Tuesday, July 24, 2012

No, you don't have the right

A couple of nights ago, we picked the girls up from daycare and noticed immediately that Chloe was in a foul mood. She was crying continually and overreacting to everything. We always know something's wrong with Chloe because she completely loses her ability to cope with even the smallest things - like who straps her into her car seat, or who opens the front door first. The little things become crises and the big things... well, she can't even see the big things when she's in this kind of state.

We weren't sure whether she was getting a cold or lacked sleep (though she seemed to have been sleeping well), or whether something had happened at daycare. But from past experience, we know that when something goes wrong at daycare, she doesn't tell us about it right away. We know by her surprising change of mood - Dr. Jeckel when we drop her off, and Mr. Hyde when we pick her up.

So we asked Chloe several times on the way home from daycare whether something had happened. We asked her about her day. Was it a good day? Did she have fun? And we didn't get much of a response, which was concerning.

We got home and I was preparing dinner. Chloe was obviously restless and Grumpy. She couldn't sit down and talk to us, and every little thing was sending her screaming fits so loud that we were glad that the windows were closed and the air conditioning on.

We asked her again, "Honey, did anything happen at daycare today? Do you want to tell us about something." Again, nothing. Then, finally, "These two boys,  twins, [names suppressed] keep bothering me at daycare.

Mommy: Are they bigger boys? What do they do Chloe?

Chloe: Yeah, they're bigger. They hit me on the head or push me and pinch me.

Daddy: And what do you do when they do that? Do you make sure the teachers know?

Chloe: Yeah, and the teachers ask them to stop. But they do it again.

My heart went out to Chloe, and so did Julie's. I hadn't prepared myself for this. I expected it later, and I didn't expect to relate so strongly to her situation. Suddenly, I was a little boy again, and it was me being picked on. I could feel the frustration, the hopelessness, the lack of escape. But more than anything I could feel the bewilderment Chloe was feeling. Why would anyone want to torture another person. That's how I felt and it soon became evident that's how Chloe felt too.

Daddy: Chloe, when these boys hit you, I want you to say "No" to them. Say it loudly. Don't yell. Just say it firmly, like you mean it.Then walk away and go play at something else.

Chloe: But I do that and they follow me and keep doing it.

Daddy: But do you tell them no, firmly?

Chloe: No.

Daddy: That's what you need to do Chloe. You need to say "Non, tu n'a pas le droit." (you don't have the right). And you need to say it like you mean it.

Chloe: But I can't

At this point Chloe became very anxious. We were asking a lot of her, and we knew it. Chloe internalizes everything. She's under-confident, even awkward in relationships with other people. She doesn't know how to be forceful until she trusts. Until then, she doesn't believe inherently that she has just as much right to her space, her integrity, as everyone else. She often lets other people determine what she deserves. When they invite her to join in, she takes part wholeheartedly.When they reject her, she tucks her head back into her shell and wonders what she did wrong.

Julie and I both want Chloe to feel comfortable asking for help when she needs it, but we'd also like her to demand her own voice, to stand up for herself. We've been there before, we know how it works. The bully sniffs out weakness, uncertainty, tentativeness, and feeds on it. Now I'm not calling a five-year old child a bully (yet), but I do want Chloe to learn now what I wish I had learned when I was a kid: the bully/victim relationship is a symbiotic one. It requires both people to play their respective roles.

It's hard for me to look back now at my own childhood and admit how much of a role I played in my own torture. I (like Chloe) was a sensitive kid. I was awkward in public, not much taken to small talk, completely useless at sports and always longing to be accepted, to be liked. I never quite understood that I had to be happy with myself, and respect myself for others to respect me. It's a hard lesson to learn, and nearly an impossible one to teach. For me, it was getting away from home when I was 13 years old - an exciting family adventure of several months that made the difference. I suddenly realized that there was much more to life than what a few miserable jerks thought of me. I had the whole world ahead of me.

We finished our conversation with Chloe by agreeing that she would try to say no and to mean it, and that Mommy and Daddy would let the teachers know the plan so that they wouldn't come down on Chloe if they heard a sudden loud "non."

The next day, at daycare, I quietly explained the plan to Nancy, Chloe's favourite teacher. As I was explaining, Chloe, who knew exactly what I was doing, fidgeted and looked at the floor. And I saw myself as a little boy again, shy, glad that I might get some relief from the torture but embarrassed, feeling terrible that my parents had to intercede on my behalf. I gave Chloe a hug, wished her a good day at daycare, and hoped that she would realize sooner than I did how strong she is inside, how much she's worth and how she deserves to be treated.


  1. How did it go? I hope she had some success, no matter how small.

  2. We're still working on it :)

  3. I didn't know this happened! Call Auntie C and I'll walk over and give them the stink eye.