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Bully in disguise? Normal behaviour? Or am I imagining this?

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  • Bully in disguise? Normal behaviour? Or am I imagining this?

    Warning: This is a long post.

    DH and I come from very different families in terms of values, dynamics and morals. While this was always known, it wasn't until I was pregnant and especially after DD was born that it became glaringly obvious just what polar opposites we had on our hands in terms of inlaws.

    In short, the place I come from is ruled by my dictating narcissistic mother, with me as the family scapegoat. DH's family is all about support, understanding, loyalty and equality.

    My upbringing has left me always second-guessing myself, doubting my choices, hesitating when I should be taking action and holding onto feelings until they bubble over in a hot mess of fury because I don't know how else to express my emotions. PND brought all of this ugly stuff out into the light and has forced me to deal with things in order to be the kind of mum I want to be, and I've spent a lot of time working with professionals, DH and myself to curb old habits and learn better coping strategies and ways of thinking. But some of those angry feelings are beginning to simmer lately watching DD and her cousin interacting. I'm not sure if I'm imagining things, blowing things out of proportion or genuinely picking up on something but my instincts are tingling. And I'm finally at a point in my life where I'm beginning to trust my instincts, but it's a process in it's infancy.

    Having been bullied by my own mother my whole life (and still to this day) I hope never to see this kind of thing happen to my little girl, but I know that what I need to do is arm her to the teeth with the tools to stand her ground and trust her gut. I'm a realist. Mean people exist. And I know all too well that mean people have relatives, it's sometimes the ones closest to you that can pose the greatest threat to your sanity and well being. You can change schools, but your cousins will still be there at Christmas lunch. It's much harder to run and hide from family. But it's also hard to point the finger of blame at a child in your partner's family to identify them as a threat when the family is endlessly loyal to one another, sometimes blindly so.

    Let's get down to it. Penelope has always seemed a little bit of a brat to me, and I don't think it's due to BIL and SIL as they appear to be great parents and have an older child that doesn't seem to fit the spoiled brat model the way Penny does. He's smart, funny, thoughtful, probably the only downfall is the true smarty-pants attitude he sports, but this is 90% reserved for MIL it seems (who everyone seems to agree could stand to be taken down a peg or two) and is generally laughed off as observations delivered in the blunt manner that only kids can pull off, as the kids are encouraged to be themselves and speak their minds. I don't disagree with the sentiment, but some things that are said are just plain disrespectful (and would have got me a backhander at the same age). But other than this, he's a great kid.

    But Penny. Ah, Penny. When I introduced her to my friend's kids at DD's 2nd birthday as Penny, I was told 'Actually, my name's Penelope'. Not bad for a kid to know their own name but when delivered by a 6 year old standing in a plastic playground in the snottiest of tones, made her seem a little stuck up to me. It seems around this time that the behaviour began.

    There's a big income gap between DH and his brother but nobody in the family makes us feel badly for it. So for us it's more like the local park than the latest play café. But when I mentioned that DD had made a friend at the park, Penny scoffed 'At the park? What, like, a leaf or a stick or something?'
    Her constant bragging has gone from kind of cute to quite annoying and this even includes bragging about how much better, louder, funnier, etc her antics were at that age when the family says that DD is doing something cute.

    While all this just seems snobby and irritating, I feel as if it may be leading somewhere more sinister, as though DD finding her legs, words and personality has turned her from a real-live doll to pure competition in the eyes of Penny. And that she plans to play dirty if that's what it takes to still be 'the cutest'. DD has nabbed the title of youngest grandchild, while simultaneously knocking Penny off her perch as the treasured 'only girl' (DH has no sisters and she was the first and only granddaughter until now) and I think Penny's getting a little envious of how easily DD elicits attention and praise (at 2) while she is now being expected to display manners, etc as she gets older.

    Penny and DD are playing in another room at a family get-together. It was a birthday, so I didn't want to ruin everyone's night but looking back, perhaps I should have mentioned something on the spot. It didn't feel right but I couldn't guarantee that it hadn't happened. Penny comes running in, laughing hysterically and telling to everyone that DD had suddenly pulled down her pants. DD is nowhere to be seen. I head off to find DD but before I can, Penny calls her into the room for everyone to see, with her pants around her ankles and a confused expression as Penny announces that it's her 'new look' and proceeds to point and laugh at my little girl. The focus was quickly shifted to encouraging DD to pull up her pants, but she needed help with this as she wasn't able to do it herself. The thing is though, we had recently started toilet training and I knew that DD COULDN'T PULL HER OWN PANTS DOWN YET. I didn't jump in with accusations, but I tried at home to get her pulling her pants down for potty time after this and she still wasn't able to for weeks.
    This is when the bully bell started quietly ringing in my head.

