My seven-year old daughter is adopted from Kazakhstan. She came to this country when she was five and a half not knowing any English. She lived in an orphanage her entire life and knew none of the comforts most children experience when they are babies and toddlers. She was a scared, abused little girl who suddenly found herself in America with a strange family, attending a real school for the first time in her life. She was the target of some of the cruelest and meanest comments I have ever heard come out of the mouths of five and six year old kids.

She is beautiful but had trouble with her balance and her gait. Her large motor skills were not fully formed yet. Her hair was chopped off and growing back unevenly. She had black and blue marks all over her from the beatings she took and from falling down frequently. She had over twenty warts all over her hands. Obviously, her English was non-existent. She stuck out like a sore thumb on the first day of Kindergarten. She was terrified and hadn’t really bonded to me yet. I knew some Russian, enough to communicate with her, but mostly I just had to stand by and watch her crying uncontrollably. She was terrified. The kids were all staring at her and some were laughing. One little girl came up and put her arm around her. My daughter reacted by hitting her. She wasn’t used to any kind of affection. It was a nightmare. I couldn’t leave her like that, so I decided to go to school with her until she felt comfortable and could at least speak some English. I went back to Kindergarten for eight weeks with her, every day. What an eye-opener!

I would like to report that most kids in this situation were kind; however, that was not the case. They didn’t know how to deal or react to a child from a foreign country with no social skills. As my daughter settled in to her new routine, she tried to catch on to our customs. She sang The Pledge of Allegiance every morning in some mixed up language. The kids would laugh at her, even rolling on the floor buckled over to prove their point. She would wear her pants pulled all the way up over her belly and refused to wear skirts or dresses. The girls would make fun of her and imitate her behavior in a cruel way. She would run on the playground with a slight limp and occasionally fall down. No one would help her up. Some kids literally walked right over her. Her writing was awful because she had never held a pencil before. Her drawings were posted in the room with everyone else’s but the kids would constantly make fun of her creations. As her English began to improve and she tried her best to communicate, the kids began ignoring her. She was hard to understand so she became a loner. She was desperate for a friend. During Kindergarten, it never was to be. Other parents were as cruel as their kids, openly handing out birthday party invitations and leaving my daughter out. Luckily she has a strong spirit and is a survivor, so she hung in there and put on a happy face enjoying her new found freedom. However, inside, she was hurting badly.

As she got older, she realized she had no friends. Now she is in second grade. She doesn’t fall down anymore, she writes beautifully, dances like a professional, is a star soccer player and doesn’t pull her pants up anymore, but she still won’t wear dresses. She is the victim of criticism and cruelty many days. Now the kids just ignore her and won’t include her at all in their activities. Some of the kids bully her and follow her around on purpose to annoy her. One girl tied her up with a jump rope and left her to get undone by herself. No one came to her rescue.

As a parent I wanted to make these kids feel the pain my child was feeling. I wanted to tell them and their parents to come and live in my shoes for a week and see what it is like to live with a child that was literally tossed away at birth and abused in every way one can imagine. Being treated like an outcast by her peers was so painful for her and for me. Luckily she has bonded with me, my husband and my 11 year old daughter, who was adopted from China at birth. She wants to know why kids are so mean to her and why she doesn’t have any friends. These are tough questions to answer. How can I expect her to understand and how do I instill in her a sense of respect for others when she is not treated well? Here is what I do and it works. My daughter, for all that she has been through is one of the most compassionate, kind, funny and caring little souls I know.

1) Listen to your children’s bad experiences with an open mind.
They say perception is reality and that is very true for a child. Let your child tell you what happened in detail. They need to vent and talk about what or who hurt them. Probe for details. Sometimes you will discover that the situation was blown a bit out of proportion. Reassure them and make them feel safe and supported. Don’t make the other child or person out to be the bad guy, but empathize as much as you can. Just having you listen and hug them and “feel their pain” is extremely comforting for a child.

2) Give them suggestions on how to handle the situation if it occurs again.
After your child tells you the details of what or who hurt them, help them to figure out how they can deal with the problem in the future. Give them a set of tools to use – words and actions. Teach them to be assertive, not aggressive. Teach them how to walk away from a situation and get an adult if you are not there. Emphasize that physically hurting another child is unacceptable, even if they were hit or kicked. In a school setting, they should be told to tell their teacher or the playground supervisor if something happens that they do not know how to handle.

3) Focus on the positive and boost their self-esteem as much as possible.
This is especially important if your child has been called “stupid, fat, ugly, lazy, etc.” Assure them that you know they are a wonderful kid and to you they are very special. Be genuine. Kids can see through insincerity. Tell them that other children can be mean because they don’t know any other way to act. As hard as it is, don’t agree with their assessment of Sally being a jerk, even if she is one. Tell them Sally doesn’t have very good manners and that you know they know better than to call someone a bad name.

4) Role play difficult situations with your child.
If you are having a hard time understanding exactly what happened to upset your child, ask them to act it out with you. Let them play the role of the bully and you are your child. Sometimes children have difficulty communicating a bad situation, but if you ask them to show you or tell you what happened by being the “bad guy” you can understand better. Do it twice. Once acting like you know your child acted – angry, upset, confused, etc. and once acting the way you want them to practice acting – in control, using their words, asserting themselves, etc. Practice this technique often with your child, it helps and it works!

5) If all else fails, go to the school and voice your complaints.
If the problems are occurring at school, make an appointment to talk to the teacher. It is important for them to be in the loop if there is a recurring situation at school that is negatively impacting your child. They are an extra set of eyes and ears and they can monitor your child’s moods and ask your child if they are OK if they seem upset. The more the teacher knows about what is happening, the better. If problems still occur, take it a step further and meet with the principal.

6) Don’t allow your child to play with kids that are not good influences.
This is difficult when you don’t have control of your child during the school week. However, if you can, volunteer or visit the classroom and scope out the kids that seem sensitive to the needs of others. If you work full-time and just can’t make it to school, call the teacher and ask for her help in matching your child up with the good role models. Plan a play date for your child and be involved the entire time so you can supervise and direct your child appropriately, when needed. If your little one is attracted to the bullies or troublemakers, discourage them from playing with them. This phenomenon will happen. As much as these kids hurt or torment your kid, for some reason they represent power and some kids will be attracted to that group because they pay attention to your child in negative ways, which is better than getting no attention at all. Discourage this kind of interaction! It’s unhealthy and does not promote good self-esteem.

There is nothing more difficult than knowing your child is hurting emotionally. Physical pain is easy to fix and take care of; emotional pain is so much harder. Constant reassurance, positive reinforcement for a job well done and lots of hugs and love will help your child deal with criticism from others. Instill a strong sense of self-esteem and confidence by focusing on the wonderful things your child does every day. Play down their weaknesses. Recognize them and actively help your child to improve in productive ways. Keep your expectations realistic, though. If your child isn’t a born athlete, don’t make them play soccer or baseball just to be social, it will only exacerbate their insecurities. Every child has special talents and gifts. Hone in on them and help your child bloom. If they feel good inside, the hurtful situations and people they will encounter throughout their entire lives will not seem so terrible.

Author's Bio: 

Laurie Hurley is the mother of two adopted children and lives in Southern California. She is an active advocate for her youngest daughter and has provided support for many adoptive parents and biological parents who have special needs children. She is the founder and President of two home-based businesses. One is her own tutor referral service and one, Home Tutoring Business, provides a complete business package to others who want to begin a similar business. She can be reached at info@hometutoringbusiness.com.