Dealing with death threats in the playground.

Just as I was thinking how lucky we are to be surrounded by little angels in Amanda’s new school, along comes a pint-sized delinquent to make me think otherwise. I was waiting for Amanda to finish her daily dose of after-school play last Tuesday when she came up to me with red-rimmed eyes, cheeks streaked wet from what could only be fallen tears. Because she’s something of a drama queen (and I have been duly congratulated by other parents on her ability to portray a “real mum”, as in me) I was none too alarmed, except that she said, “There’s a little boy who says he’s going to KILL me. He says that if I ever go to his house I will be DEAD. And his friend says I look like a boy.”

My first instinct was to tell her to ignore both. Bullies will be bullies and the best way to deal with them is to just walk away. Except, on reflection, I thought, this might make her think that I don’t care enough to investigate the matter.

I don’t know what parents in a similar situation do in other countries but in Australia, there is just so much that an adult can do to deal with delinquents of any age without falling foul of the law; under the law, I can’t very well whack the other kid or even threaten to, even if I, as a parent, might well have a good dozen reasons to. Hey, they don’t just turn into school-based drug-dealers or public nuisances over night! Usually, they’d have gotten away with years of murder right under parents’ noses because either the parents refuse to believe them capable of such misdemeanours or trust too much in nature (read: media, school-based disco parties, other delinquents) to right the problem.

Back to the would-be-murderer in Amanda’s school playground. After she led me to him, I was shocked to find he wasn’t even a student of her school AND couldn’t have been more than 4 years old! What left me particularly irked was how coolly he regarded me, staring me straight in the eyes as I asked him his name, in the presence of other children, and recited to him his alleged misdemeanours, giving him the opportunity to admit or deny them.

The boy just continued to eyeball me, the look in his eyes suggesting that he knew I couldn’t touch him. This might amaze you but MANY children here know their rights under the law. A fair few use this knowledge to twist the arms of adults.

“Who is your sibling and why are you here?” I demanded to know.

Another kid spoke for him, “He’s X’s brother.”

“Is X here?” I asked, my tone conveying ample displeasure.

They called X over. X’s first words to him were, “Have you gotten yourself in trouble AGAIN?

I recited the same list to X. “Is your mother here?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the X.

“Go call your mother. I want to speak to her regarding your brother.”

Throughout this, the boy never broke eye contact with me. He remained defiant. Then, just as his mother neared, the little delinquent burst into what I can only surmise to be crocodile tears! But he probably wasn’t counting on the circle of children around us, who could testify to the fact that I’d done nothing to him, apart from query him about his death threats.

To my even greater surprise, and I was very much dreading the encounter with the boy’s mother, she turned out to be an absolutely lovely woman. How such a gentle-natured, well-spoken, decent person could have a pre-schooler who issues death threats simply blew my mind. Nonetheless, I found it very hard to return her smile as I rattled off her son’s words. “I’m very distressed by what has happened,” I said to her. “This is a school playground. I would not expect something like this to happen here.”

She said, “I understand your distress. I’d be very distressed to if this happened to me.” To him, who was now clutching her leg, sobbing louder than ever, she said, “When we get home, we are going to have a talk, young man.”

Feeling a tad magnanimous, I said, even though I very much doubted the boy’s ignorance, “Perhaps he has no idea that you can’t go around telling people you want to kill them and they’d be dead if they went to your house.”

“Yes, maybe he just doesn’t know.”

“Well now he does. These are things you can’t go around saying to people without them getting very upset.”

I told Mrs B, Amanda’s class teacher about the incident the next day and she thought I did the right thing by speaking to the boy’s mother. “He’s probably gotten away with it before (that’s why he was so brazen),” she said.

On the walk back from school, I said to Amanda, “I won’t always be around to defend you. If some stupid person says nasty things to you again, just walk away. You can’t fight every stupid person in the world.”

As for the other children who witnessed the incident, they sure know better than to mess with my Amanda. It must be said that by and large, the others are angels, which is why this incident left me feeling disturbed. It only takes 1 delinquent to make a place unsafe for everyone else. By the same token, it only takes 1 concerned parent to right that delinquent before he or she causes harm to him or herself and the rest of society.



The mummy mafia and what it means for parents with girls.

The hottest social topic at the moment is schoolyard bullying among mothers. That’s right. Just when you thought your days of being picked on were over, along comes the so-called “Mummy Mafia” to show you otherwise. Mothers form cliques to wield power over other mothers, using arbitrary parameters to discriminate like they did when they were in school.

It’s made some mothers reluctant to come out of their cars to get the children and others sweat big drops over what to wear for school drop-off and pick-ups the night before. Admittedly, I have never been bullied by other mothers  because I maintain a very wide circle of friends and acquaintances. If one group excludes me, I simply move on to another. If anyone dares gossip about me, I’ll march up to them and set them straight.

It probably helps that I’ve been wandering around like a Gypsy, so I’ve learnt that every experience, no matter good or bad, is transient.  I also have the hide of a elephant from being ostracised and bullied in school – twice in my entire schooling career, actually – so I have better coping mechanisms than most.

The way I see it, there’s no point losing sleep over the mean girls of the world. Even if they never come back to tell you, they’ll experience their comeuppance one day as no one stays in the same circle forever. We’re all bound to be newcomers at some point.

As a mother of a girl, I’ve seen to it that Amanda shuns the game of control via inclusion and exclusion girls seem to know from young. I’ve told her that if she doesn’t want to play with so and so, then she shouldn’t be thinking about their clothes or toys either. I’ve encouraged her to mix with everyone and in exchange for keeping her at her present school, she has to make at least one new friend a week. This is the result of a small drama we had with her best friend at the end of last year. As I explained to her best friend’s mother, Amanda being sidekick to her daughter’s Queen Bee is harmless at their age, but in ten years time, peer pressure won’t be about who gets to play dress-ups and Barbies anymore. It’ll be about drinking and doing drugs to hang with your best buds.

Similarly, if we, mothers, show our daughters it is all right to indulge in cliquishness and exclusivity, by modelling such behaviour to them, don’t be surprised if they face undue peer pressure as they grow older since they subscribe to being part of a herd. For it is by watching us that they learn how to treat and be treated by others. Just as no one is always at the top, no one is always at the bottom either – the wheel of social hierarchy being in constant motion. In being accepting of others, we find our own voice and revel in our uniqueness, and it is in modelling this tolerance to our children that they become delightfully amiable adults. It’s as much as we can hope for as parents.