down the wrong path that it could be averted.

  23. I am so sorry you have to deal with this, Jeffrey. I shudder to imagine what my stepson goes through at school each day. It’s almost as though he’s a totally different person there than he is at home, from what I hear from his teachers. I learn so much from overhearing him talk to others, and from his Facebook/Twitter updates.

    It’s great that you’re addressing this now. It’s much harder to reverse these patterns later on.

  24. Oh man, that’s tough – but thanks for sharing. My greatest fear in life is that one or both of my children will be bullied at school. If it does happen, I hope to have both the patience and certainty of action that you’ve displayed here. I’m sure it’ll be a tough catch up, but sounds like you’re on the right track. Good luck,

    Another Dad

  25. Hi Jeffrey,

    I emigrated in the early 50’s to New Zealand from Germany, at age 10. Almost from day 1 I was bullied mercilessly by both school kids and a few male teachers, some of whom would greet me with “Good morning Hitler” and other charming stuff.

    I had no idea who Hitler was but I soon found out he was a bad dude. This lasted from primary school until the last years of high school – and looking back the effect was a constant stress.

    But I survived it and it has made me stronger and very sensitive to others who are being treated badly by our New Zealand version of the Redneck culture.

    As parents we forget how immensely strong and resilient our children are. Your daughter, with your love and gentleness, will come through this with flying colors. And now that you’re tuned into what’s going on, don’t take shit from anyone at the schools your daughter goes to. You, and your girl will have a huge amount of support.

    A thankful dad.

  26. During high school, I often witnessed merciless bullying of individuals.

    Now, I am both ashamed and angry at myself for not standing up for those victims and dealing out some well-deserved justice on the perpetrators.

    Most of us know what is right and what isn’t–too bad I didn’t have the courage then that I do now to make sure any injustice I see is visibly known to the world.

    BTW, if you haven’t seen the recent Captain America movie, you and your kids should. It’s underlying message is anti-bullying, from school yard kid to stopping the oppression of an entire people.

  27. Keep on keepin on Zeldman! I’ve been a follower of your site, off and on, for the better part of 10 years now and I know you’ll battle through most everything and manage to share that (along with all sorts of other great posts) with us out here in the ether. Best of luck to you both and once again, you’ve earned my admiration and support. Cheers!

  28. Good for you…that IS love.

    I was bullied by this one particular kid from 1980 through 1985 (my 1st through 6th grade years)…then the summer of 85, I had a significant growth spurt and by that autumn, I had a good 4 inches and 50 pounds on the guy.

    I’m (almost) ashamed to say I got my payback on him Vin Diesel Knockaround Guys style…I pummeled this bastard into a bloody mess in front of all his little buddies. No one came to his aid (and for what it’s worth, that’s the last time I was ever in a fight…well ok, not so much a fight as it was more of an old-fashioned ass beating, but you get the point.)

    While I’m not proud of it, with all the bullying BS you read about these days, I feel like I did a small part all those years ago to get back at these pricks.

  29. Chin up my man,

    you inspire so many people to do better in the realm of the World Wide Web, so I know you will also help your daughter to rise above the drudgery and petty mindedness that can drag people down.

    I was lucky in school to be a tall kid so was able to deal with bullies, but my heart goes out to you as I also have a daughter (21months) and I really hope that she doesn’t get bullied in school when she grows up.

    Best to you both, don’t let the bastards get you down!

  30. As a fellow dad, what wrenches my gut most is not the bullying. It’s the passing. It’s so discouraging to know that you are sending you daughter off each morning to a world where the alarm bells are disconnected.

    We went through a bully front with our daughter a couple of years ago, and upon discovery, I was ready to level the school administration. Fortunately, we were able to work with them and they proved themselves to be deserving of our trust. The solution wasn’t easy for our daughter, but it was a legitimate response, and she was validated as a human being.

    To be honest, if the other kid’s dad is anything like you, your former school’s inaction will have perhaps more severe consequences for him. He’s not getting any feedback about the monster that is growing up under his roof, and when he finally realizes it, if he’s anything like you, it will crush him.

    I’m glad you’ve found a better environment for your girl.

  31. When our country had its collective freak-out after the Columbine tragedy, I was honestly amazed that people were searching blindly for a “Why.” If you’ve ever been bullied, you immediately knew “Why.” We’re just lucky that MOST bullied kids don’t snap that hard. Maybe if they did, we’d move a little quicker addressing it as a serious crime.

  32. Following you since 1996 admiring your strength in sharing even the most vulnerable aspects of your life. Keep crying when you can, keep smiling when you have to and keep sharing when it feels good.

    I didn’t learn how to read or write until grade 4 because I didn’t care and my school didn’t care and my parents were to busy to notice. For the rest of my school time everyone told me I was dyslexic and useless with foreign languages.
    Today I am fluent in three languages and I have advised companies and governments howe to better communicate in at least two languages for the past 15 years.

    Your daughter will do great.

  33. Sorry to hear that. Our daughter was picked on for a year by this girl who claimed to want to be her “best friend” but then would do stupid things like threatening to put peanut butter in her mouth if she wouldn’t play with her (our daughter’s allergic to PB). After a variety of troubling incidents, we finally got the school’s attention and they had a come to Jesus talk with the other girl’s parents, and separated the girls at school (i.e., ordered them to stay away from each other). The other kid moved away mid-year, so the problem was solved, but the school was ultra-lame about taking care of it. We had to basically threaten to sue them to get them to take any action at all.

  34. I’m so sorry. The conversation about bullying and abuse in school systems really needs to be spotlighted. Maybe when more adults speak openly about the pain their families are suffering it will.

    My daughter was bullied and seriously abused in 1st grade. I went head to to head with the teacher and the administration: When she drew God as big black bat for a therapist I knew we had hit rock bottom.

    We switched classes,then we switched schools. On a raw April Fool’s day she started a small private school – where she suddenly smiled and said “I’ll be ok here! It’s feels purple!” — Two weeks later she came home with the first full color painting and I broke down in tears. It was the first artwork she had produced in color in 2 years, and this was a child that started painting at 2.

    She stayed three years and repeated third grade: When she reentered public school she moved to the honor roll and stayed there. When she started high school she panicked about how much she hated and feared being bullied again: I told her that was fine, hate it all you want but that doesn’t mean you can’t excel at it – that is the worse form of payback – not letting the bastards see you quit. Her grandparents offered a private school, she chose to stick it out. She said “if I can make it in public school I can make it anywhere.”

    She graduated high school as a member of the National Honor Society, National Music Society and was awarded the Semper Fidelis Award by the US Marine Corps for her dedication to the band. She became starter for soccer, basketball, lacrosse and volleyball. Currently she is finishing her last semester as a writing major. She works 30 hours a week making custom wrap sandwiches and serving coffee while somehow maintaining a 4.0 average.

    I’m not bragging, I’m absolutely amazed that from heart breaking suffering and anxiety from feeling like an outcast she overcame the obstacles and kept moving forward.

    We can’t wish bullying away and I’m not sure we can effectively legislate it away but as parents we can set the expectations of good behavior and then lean forward with everything we got to pull our kids through by teaching them courage, strength, conviction and dignity.

    Your daughter already has the best foundation to prevail. She is loved.

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