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I was at work when I got the call, from my daughter's Montessori school. House of Children as they call it! My five year old had beaten up six kids, all by herself, in a single Bollywood style fight! How is it possible? I wondered... Her pre-school, which was very tolerant and which encouraged us to let our kid learn at her own pace, seemed to be having problem with this free minded girl, all of five, who chose to take matters in her hands.
As parent, we are supposed to feel sorry about such incidents. We must promise to mend our child's ways in future. I did all that, as if following some 'Parenting Manual'. My daughter was considered loving and caring. Parents would personally come to me to tell, how she goes out of her way to protect small children. What had come over her?
I flashed back at that moment... I was the most docile child, when I was a child, long long ago. One part of me felt proud, that she had stood up for herself. I did not know the whole truth yet. Beat six kids all at once!!!!! What is up with my child?
To begin with, this was her third year in Montessori, some of the sudden changes in her life were:
- Firstly her teacher, who she was very attached to, had taken a break from work this year.
- Secondly she is an October born. Now how can that be a reason? Well she was kept in Mont 2 this year, as she would be taken into a primary school system only after two years, unlike her other friends, who were born before 31st August and would move to primary school the following year. Her closest friends moved to Mont 3 and she missed them and they even made her feel she was left behind! Now that is a very children thing, isn't it?
- Thirdly I was unable to understand how to help her, in her moment of severe upheaval. I had spoken to her teachers and nothing came out of it. I had spent time talking to her, but she was still not happy, not as yet. For once I felt helpless, as the unrelenting practical world took over my daughter's emotional world.
At the moment, what needed immediate attention was this beating-up-of-kids affair, blinking like a beacon, we just had to resolve this one. I had to hear the story from her. I understood that, only if she shared every word of what transpired at school that day, would she understand what I had to say to her. So here is what I did... She came home from school and I did not ask her anything. Nothing when she alighted the school van, nothing till she had had her lunch and was relaxed.
She on her part remained quiet too. I am not sure if she felt the need to tell me anything, or she was smart enough to know already, that it was a matter to be kept hidden from mom?
Finally when I felt I could, I said to her casually and cautiously, I am not sure if you can do both at the same time, "Your Aunty from school called me." They called their teachers Aunty, this was the culture in her school.
She coyly asked, "What did she say?"
Not wanting to put words in her mouth, I asked, "Do you know what she said?"
"...Yes," came a small inaudible and cautious reply.
She knows she did something wrong, I thought.
"If you tell me everything, I will give you a Barbie doll my dear, "I said carefully. I needed her to understand that sharing the incident was important.
"They were teasing me, I hit them," She said, now visibly relaxed.
"Who all did you hit?" I asked, it was a slow process, it took her time to recall the names, she was still trying to decide whether it was worth it, to tell the whole truth. Three names finally. I mentioned one to help.
"No I did not hit her, I just pinned her to the wall." She clarified.
I was shaken by now. She is tall for her age, but lanky. I could visualise the whole scene as she narrated it to me. Pinning one to the wall, hitting another!!! She did reproduce the whole story. I do not remember the exact details of it. It has been quite some time since. In the end of it all, that day, we cemented a relationship of trust between us. She knew she could share her good and bad experiences alike, with me without fear.
The teacher had done her bit of explaining to her, why she should not hit children in school and that too a whole bunch of them, my tiny Rajnikanth! I did my bit of explaining to her. With muted expressions and lot of information.
The bullying at school did not stop that day, nor did the small fights stop. There is another juicy story of my daughter's karate chop that took a lot of work! But they are just incidents. I had diagnosed the problem. I made it a point to follow it up with her teacher regularly. There were several serious conversations with her teacher. These were all diagnostic and corrective approaches, undertaken by the adults. My daughter never realised it, before she knew it, the reason for her to get aggressive had disappeared. Before anyone realised it, her teachers were again praising her good manners!
That barbie doll? I did not delay it one day. We went out to buy the doll the same day that she came back from her big fight! It still sits there, mixed and muddled with all the other Barbies that she has... I don't think she remembers which one was her reward for telling the truth.