    There's more, but what's the consensus? Am I overreacting to jealous kid stuff? Is my daughter unwittingly bonding with her future family bully? Am I starting to see my own problems everywhere I look now that I'm dealing with them myself?

    I'll add some other stories, but this post has gone on far too long already. Thoughts?

  • #2
    6 seems old when you have a 2 year old. But when you have a 6yo you realise how every young she is. She’s obviously jealous of your DD and is trying to get attention but has no idea how to get the right attention.

    I would not label anyone at this age. I would just make sure I’m monitoring the behaviour when they’re together and correcting anything you see the second it happened. Just gentle correction like “penny that’s not nice, please only use nice words”. She will learn she can’t get away with anything soon.

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    • #3
      Sounds like jealousy to me. How old is Penelope?

      Personally I would have said something at the time- you don’t need to be OTT or go straight to mumma bear mode, but a gentle but firm “Penelope, it’s not nice to make fun of people”. If her parents didn’t say anything, to me that’s encouraging the behaviour and you can bet your bottom dollar I will stand up for my kid, especially when they are too young to do so themselves. Same with the leaf/stick friend comment- I would have pulled her up and told her that wasn’t a nice thing to say. Sounds to me like she is being allowed to get away with this sort of behaviour and while it may be amusing when little, if it’s not dealt with it will only continue.

      Just my 2 cents.

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      • #4
        I agree with the previous posters. It's 100% jealousy. She's competing for attention and she wants to take your DD down a peg or two.

        I would be keeping a closer eye on your DD and her interactions with Penny - if she knows you are likely to pop up at any given moment, there's less opportunity to do anything sinister.

        Secondly, please correct her when she says something rude or nasty - she needs to know that her attitude won't fly with you. She's currently behaving that way because no one is calling her out on it - no one is doing this child favours by turning a blind eye to her nasty streak.

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        • #5
          I agree with the other posters. I would be saying something when it was my child directly involved. She is jealous and she needs to learn to deal with her feelings.
          I wouldn’t let her play alone with your little girl any more.
          She is only a child but children aren’t all innocence and you wouldn’t know what she is saying or doing with your child when you’re not there. Simply, I wouldn’t trust her.

          I don’t think you’re over reacting. She doesn’t sound like a very nice little kid.

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          • #6
            No definitely not "bullying". Attention seeking behaviour yes, but 6 year olds are too young to be sinister and conniving.
            "This too, shall pass."

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Rachel3072 View Post
              No definitely not "bullying". Attention seeking behaviour yes, but 6 year olds are too young to be sinister and conniving.
              Disagree with you completely about 6 years olds being too young to be sinister and conniving. I’ve experienced it first hand with my own kids being on the receiving end at that age and even younger. Some kids are totally capable of it.

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              • #8
                I agree with shewarrior. Children learn what they live, and if the young 6 year old sees nasty behaviour, and sees no consequence for it, then they are certainly capable of repeating the behaviour. That is exactly how the school-yard bullies get the followers. I think what the OP has described is bullying and she needs to stay on top of the situation every time her daughter is near the older cousin. marie.

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                • #9
                  And the fact is, as long as she gets a reaction (positive or negative), she will continue to do it. Be firm, say “that’s not nice” or something along those lines then ignore her when she tries to continue (and she will), and remove your daughter from the situation. The less opportunity she has to get the attention, the quicker she will (hopefully) give up

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                  • #10
                    Thanks to all for the contributions.

                    Much of this has come about since report came back from the school of another mum calling Penny a narcissist and complaining that her daughter was being bullied. This was quickly adjusted to Penny being the victim when she started seeming down and taking her teddy to school (strangely AFTER this came to light), behaviour that was also dropped once the issue was no longer in the spotlight. SIL is the mum at the school with a finger in every parent-involvement pie (don't get me wrong, it's good to be involved with the school) and has a lot of sway with teachers and (most) parents alike.

                    I found it hard to believe that the only child in the class with a learning disability would choose to pick on the braggy ballet princess with 'like, tons of friends' who was in the local Christmas pageant and made the front page of the local paper when they wrote an article on the school and showed no signs of distress until accusations came flying. BUT, mean girls come in all shapes and sizes and so do victims, so I'm only left to wonder.

