By Sholain Govender-Bateman – Pretoria-based New Media journalism lecturer, former The Star and Pretoria News journalist & editor of magazines. She is mum to two gorgeous girls, Isobel and Aishwari, and wife to Barry Bateman. Twitter @sholain
Within two months of Isobel(now 6) starting at a new preschool last year, she began complaining about a little boy, who I’ll refer to as A, who was mean to her….and we brushed it off.
We told her that A was probably just upset about something and that she should tell him very nicely that she doesn’t want to fight with him, and that she wants to be his friend. When she continued saying that the little boy was pinching her, hubby and I told her to just ignore him or move away from him. We agreed that this was part of growing up and learning to deal with different personalities that she will come across in life. I also approached the school and was told that A was a bit anti-social and they would keep an eye on him and keep him away from Isobel.
Isobel stopped complaining about the little boy for a few months and we thought that all was well. Then at the start of this year, several times a week Isobel began complaining about A again. She said he would pinch her and hit her and that she felt sad for him because he told her that his mum and dad always shout at him and his older brother and hit them. There were even a few occasions when Isobel had a little cry about A being ugly to her and we put it down to oversensitivity and overtiredness after a long day at school.
Otherwise, Isobel was her happy bubbly self, perfect school reports and loads of friends so we thought all was well.
Then one day, as part of our daily chat/debriefing where we ask our two girls how their day was, what made them happy and what made them sad and so on….I asked Isobel, “So, how was your day? What made you happy today?” I expected her to speak about the artwork they had done, the games she had played, the songs she had sung or something equally fun like she usually says.
Isobel answered, “Mama, the best part of my day was that A didn’t hit me today.”
My heart broke. How could we have missed this? Our child was being tormented by a classmate to the point that the highlight of her day was that he didn’t hit her!?
We took for granted that all pre-schoolers are sweet little kids who may sometimes squabble and didn’t realise that bullying can even happen under the watchful care of a teacher in a school with a teacher /child ratio of 1:15.
When I told the school manager the following day what Isobel had said she was concerned and promised to look into it. She told me that they had been trying to deal with A appropriately by giving him time-outs but she had also found out recently that A had been hitting another little boy in the class.
A few days later Isobel asked me why her teacher had asked her if A was hitting her every day and I told her that I had spoken to her teacher because I had listened to her and didn’t want A to hurt her anymore. She didn’t say anything but just smiled and held my hand tightly.
A few weeks later, I realised that Isobel hadn’t complained once about A for a long while and asked her how he was. She just answered matter-of-factly, “Oh, I don’t know, he doesn’t come to our school anymore.”
I am happy that the school took action and fortunately Isobel is her lovely, happy self and she comes home every day with no complaints, apart from the “boys are smelly/silly/naughty” phase she’s going through. And when I ask her what the best part of her day was, she usually says drawing/jumping and the worst part is usually, “I didn’t like those little hot dogs and tomatoes that Mam Anna cooked for us today!”