When bullying isn’t physical

Ruby was a bubbly 6-year-old who usually bounced out of bed in the morning, excited for a day at school with friends and Ms. Martinez, her cherished teacher. 

Ruby had attended a mind-boggling number of birthday parties since the beginning of the school year, and also had playdates with several friends from kindergarten who were now in her first-grade class. 

Her mother, Lyn, was surprised when Ruby told her one morning, “I don’t want to go to school anymore. I don’t have any friends.”

“You were at Victoria’s birthday party last week, and you’ve been friends with Jasmine, Maddy and Jia for a long time,” Lyn told her daughter.

“Victoria’s mom made her invite the whole class. Nobody likes me. Maddy said I’m a big baby!” Ruby’s lower lip trembled, and her eyes filled with tears.

Lyn was at a loss. She comforted Ruby, then encouraged her daughter to stand up for herself. Kids have spats, she told herself. It’ll work out. I probably shouldn’t make a big deal out of this. 

Excluded at recess

Children do have fights, and sometimes they stop playing with each other or prefer other friends. But they also bully other kids, and Lyn soon saw for herself that Ruby was being bullied. 

It happened during Lyn’s stint volunteering as a recess monitor. She saw Ruby approach an empty swing. Madeline said something to Ruby, then covered the swing with sand. Ruby walked away.

Later, Lyn spoke to Ms. Martinez, who confirmed that Ruby hadn’t been playing with the other children over the last few days, but the teacher hadn’t seen anything physical occur.

“Ruby says no one likes her, and kids have been calling her names,” Lyn said. “She didn’t want to come to school. Being excluded by girls who used to be her friends is hurtful.”

Recognizing a problem

Lyn did some research and ended up on PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center website (pacer.org/bullying). 

She learned the difference between conflicts, when children might clash or disagree, but don’t deliberately hurt one another, and bullying, when one or more children purposely hurt, harm or humiliate a child. 

Lyn was convinced that Ruby’s former friends were bullying her.

Lyn decided against contacting the girls’ parents. Ms. Martinez changed the class seating arrangements, and Lyn encouraged Ruby to make new friends. Lyn took an active role in arranging playdates. It took a while, but Ruby eventually made new friends. She seemed happier and more confident, too.


A few months later, when the entire kindergarten class was invited to Maddy’s birthday party, Lyn decided to take her lead from Ruby. She was surprised by Ruby’s response.

“I don’t mind going,” Ruby said. “Sofia and Patty are going, too, so I can play with them. There’s a new girl in my class named Jane; she’s on Sofia’s bus. She’s really nice, and I bet she’ll be at the party, too!”

Michele St. Martin is the director of communications with PACER Center, a Minnesota nonprofit organization that serves families of children with disabilities and those who have been bullied. Learn more at pacer.org.

Run, Walk, Roll Against Bullying

Join PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center and help raise awareness about bullying prevention with this annual, family-friendly event.

Choose from a 4-mile chip-timed run or a 2-mile fun walk and roll. Enjoy activities, guest speakers, performances, prizes and more. 

When: 9 a.m. Oct. 7

Where: Normandale Lake Park, Bloomington. 

Cost: Entry fees are $20 for ages 16 and older, $10 for ages 7 to 15 and free ages 6 and younger.

Info: Register at the event or at pacer.org/rwr