                    I gave her the benefit of the doubt and thought perhaps she's reenacting the treatment she's experienced first-hand on someone smaller. But when we were all encouraging DD to eat her dinner on our last visit and Penny starts shoving food in her face going 'come on, eat it, eat the chicken nugget, eat it, come on, eat it' in the kind of tone you'd use to excite a dog about going for a walk, I'd had enough and (as gently as I could muster) said 'Just let her eat' I was shot the filthy 'rot and die' stare before I could finish my sentence, forcing me to wrap it up with 'And don't look at me like that either'. The response was the same fake smile the office snob wears when she adds 'just kidding' to 'do you cut your own hair or do you just go to a really cheap hairdresser?' Surely if she thought she was doing nothing wrong it would be more like 'what do you mean?'

                    DD left the table and wouldn't come back until immediately after Penny had left it and by then her food was cold. And I was fuming.
                    Last edited by Cat1001; 03-10-2019, 21:20. Reason: Addition

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                    • #11
                      A six year old is still a baby in the grand scheme of things - emotionally underdeveloped and unable to really understand/express/deal with feelings like jealousy. Also, some kids are just more unpleasant than others - sometimes there's no real reason, sometimes it's that they're not disciplined/parented in the way they need etc. They could grow out of it within a year and become totally different - it's definitely not a sign of a permanent attitude at this age.

                      That said, while you can't do much to change Penny, but you can monitor and remove your child from situations that are unkind. My 7 year old nephew is a really unpleasant kid - while I'd parent him very differently if he were my own, it's not my place so all I can do is monitor interaction and remove bub when he gets over the top.

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                      • #12
                        I have a 6 year old (Also a 9, 8 and 4 year old) and my 6 year old can be a right little snot to his siblings. He's also the most beautiful sweet loving boy you could ever come across! Him annoying his siblings is straight up attention seeking - I know this as a parent, but I also couldn't give him any more attention if I tried! It's just that he's little, he's pushing boundaries, seeing what he can get away with, how much people will take before they go off.
                        Penelope sounds a bit more bratty than my son, but testing similar boundaries. It also sounds like she probably has not been pulled up on undesirable behaviors too often so has not seen a lot of consequence to acting up.
                        I'm not saying this means you should just put up with Penny being nasty and bratty and put it down to her age and being spoiled by her parents. In fact quite the opposite. Pull her up on her behavior, let her know she is not to treat her cousin like that and that you won't stand for it If you don't, and her parents don't, how will she learn?
                        BUT in saying that... keep in mind that she IS only 6.... and she has been let be who she is.... she's just a bub. Not a bully. But she could be a bully in the making.
                        DS1 – 10, DD1 – 9, DS2 – 7, DS3 - 4

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                        • #13
                          I think she sounds like a spoilt little brat to be honest. The pulling of your DD's pants down is nasty and done so everyone would laugh at her. That's mean. I would keep your DD away from her as much as possible and pull 'Penelope' up whenever she is mean if her parents aren't doing so......I don't think you are over reacting at all.

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                          • #14
                            Sounds like a jealous kid. Definitely some nasty behaviour going on, especially pulling your little ones pants down, that would **** me off big time.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Cat1001 View Post
                              Warning: This is a long post.

                              In short, the place I come from is ruled by my dictating narcissistic mother, with me as the family scapegoat. DH's family is all about support, understanding, loyalty and equality.

                              Having been bullied by my own mother my whole life (and still to this day) I hope never to see this kind of thing happen to my little girl, but I know that what I need to do is arm her to the teeth with the tools to stand her ground and trust her gut. I'm a realist. Mean people exist. And I know all too well that mean people have relatives, it's sometimes the ones closest to you that can pose the greatest threat to your sanity and well being.

                              Thoughts?
                              It sounds like you had a very difficult upbringing and this may have a lasting impact on how you see this type of interactions. As you said yourself, you have difficulty trusting your instincts and are now looking from outside perspective on this. However, when you explain the incident it’s already coloured through your own interpretation of the situation.

                              You want to protect you child from bullies and you are quite sensitive (for a very valid reason) to bullying behaviour. You see it now with your niece and likely will see when your daughter goes to school too. And you may continue to second guess yourself and seek reassurance from others, while this is all boiling inside you.

                              I think that if you haven’t done so, it would be good for you (and your daughter) if you sought professional help to deal with the scars you carry from the difficult (?traumatic) relationship you have with your mother.

                              Parenting is a hard gig and it constantly stirs up emotions and sometimes it opens up old wounds.

                              As for the 6yo Penelope, it sounds like she is seeking attention like you said. Maybe she feels jealous. However I think that your emotional reaction to her seems too strong

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