When the kids fight at home, the outcome is often A. incoherent with rage, crying and yelling that M. hasn't told the truth or M. did such-and-such first or M. is pretending to be 'the good one' when both were to blame.
At school A. is not great at standing her ground or fighting back. M. is both naturally resilient and able to keep up with shenanigans, so is not picked on as often or if she is, I don't know about it. (It's not all easy street of course - she has plenty of friendship dramas and gets upset over different things).
A. has attracted more than her share of teasing and unpleasantness. She's a popular kid (as I see whenever I observe her at school), but there is something a bit 'young', naive and 'good girl' in her manner that seems to attract teasing.
Also unlike M., A. is not a skinny kid. She's what used to be called 'sturdy'. She is not fat - and lest you think I might be a delusional fat mum with a fat kid, the school nurse and her doctor both agree she is not fat. She's rounded instead of angular.
Her friend V. is the same. Both sometimes get called 'fat' by other kids, not always in a mean way, but it still hurts.
I've talked to A. a few times about this, and explained some kids are skinny and some kids are not, and the ones that are not are sometimes called fat by other kids, but you are not fat. And that kids sometimes say hurtful things without realising how much they are hurting you. And that some kids are just mean and you have to stay away from them. And if they're your friends or kids you have to deal with every day you tell them 'Stop it, I don't like it', 'You're being mean', and all the other wholly useless things the school tells the kids to say to each other.
When A. was in daycare she was confident and outgoing and sunny. Since she started school I have watched her confidence shrink and her light dim, to the point where she was seeing a counsellor for anxiety and depression and regularly saying things like 'I hate my life' and 'I want to kill myself', when she was six and seven. That broke my heart. It still does.
In the last year she has made great strides and is closer to her old self, and she has grown much more resilient. But she is still easily upset by teasing, and struggles to keep her self confidence.
Today when I picked her up from after-school care she told me that a boy had teased her at lunchtime. This kid is a serial pest, not just to A, and is often disruptive or mean to other kids. I will call him 'Alex' for that is his real name.
Today Alex said 'Hey A,' and when A. came over he said 'You're fat.' She tried to ignore him and he kept saying 'You're fat, you're fat.' Then 'What are you going to do, hit me with your fat head?' and 'Well, are you going to cry?'
Eventually A. cried.
When A. told me this she kept her composure and her voice only wobbled a little, but I was furious. I'd had enough. I abandoned everything I've told her before, and this is the advice I gave her:
'That kid is rotten. He's a horrible kid, and next time he says anything like that to you, you tell him: YOU'RE UGLY. And - I know this is hard, because it happened to me too, and I remember it, but: don't let him see you cry. You try your best not to cry in front of him, ever. Be strong.'
'You're not allowed to be mean back,' said A.
'I know,' I said, 'And usually that's right. But that kid is horrible, and sometimes you just have to fight back. You have to stand up for yourself, and with some kids when ignoring or doing all the other stuff doesn't work, fighting back and standing up for yourself is the only way to make them stop. So next time ANYONE calls you fat, you tell them: YOU'RE UGLY. And if they say anything else, tell them YOU'RE A ROTTEN KID. And if you get in trouble for saying any of that stuff, you tell me and I'll talk to the school.'
She liked everything I said, she was comforted by it, and she understood this was special, exceptional advice for difficult situations.
The anti-bullying stuff the schools teach is all good stuff. 'Stop it I don't like it', ignoring, telling a teacher, are all fine. But at some point, when those things don't work, your kid has to get tough and fight back. They either figure this out themselves and manage it, or you end up having to tell them.
THAT'S ME IN THE PINK SHIRT