When my daughter was a toddler, we went through the typical episodes with biting and hitting and whatnot. We got a couple of calls and notes from daycare about it. When you're just a tot and your playmates piss you off, I guess biting them seems like a pretty good solution at the time. Then when she was around four, a boy at Kindercare was bullying her pretty heavily (he was a lot bigger than she was). Eventually he disappeared, so I assume that his parents had to pull him out. I think he had some more serious issues than what can be handled in a traditional daycare environment. In any case, I remember thinking that I wasn't sure which would be harder - having a bullied child or having a bully.
Last Thursday I picked up my daughter from Kindercare as usual. She wasn't in the room where I usually find her. A staff person told me that she was in the back area. When I found her, she looked very sad.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
She looked down. "I called someone a name." She said it so softly that I almost couldn't hear her.
A staff person came over to fill me in. She explained that a little girl in the four-year-old classroom has an auto-immune condition and is on a heavy dose of steroids. As such, she is significantly overweight. Although she and Adrienne aren't in the same classroom at the daycare, apparently they were seated together at some point. My daughter looked at the other girl and said, "You look pregnant."
Needless to say, the comment hurt the little girl's feelings and the word got back to her parents (I'm sure they weren't thrilled either). I told the staff member that I would have a talk with my daughter, who had started to cry by that time. I took her out to the car and strapped her in.
"Listen, you made a mistake," I told her. "I'm not mad at you. It happens to all of us. Sometimes we say something stupid and hurt someone's feelings, and then we have to apologize. You will need to tell her that you're sorry." She nodded. And then wailed all the way home.
My daughter is not a bad kid. She is a sweet girl and is very loving. I don't know why she said what she did. My heart was really torn, though. I have three different auto-immune disorders myself. Thanks to the vitiligo, I was stared at and verbally abused by other kids when I was young. I want my daughter to be the kid who befriends the classmate who is different. I know she has it in her heart to be that kind of person.
When we got home, we talked a bit more. I reminded her that it is never appropriate to comment on someone else's appearance, unless it is to pay them a compliment. I happened to have a blank card (with hand-stenciled hearts on the front) that I picked up at the county fair a few months ago. I suggested that she write an apology to the girl she offended and handed her the card. She nodded and said she would feel more comfortable doing that instead of a verbal apology. I hoped she would do both.
I didn't say anything more about the incident, because I think by then she had already punished herself over her mistake. She was very quiet all evening and cried a few times. The next day, there was no school so she would be at Kindercare the whole day. She had the card with her when her dad dropped her off Friday morning.
When I picked her up after work that day, I asked her how the day had gone. "Did you apologize to her?" I asked.
She beamed at me. "She's my best friend!* We sat together at lunch!"
I could tell that she felt a lot better about the situation. And, I'm betting that she'll be more careful about what she says to others in the future. I hope I handled the situation in the most beneficial way. I tell you, this parenting business is not easy.
Now that the ordeal is in the past, it occurs to me that I should pass along one other piece of advice to my daughter. No only does the "if you can't say anything nice" rule ALWAYS apply, you should never, ever, under any circumstances suggest that a woman of any age is pregnant. I mean, unless the baby's head is actually crowning (and maybe not even then) . . . don't say a word.
*My daughter has a few dozen best friends. The more the merrier, I guess!